Monday, November 11, 2013

The majority of journalists (if not all), who are reporting about the revolution in Syria, confuse between Jabhet al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq & Levant, as they view both of them as a branch of al-Qaeda. For that reason ,  I decided to clear this up in this blog .

First of all it is important to explain the mechanism that take for a faction to be part of al-Qaeda franchise. This is normally valid after an exchange of pledging allegiances 'Bay'ah' between the 'emir' or Chef of a faction and the current leader of al-Qaeda

This incident happened many times, as it occurred with al-Shabab al-Mujahdin faction in Somalia , with al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia in Iraq and recently with the Chef of Jabhet al-Nusra faction "al-Fateh al-Jolani". However, there is no return public Bay'ah by Dr. al-Zawahri  to Jabhet al-Nusra yet. On the other hand ,this was not the case with Islamic State of Iraq or later with Islamic State of Iraq & Levant whom did not give 'Bay'ah' to Dr. al-Zawahri .

As a consequence of this Bay'ah, recently a modified banner start circulating by Jabhet al-Nusra members hold additional texts "al-Qaeda Organization in Levant" or "Qaedet al-Jihad in Levant".

It also started to be seen in their announcements:

As this could indicate that Dr. al-Zawahri  already gave a private 'Bay'ah' and probably a public one is about to be given.
On 8th of November 2013, Abu Mohamad al-Fateh , Chef of Kataib Shabab al-Huda, announced on his twitter account (@AboMHDAlFateh) an agreement between twenty two armed rebellion groups, in east Ghota outskirts of Damascus, to assign one Sharia'a judge "Sheikh Abd al-Aziz al-Uyon" for judicial affairs. The agreement mentioned also forming a judicial body to solve judicial issues between civilians and also militants according to Islamic rules.

The signatory factions:
1-   Council of Mujadeen of Duma
2-   Islamic Union of Ajnad al-Sham
3-   The revolution's security forces
4-   Liwaa al-Farooq Omar
5-   Liwaa of Duma's martyrs
6-   Kata'aib  Shabab al-Huda
7-   Revolutionaries of east Ghota
8-   Liwaa lions of Allah
9-   Liwaa lions of Ghota
10- Liwaa Abu Musa al-Asha'ary
11- Liwaa Um al-Qura
12- Liwaa Abi Zar al-Ghafary
13- Commander of Amjad Duma's gathering
14- Katibait Arbin's Maryters
15- Liwaa Ghota's Maryters
16- Liwaa companions's grandsons
17- Commander of the military revolutionary council of east Ghota
18- Katibait Issa bin Mariam
19- Kata'aib Hamzah the lion of Allah
20- Brigades of al-Habib al-Mustafa
21- Kata'aib Ismail To'mah
22- Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS)

Few remarks regarding the signatory factions are:
1- Some important factions were missing in the agreement, such as Jaish al-Islam, Ahrar al-Sham & Jabhet al-Nusra.
2- The agreement included few but influential local factions such as (Kata'aib  Shabab al-Huda, Katibait Issa bin Mariam, Brigades of al-Habib al-Mustafa), which could give the agreement some value.
3- For the first time for such an agreement, it included the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). For the record, this could be a turning in ISIS policy as they previously refused to work with common Sharia'a bodies.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Al-Qaeda ( Arabic: القاعدة‎ al-qāʿidah), English translation"The Base": is a global militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin Laden and Abdallah Azam between August 1988 and late 1989, during the Soviet War in Afghanistan. It operates as a network comprising multinational Sunni Muslim calling for global Jihad and applying sharia'a law. It has been designated as a terrorist organization by the United Nations Security Council, NATO, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, and various other countries. Al-Qaeda has carried out several attacks mostly on Western targets.[1]

This article is meant to study al-Qaeda's new strategy & orientation by shedding light over its new franchise "Jabhat Al Nusra"  in Syria.

1- The name "Jabhat Al Nusra"  and its indication:
 Jabhat Al Nusra  means simply in English (The support front for the people of Levant), by calling it so, it is meant  mainly to deliver a message saying "we are the muslim soldiers who would protect and support you oppressed muslim people of Syria  as a religious duty mentioned in Quran  and Hadith", in order to gain hearts, minds and trust of  local communities and other fighting groups. Comparing it to the name of  al-Qaeda's franchise in Iraq, one can find  out that , the Islamic State of Iraq (Dawlat al-ʿIrāq al-ʾIslāmiyyah),  is meant to say "we are holding  supreme authority over other jihadi factions".

2- The Nusra's Banner:
It is interesting to note that the banner adopted by all  factions  franchised by al-Qaeda is this type of banner of the eagle (rāyat al-sawdā') 

While Jabhat al-Nusra decided to distance itself from the banner above  and choose the one below instead, probably to avoid stereotype and prejudice  branded to  al-Qaeda by media.

3- The Humanitarian Efforts:
Other key element that Jabhet al-Nusra aimed to play, is its ability to control  liberated areas in Syria and service it with different facilities . This was presented by running different urban public services, such as collecting garbage, solving bread crisis, solving transport problem, and running  water and electricity Foundation.

Transport bus by Jabhet al-Nusra
Power line repair by Jabhet al-Nusra

Water station in Aleppo running by Jabhet al-Nusra

Jenan Moussa [2] is a war correspondent who works for Akhbar Alaan TV, described her views  in Aleppo regarding the humanitarian role of Jabhat Al Nusra on her twitter  account [3][4][5][6].
Jenan Moussa live witness from Aleppo 

Jenan also made a press interview with BBC 4 Radio station which she gave a  similar witness [7].

4- Solving disputes:
Jabhet al-Nusra participates with other Islamic factions such as "Haraket Ahrar al-Sham" in forming Islamic Council (Sharia Body) in liberated areas such as Aleppo, al-Raqqa, Deir al-Zor, and Idleb to solve disputes between communities.  This underlines the fact that local communities are increasingly relying on jihadists groups to help them maintain law and order. Hassan Hassan [8] is an editorial writer and columnist for The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi, UAE. He provided in his blog two good examples [9][10of how disputes in Deir al-Zor were solved by the Islamic Council.

5- The strategy of wining hearts and minds
Jabhat al-Nusra fighters tend to exercise self restraint when it comes to disagreements with local communities where they operate,  as part of  jihadists' strategy to win hearts and minds. This incident I mentioned before in this post [11], which shows how the Islamic factions avoided confrontation with the inhabitants allowing them to hang  Syrian revolution flag anywhere they want in the city despite their view of rejecting this banner. Another example including visiting locals specially those who were wanted by Jabhet al-Nusra for investigating with their ancient role with the regime. Rania Abouzeid [12], journalist in the TIME wrote an excellent story [13] regarding that.

It is clear that the new bloods of Al-Qaeda, especially its franchise in Syria (Jabhet al-Nusra) learned a lot from its successor's failure stories. They found out that it is impossible to survive and market their views without gaining hearts, minds, and trust of its surroundings. They also showed remarkable keenness in maintaining order in areas they control to prove their ability to control liberated areas and deal with all kinds people regardless if they support or reject their ideologies,  and regardless of their religious or secular base.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Syrian uprising started with peaceful protests in mid of mars 2011 but  couldn't not last for long, specially after the Syrian regime unprecedented brutal repression  in a hope to crack down the revolution. The peaceful protests gradually shifted to an armed rebellion, especially after the decision of the regime's head 'Bashar Al Assad' to use Syrian army to besiege and shell cities. Due to the formation of the Syrian army, the majority of the low rank officers and soldiers are Sunni descended from besieged cities  or villages (ex. Al-Rastan) .  That was the reason why lots of them either defected or disobeyed military orders or fled.  By time, the insurgency multiplied causing shortage of regime's soldiers. The regime ascertained that without recruiting loyal people of its sect Alawites, there would be a serious collapse in the army. The regime started to rely more on 'Shabihas' (Para-militia of Alawites). Due to the nature of the fight, and because the Syrian army lack experience in street fighting, another very dangerous decisions  was made by regime to rely on foreign militias that has experience in such battles, besides the professional snipers, and strategic war planners that were mainly brought from Iran, Lebanon and Iraq, which was the main source of these militia's personnel.

This article is meant to shed a light over different foreign militias that are fighting with the Assad troops, the other face of the struggle.

There is still no accurate number of the foreign combatants who fight with Assad troops yet. Some reports talked that Iran deployed around 50,000 trained Shi'ite fighters to back Assad regime [1], although this number looks exaggerated. Other reports said that Hezbollah alone sent 5,000 fighters [2]

These Shi'ite combatants recently started to organize among themselves forming a brigade (with 12 Battalions [3]) under the name of "Liwaa Abu Fadl al-Abbas", few reports  mention that it is a mixture of Hezbollah members and Iraqi Shi'ite   fighters. [4].

"Liwaa Abu Fadl al-Abbas" logo

This brigade is mainly deployed in Damascus likely to back the regime army in its expected coming combat in the capital. This brigade's headquarter is located in "Sayida Zainab"  neighborhood, which host "Sayida Zainab"  shrine (a holly shrine for Shi'ite).

Iraqi Shi'ite Sheikh Qassaim Ta'ay [5] with militia fighter of Liwaa abo fadel inside "Zainab" shrine in Damascus[6]
 This photo above shows an Iraqi Shi'ite cleric 'Qassaim Ta'ay' surrounded by 'Liwaa abo fadel' fighters holding a black banner. Text on the flag reading "يا قائم آل محمد", which is a prayer to ask for "Al-Mahdi" return (the twelfth imam for Shi'ite). This banner is said to be brought   from the city "Karbala" in Iraq, as a spiritual back by Shi'ite clerics.

"Liwaa abo fadell" fighters are descended from several militia groups, I managed to name some of these groups from what I collected from their death statements.

1- Hezbollah (Lebanon):
 Ali Jamal Jashi an Hezbollah fighter was killed fighting against "Free Syrian Army" in Daryaa in Damascus suburb [7].

(Update 1) more announcements for deaths can be found here here here here and here.
(Update 2) Leader from elite fighters killed in Qusair Homs here and more announcements for deaths can be found here here here and  here.

2- AMAL Movement (Lebanon)
 This militia contains 14,000 troops in Lebanon. AMAL is well known for its fought a long campaign against Sunni Palestinian refugees during the Lebanese Civil War [8]. Recently it announced  the death of one of its fighters in Damascus "Hamzah Ibrahim Ghalmoush"[9]

3- Hezbollah Movement (Iraq)
 This Movement is a Shi'ite Islamist, Iraqi political party that is part of the United Iraqi Alliance coalition[10]. Recently announced the death of one of its fighters in Damascus "Abo Karar al-hemaidawi". This announcement was made through their TV channel "Al -itijah".

(Update 2new announcements for deaths can be found here

4- Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq (Iraq)
 Also known as the Khazali Network  a Shi'a Insurgent group in Iraq which is known as the country's largest Special Group. Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq funded by Iran and have links to the Iranian Quds Force. This group has claimed responsibility for over 6,000 attacks on American, coalition, and Iraqi forces.
The group recently announced the death of one its fighters in Damascus named "Karar Abdel Amir" [11][12].

5-  Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution (Iran)
 Besides the fighters whom mostly came from Shi'ite Lebanon and Iraq, there are increasing evidences that Iran is sending Iranian trainers and consultants. At least there were two incidences :

  • Forty eight Iranian where abducted in Damascus On August 4 2012. Later, in an embarrassing u-turn for Iran, which has always claimed that these hostages were pilgrims, Ali Akbar Salehi, the Iranian Foreign Minister,later on was forced to admit that military personnel were among them [13].

  • An Iranian sniper trainer from "Shiraz"  was caught  training people of the village near "Fouaa" Shi'ite village in Idleb provenance[14].

 As a summary, most of the foreign fighters who back the Syrian regime in its bloody war are descended from Shi'ite militias, either allegedly "fought" American troops in Iraq or Israeli troops in Lebanon, in which  most of them were designated  as terrorist militias by the united states. This provoked a question by observers why, 'Liwaa Abu Fadel' not yet designated as a terrorist militia by USA similarly to the case of "Jabhat ul-Nusra". !! While Syrian rebels looked at it, as a green light given by the  USA with folding an eye on Syrian regime and its allies to counter the Syrian revolution by any means.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Since the fall of al-Raqqa city into jihadi factions' hands in mid-March 2013, many observers have been keeping a close eye on the city to see how the jihadi factions will apply Shari'a on the inhabitants of that city. Either by, forcing it directly on people or letting people apply the provisions of Shari'a a step by step after gaining peoples ' hearts and minds.

Many reports have been made [1][2] narrating how these factions secured the city of al-Raqqa as soon as it was liberated, in contrast to the huge chaos and looting that happened in Aleppo [3] when Free Syrian Army [4] entered the eastern side of the city.
"So far, the city has avoided the disorder of a post-regime security vacuum. Very few homes were looted. The banks and the money in them have been secured, while government and security offices were not ransacked and the paperwork within them was not burned. Instead the files have been collected and are being studied. The city’s two churches in this majority Sunni Muslim area are untouched and protected."
The key question that remains unanswered, is  by what manners the jihadi factions are going to  rule  the 1st major fallen city, and what will be the reaction of the inhabitants of al-Raqqa  towards this drastic change by applying Shari'a from now on. Probably it is still early to know, but few indications started to popup  that help to give a tentative answer.

As some of you know the Islamic factions reject the Syrian revolution flag:

Instead they adopt the Islamic banner known as "rāyat al-`uqāb".  Text on the flag reading, 'No God, but Allah, and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger,'  'لا الله إلا الله محمد رسول  الله'

What seems interesting, is that the jihadi factions are likely to avoid confrontation with the inhabitants. These can be clearly seen by a letter signed by the 'emir' of Nusra Front jihadi faction in al-Raqqa provenance allowing the inhabitants to hang the Syrian revolution flag anywhere in the city.

On the other hand, it seems that the civilian branch of these factions launched a campaign by distributing flyers in an attempt to convince people  to give-up the revolution flag and adopt instead  the Islamic banners.

 It is too early yet to measure peoples' reaction in al-Raqqa  city towards islamizing their life. But it is important to know that some marches start to be seen calling for applying Shari'a as well as in many other parts of the country.