Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad: Interview with the leader of Iraq’s Jaysh al-Mujahideen: Abd al-Hakim al-Nuaimi

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Interview with the leader of Iraq’s Jaysh al-Mujahideen: Abd al-Hakim al-Nuaimi

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

Jaysh al-Mujahideen- not to be confused with the Ikhwani Islamist/Salafist rebel coalition of the same name in Aleppo province- is one of Iraq’s older insurgent groups, now revived in the face of a renewed Sunni insurgency. The Iraqi Jaysh al-Mujahideen tends not to advertise itself openly on social media. However, like Syria’s Jaysh al-Mujahideen, this group stands out- together with Jamaat Ansar al-Islam- for its known tensions with the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS: I will translate the relevant statement from the group’s Shari’a Committee later). Yet unlike Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, Jaysh al-Mujahideen has kept a low social media profile.

Recently (8 March), in light of the revived activity, some questions were put to Jaysh al-Mujahideen’s media committee, which were then directed to the group’s leader, whose tribal name suggests origins in northern Iraq (my own maternal lineage- from Mosul- is also Banu Nuaim).
Interestingly, ISIS is not mentioned once in the interview, but rather the interview suggests tensions with the Islamic Army of Iraq, even as the ideological outlook here is not unlike that of the mainstream Sunni insurgency in Iraq, such as belief in an Iranian conspiracy- in alliance with the West and/or Jews- against the Sunnis, and expressing solidarity with the rebellion in Syria. In response to this interview, the Islamic Army of Iraq’s media committee put out a statement denouncing Nuaimi’s claims of no Islamic Army of Iraq presence: “The fact that he doesn’t know of their existence means that he is not present in the field.”
Below is my translation of the interview, with some explanatory footnotes.
Q: What is your assessment of the situation in Iraq and the battle with the Safavids?
A: The battle in Iraq is not confined to its borders, for it is part of the battle that the Ummah is waging in defence of its religion and land in the face of the Safavid Majus [derogatory term for Persians] project. The Safavids are allies of the Jews and Crusaders in the war on Islam, and they have exchanged roles and coordinated plans one way or another. Their aim has been to exterminate the Ahl al-Sunna- the people of Islam- by breaking their courage, humiliating them, rendering them subservient, and preventing them from being able to establish the form of rule they want- the Shari’a of God, Mighty and Glorified is He- and this is what we have seen above all in the lands in which its people [the Ahl al-Sunna] have been able to revolt against their oppression and rule at the hands of the corrupt.
Therefore we are in confrontation with a Safavid regime and whatever forces of the East and West inimical to Islam that are behind it.
Our people and our tribes are convinced that there is no choice for them that protects their dignity, recovers their rights and liberates them from servitude to the Majus than to fend off the attacker and confront arms with arms: indeed it is an important issue for which God- Exalted and Mighty is He- has given them His blessing after the suspicious projects and fitna of participation in the political process were thrown upon them with their shadow. Thus the equation in Iraq has changed greatly during the past two months, and since the escalation of the armed confrontation with Maliki’s forces two months ago the Ahl al-Sunna has been able to achieve a lot, for the ranks between the tribes and their sons waging jihad have held together, while previously the enemy was able to fracture them.
And the Ahl al-Sunna has been able to humiliate Maliki’s army and inflict disastrous losses on them. They [the Sunnis] have also been able to organize their ranks such that they have begun fighting in an organized and coordinated manner. They have been able to free wide areas from the Safavid occupation. They have been able to widen the battle in their provinces.
It is impossible to dissociate what is happening in Iraq from the wider region, especially in Syria and other areas that are witnessing Majus aggression. The uprising in Iraq has participated in coordination with the Ahl al-Sunna in other areas, so the widening of the front in Iraq against the Majus has made them totter in Iraq, which was previously a passageway for them, open for their militias that are fighting in Syria, and providing financial support for Assad and others besides him. From the military perspective, the Ahl al-Sunna today is in a far better state than one or two years ago.
Q: How far are you united with the Iraqi Sunni tribes in this war?
A: If God Almighty wills, we will only be pious and sincere sons for our people, striving to protect them and defending their abode, and today we are as close as we can be to the hearts of our people. Our ranks have been nourished- thanks to God Almighty- as our Lord likes (“in a row as though they are one structure joined firmly”- Qur’an 61:4). Indeed we have said on many previous occasions, when we were urging our people to stand as one rank with their sons waging jihad against the Majus project, bear arms, and defend their honour and themselves. We have said to them many times that we want to be swords in your hands, using us to strike the enemy of God and your enemy and using us to defend your honor and land. Today we are carrying our what we promised them: we ask God Almighty to give victory to our people through us.
Q: Where is your activity concentrated?
A: We are present in every place of the battle and its divisions but there is a difference in the extent of the presence from place to another. There is no reason to divulge further details.
Q: Do you support the current shift in the battle from holding land and defending it?
A: The situation differs from one place to another, and we see that in some of the regions where it has been possible to keep hold and expel the enemy from them, [doing so] is an excellent thing, but spreading this state of affairs to other areas where the balances of force differ is a mistake into which we hope not to fall; so the majority has not withdrawn from the areas in a state where it is difficult to retain control and we see that attack and flight in them and exhausting the enemy are the best way to manage the battle in such areas. I ask God to free Iraq- all of it- urgently and not to postpone.
In any case, we must not- on seizing control of a place and expelling the enemy from it- make leaving a place concerning the seizure or the enemy’s seizure of it again be the end of the battle or a standard for victory or defeat. This is what makes us affirm [a policy] of not holding assaulted areas where matters concerning the field are difficult before an improvement in relevant circumstances because the enemy’s seizure of it again will weaken the morale of some people and make them think that we have been defeated and the enemy is victorious.
Q: What is your position on widening the extent of the fronts and battle in the present time and is this within the capabilities of the Sunni civilian people?
A: Widening the extent of confrontation with the Majusi enemy is a matter of utmost importance to reduce the pressure from other areas. In this [approach], we can confuse the enemy and disrupt their efforts especially if we know that they are not fighting from a viable position now except by means of elite brigades and forces as they cannot rely on the capabilities of other forces in their army.
Q: Do you have reservations about working and coordinating with other groups and do you participate in operations in the field with the Islamic Army group?
A: The battle today requires the Ahl al-Sunna to be one hand against their Majusi enemy. The battle today is greater than group and party, greater than clan, tribal and regional interests, but it is also greater than the Iraqi Ahl al-Sunna themselves, for if- God Almighty forbid- their courage were broken, that would be the key for evil against our people not only in ash-Sham and the Gulf, but also in other states that think they are safe from the Majusi project. For what we see from Safavid expansion in the Gulf and Yemen after Iraq and Syria is only the beginning, as expansion does not stop there in the incubation period and without potential for opening military fronts, as is the situation in Egypt, Sudan, the Arab Maghreb and other areas.
So we see a need for coordination among all the Ahl al-Sunna in this war- tribes and groups- and for them to cleanse their ranks of those bartering in their cause from the failure of the politicians and others besides them.
As for the Islamic Army, it saddens us that we have not seen any presence on their part and we had been hoping that they might have corrected the mistakes into which they fell, return from the paths they drifted into, and return to their integrity, but we have not come across that in the field and we don’t know of a presence on their part. There are some groups that originally abandoned working with them years ago and finance themselves from here and there. Perhaps some of their members are among those who are working without disclosing their affiliation for what they know of the lack of their being accepted among the groups and tribes. As for what has been publicized concerning their participation with us in some operations, there is no truth to such claims.
Q: What is your position on the ruling for arms in the conflict among the mujahideen in ash-Sham? And do you have any

Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad: Comprehensive Reference Guide to Sunni Militant Groups in Iraq

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Comprehensive Reference Guide to Sunni Militant Groups in Iraq
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
As the overall Sunni insurgency has gained ground in Iraq, much discussion will naturally revolve around the question of which groups are the main actors in the insurgency. Here I will discuss those groups in-depth, and the relations between them.

Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS)

Intro: An al-Qa’ida affiliate?
By far the most prominent group in terms of wider media attention, ISIS in Iraq is almost universally described as an “al-Qa’ida affiliate.” However, it should be emphasized that the evidence for this characterization can only be described as ambiguous at best, and in truth, points to ISIS not being al-Qa’ida’s branch in Iraq.
Now, it is true that one can find evidence that may suggest ISIS is an al-Qa’ida affiliate. Most notably, in his interview with al-Jazeera Arabic, Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Jowlani of Jabhat al-Nusra- al-Qa’ida’s official Syrian affiliate- likened the existence of his group and that of ISIS to being members of “one house,” and that the issue of the disagreement over Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s announcement of ISIS had been raised with “our amir and their amir: Aymenn al-Zawahiri, may God protect him.” There is no reason to doubt that Sheikh Jowlani sincerely believes ISIS is part of the same al-Qa’ida family.
However, ISIS originated as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI): an umbrella group formed in October 2006 and composed of a number of insurgent groups, whose main component was probably the original al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI) organization, but this AQI component was quickly absorbed into ISI. When new members joined ISI, the pledge of allegiance- bay’ah– was given to the commander of ISI, not necessarily requiring one to al-Qa’ida central’s leadership as well.
Indeed, by 2007, Sheikh Zawahiri of al-Qa’ida central declared: “First, I want to clarify that there is nothing in Iraq now by the name of al-Qa’ida, but Tanzim al-Qa’ida fi Bilad al-Rafidayn joined- by Allah’s preference- other jihadi groups in the Islamic State of Iraq.” While it would seem that in his ruling last year for the dissolution of ISIS, Sheikh Zawahiri assumed that Sheikh Baghdadi would defer to his authority, likely on account of Sheikh Baghdadi’s apparent history as a leading member in AQI who would not have forgotten his bay’ah to the central organization (just like Sheikh Jowlani, who was an AQI and ISI veteran), Sheikh Baghdadi’s rejection of the ruling indicates the true break between ISIS and al-Qa’ida central.
On the ground, some ISIS mujahideen accept this break as reality, and thus members in Syria like the British mujahid Abu Qaa’qaa explicitly reject identification as al-Qa’ida. Others I know express ambivalence: thus one native Syrian member of ISIS in Ghouta, Damascus province, said to me that he had pledged bay’ah to Sheikh Baghdadi but did not know if in turn Sheikh Baghdadi had pledged allegiance to Sheikh Zawahiri.
Also of relevance here is how ISIS’ commander projects himself and how the group projects its goals. Although the amir of ISIS for Idlib province has denied that ISIS’ overall amir considers himself a caliph, it is hard not to draw that conclusion from the title assumed: “amir al-mu’mineen” (“commander of the believers”- a traditional title of caliphs) in addition to claimed descent from the family of the Prophet Mohammed (“al-Husseini”) and the tribe of the Prophet (“al-Quraishi”). In addition, more so than any other group, ISIS places particular emphasis on the imminent establishment of a Caliphate (e.g. with the slogan “the promised project of the Caliphate”), and images of the world under the iSIS banner regularly appear in pro-ISIS social media circles.
Figure 1: ISIS signboard from Azaz area: “The promised project of the Caliphate.”

Figure 2: The entire world under the ISIS banner.
It should be noted that these aspirations of Caliphate and world domination are not so openly projected by ISIS within Iraq, as I have outlined before. However, that does not mean ISIS in Iraq has abandoned these goals. It is simply a matter of trying to take advantage of growing Sunni Arab disillusionment with the government and portraying itself as the upholder of their interests.
Perhaps the most explicit distancing yet of al-Qa’ida central from ISIS on the part of a senior jihadi comes from Sheikh Abu Khalid al-Suri: a supposed Ahrar ash-Sham official and al-Qa’ida central member who was appointed by Sheikh Zawahiri to mediate between ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. In light of the ongoing fighting between ISIS and various rebel groups in Syria, Sheikh Abu Khalid released a statement condemning ISIS’ conduct and decrying ISIS’ “crimes” being committed “in the name of jihad and the establishment of an Islamic state, and being attributed to” figures like Sheikh Zawahiri and Sheikh Osama bin Laden [i.e. on account of media coverage calling ISIS an al-Qa’ida affiliate]. His statement added that these al-Qa’ida figures are “innocent of what is being attributed to them, just as the wolf was innocent of spilling the blood of Ibn Yaqub.” He concludes with a call for ISIS members to repent for their conduct.
Figure 3: Statement from Sheikh Abu Khalid condemning ISIS.
Operations and Activities
Of all the militant groups in Iraq, ISIS stands out for having the most extensive financial resources (in large part deriving from the fact that in Mosul, from which the government ultimately failed to dislodge the group even during the surge, ISIS is the Mafia), manpower and range of operations, with the occasional ability to conduct attacks in the predominantly Shi’a areas of the soutb (e.g. Najaf, Karbala, Kut and Wasit). Similarly, coordinated bomb attacks in Baghdad can be reliably traced to ISIS: something other insurgent groups have so far proven themselves incapable of carrying out.
By province, ISIS is by far strongest in Anbar province, where the group operates clandestine training camps and has until this month maintained a rather shadowy existence, conducting some hard-hitting attacks over the past few months including a string of several suicide bomb attacks in a single day targeting local police in the town of Rawa.
Currently, the group remains in control of parts of Ramadi and Fallujah, following on from their entry with the withdrawal of the Iraqi army in the face of widespread Sunni anger at Maliki’s attempt to dismantle the Ramadi camp protest site. Some of the more recent operations in Anbar include firing mortar rounds at Sahwa leader Abu Risha’s estate and heavy fighting with security forces in a number of urban Anbar locations including Street 60 and al-Mal’ab quarter in Ramadi as well as the al-Khaldiya area near Fallujah.
To a limited extent, the group in Anbar has had a boost in manpower provided from eastern Syria, both with influx of muhajireen (as related on the testimony of Abu Qaa’qaa) and the fact that Jabhat al-Nusra’s leadership in the Deir az-Zor border town of Albukamal/Abu Kamal, along with Liwa al-Qadisiya al-Islamiya’s overall leader, entered into Iraq for much of 2013 to aid ISIS in the fight against government forces. The latter points were related to me by a Liwa al-Qadisiya al-Islamiya fighter, who also told me that his group like ISIS supports a Caliphate stretching first over Iraq and Bilad ash-Sham.
Outside of Anbar, the group has regularly conducted attacks on the Iraqi army in various districts of Mosul, has targeted the Shi’a Turkmen of Tuz Kharmuto with bomb attacks, and has various pinpoints of activity including the Baiji area of Salah ad-Din province, Jurf al-Sakhr in northern Babil province (just south of Baghdad), and the Tarmiya area of northern Baghdad province, where assaults have been regularly launched on “Sahwa” forces, culminating in a mass execution of 18 Sunnis suspected of being “Sahwa” in November.
Last year also saw the significant development of ISIS operations within Iraqi Kurdistan with the Arbil bombings in September, claimed by ISIS in retaliation for the Kurdistan Regional Government’s supposed support for the “PKK” in Syria. Indeed, ISIS in Syria has seen an infusion of some Iraqi Kurdish manpower that appears to be alternating back and forth between Syria and Iraq. In a major assault launched by ISIS on security forces in Kirkuk in early December, it emerged from ISIS sources that the leaders of the operation- all eventually killed- were Kurdish.
Figure 4: Aftermath of car bombing by ISIS in Kirkuk as part of assault operation on intelligence HQ in early December.

Figure 5: Two men from local security forces slain by ISIS in the Kirkuk assault.

Figure 6: Abu al-Maqdisi al-Kurdi, one of the Kurdish commandoes behind the ISIS assault on Kirkuk.

Figure 7: Abu Abdullah al-Kurdi, another of

Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad: Muhajireen Battalions in Syria

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Muhajireen Battalions in Syria

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
When it comes to discussing the dynamics of Sunni global jihadism in Syria, the tendency is to characterize Jabhat al-Nusra as the battalion for native Syrian fighters and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham [ISIS] as a group of primarily foreign fighters. This analysis is somewhat simplistic- as I have argued elsewhere- but it is true that the majority of Sunni muhajireen who have come into Syria have congregated under the banner of ISIS. However, there are also a number of other battalions under which muhajireen have congregated. Here I will explore the nature of these groups and what links, if any, they have with ISIS/Jabhat al-Nusra.
Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar [JMWA]
Figure 1: One of the emblems used by JMWA
JMWA was originally under the leadership of Omar ash-Shishani, who, as media reports have recently documented, was a veteran of the Georgian army. In May, Omar was appointed northern amir of ISIS by Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, encompassing Aleppo, Raqqa, northern Idlib and Latakia governorates. Following this appointment, JMWA came to be a mere front-group for ISIS, with Omar ash-Shishani identified as “leader of the northern region for the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham” in multiple jihadi postings, such as this August news release from Kavkaz Center.
It might be asked what gain there is to have a front-group operating under a different name. The answer is that it can create the impression of a larger unified ideological front than what actually exists. One should compare with the Iranian proxy militias who operate under multiple banners but are normally just mirror fronts of one another. The approach can be very effective as an agitprop strategy: note for instance how the New York Times reported on the fall of Mannagh as though JMWA was a separate faction from ISIS.
There are multiple strands of evidence for JMWA as a front-group for ISIS during Shishani’s leadership. On jihadi forums and among other rebels, JMWA is identified as synonymous with ISIS during the time of Shishani’s leadership, as illustrated below.
Figure 2: JMWA-released graphic identifying the group as synonymous with ISIS and showing Qur’an memorization study circles in the Idlib village of Salwa.

Figure 3: A photo from the same series showing the teaching of Qur’an memorization to children in Salwa.

Figure 4: Abdullah ash-Shishani: a martyr claimed for JMWA/ISIS during the mujahideen offensive on Alawite areas of Latakia in the summer.

From the testimony of other rebels, we have video put out by Liwa al-Fatah from the capture of Mannagh airbase in Aleppo governorate at the beginning of August, in which JMWA/ISIS played the leading role in bringing about the regime stronghold’s final fall. In this video, the Liwa al-Fatah speaker identifies one Abu Jandal al-Masri (an Egyptian fighter) as a member of JMWA, equated with ISIS. Abu Jandal was the leading JMWA/ISIS operative behind the capture of Mannagh airbase. Abu Jandal vows that the mujahideen will not leave a single Alawite alive in Syria.
Figure 5: Liwa al-Fatah video in which JMWA and ISIS are identified as synonymous. The JWMA logo is included to emphasize friendship between the JMWA and Liwa al-Fatah.
However, a split subsequently emerged towards the end of November whereby those wishing to remain loyal to Omar ash-Shishani declared sole affiliation with ISIS, while those wishing to retain the JMWA label have now asserted independence and appointed a new commander: Salah ad-Din ash-Shishani. Below is a copy of the official JMWA statement detailing the statement.
Figure 6: JMWA statement detailing the split with ISIS.
“JMWA was among the first of the armies fighting in Bilad ash-Sham…and Omar ash-Shishani- may God preserve him- was the previous commander for this army; and he has pledged allegiance with half of the army to the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham, so the Majlis Shura of JMWA held a meeting and decided on the appointment of Salah ad-Din ash-Shishani as the commander for this army. We ask God- Almighty is He- for success and fortune for all who fight so that God’s word may be supreme.”
One should also note that this declaration of independence is reflected in the social media circles, as JMWA pages no longer attach their own label to actions carried out by ISIS. Indeed, an “official” Facebook page for JMWA was featuring with a JMWA label images of ISIS’ execution of Hasan Jazra and other members of Ghuraba ash-Sham in the Aleppo town of Atarib, only for that page to be deleted overnight after the announcement of JMWA’s new independence and for all subsequent images of ISIS activity put out with no JMWA label on a new Facebook page.
Figure 7: Photo from Atarib showing corpses of Ghuraba ash-Sham members executed by ISIS. Note the JMWA label, which is no longer being used by JMWA media output in documenting ISIS activities.
Thus, while JMWA and ISIS continue to share a similar ideology, a personal split has led to JMWA’s separation from ISIS. Omar ash-Shishani and the previous Shari’a judge for JMWA who joined Omar in declaring sole affiliation with ISIS also released a statement of their own indicating that those of the Caucasian and Ukrainian mujahideen who did not pledge allegiance (bay’ah) to ISIS refused because of their prior connection through bay’ah to Sheikh Abu Othman Duka, the Caucasus Emirate amir, together with a detachment of Arab fighters from “Jamaat al-Takhfeekh.” However, it should be noted that Omar ash-Shishani also claims support from the Caucasus Emirate amir for the bay’ah to Sheikh Baghdadi in an interview with a Russian mujahideen site.
Figure 8: Statement from Omar ash-Shishani and the former Shari’a judge of JMWA clarifying reasons for the split within the organization.
Jamaat Jund ash-Sham
Figure 9: Emblem of Jamaat Jund ash-Sham.
A battalion based in rural western Homs governorate, it was founded by Lebanese fighters and now consists of a mixture of Syrian and Lebanese fighters. Its ideological affinity with ISIS is illustrated in its emblem shown above. Further, the group’s Facebook page features the ISIS flag to indicate its ideological affiliation. In any event, an interview with via Twitter confirmed to me that the group supports a Caliphate and its ‘aqīda’ (“creed”) is the same as that of ISIS, though the evidence indicates it is not identifying itself as a mere front group for ISIS. Further, the group is not hostile to Jabhat al-Nusra, and has circulated images of Jabhat al-Nusra banners in support of the jihad in Syria.
Figure 10: The battalion’s Facebook page. Note the iSIS banner to the right.
One should note that pro-ISIS Lebanese activist pages in Tripoli (subsequently deleted) regularly circulated media output from Jund ash-Sham, suggesting logical links between the Lebanese component of Jund ash-Sham and the Sunni population of Tripoli. Below is a selection of media output featuring the group’s activities and some claimed martyrs.
Figure 11: Jund ash-Sham fighters amid ruins in western Homs countryside. Note the ISIS banners.

Figure 12: Jund ash-Sham fighter does the Finger of Tawheed pose.

Figure 13: Jund ash-Sham fighters in the Homs countryside.

Figure 14: Abu Zaharā al-Ansari, a martyr for Jund ash-Sham whose death was announced on 1 October.

Figure 15: Abu Khalil al-Ansari, whose martyrdom was announced on 4 December.

Figure 16: Abu Abd al-Raheem, the deceased commander of Jund ash-Sham.
Figure 17: Abu Muadh, another martyr for Jund ash-Sham.

The Green Battalion
Figure 18: The current logo of the Green Battalion.
Figure 19: First logo of the Green Battalion, bearing affinity with ISIS.
A battalion that first emerged in August, the group shares an ideological affinity with both ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra, but is in fact independent: something the battalion wished to emphasize in changing its emblem in mid-September. Led by Saudi muhajireen but also having a native Syrian component, the group’s independence from ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra is rooted in personal problems.
However, the Green Battalion has conducted joint operations with the two factions in the Qalamoun area of Damascus province and- as part of a wider front including prominent factions like Jaysh al-Islam- in the recent offensive on regime-held zones of the desert areas of Homs governorate (e.g. the localities of Sakhna and Muhin, deemed part of “Wilayat al-Badiya”- “the desert province”- in ISIS discourse), where the Green Battalion claimed to have seized a number of different types of weapons from regime forces. Of recent relevance in this context is the joint operation with ISIS that captured the Qalamoun town of Deir Attiyeh (subsequently renamed Dar Ata’ by ISIS in light of the former name’s

Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad: The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham Billboards in Raqqa

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The Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham Billboards in Raqqa
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Of all the areas in Syria where the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham [ISIS] has an established presence, the city of Raqqa arguably stands out for the nature of ISIS’ da’wah efforts, most notably in the form of billboards. What follows is a collection of those billboards and translation of their messages.
First, however, an update is needed on the ISIS situation in Raqqa. In previous posts on the subject in June I identified how the names and banners of ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (JN) were interchangeable. By the beginning of July, however, this was no longer the case as the ISIS commander in Raqqa- a local man by the name of Abu Sa’ad al-Haḍrami- defected from ISIS and decided to reaffirm a separate JN identity.
Haḍrami felt disillusioned with ISIS’ conduct in the city particularly as regards to detaining rival rebels, and believed that continuing the name of ISIS was counterproductive since it is in contravention of Sheikh Aymenn al-Ẓawahiri’s order to keep the Islamic State of Iraq and JN separate according to the realms of Iraq and Syria respectively while insisting that the two groups cooperate.
Haḍrami then went with his followers to the city of Tabqa, and in mid-September, the ‘return’ of JN to Raqqa was announced in a statement with relevant excerpts translated below:
“To our people in Raqqa, may God protect them, we inform you of our return to the town after we established a military camp according to Shari’a for the retraining of our mujahideen after the deviation in behavior norms and the differences among some of the brothers. We are obliged to you to work to serve Islam and Muslims and to fight the Nusayri regime….and we emphasize that there whosoever exploits the name of Jabhat al-Nusra again to carry out personal desires and interests, we reject that person wholly and individually.
And by God we disavow the acts of kidnapping, thefts and assassinations done in the name of anything deemed in the interest of that and a fulfillment for those pretexts, and so we have announced the following:
– No sending out of any patrol after 10 p.m. regardless of the circumstances and the seriousness of the reasons.
– We do not acknowledge any mujahid (masked, disguised or incognito).
– Any car not carrying the placards and banners of Jabhat al-Nusra is not affiliated with us and we are not linked to it.
– Anyone who takes upon himself to identify with the committee of our mujahideen or to speak in the name of Jabhat al-Nusra or to raise the banner of Jabhat al-Nusra on his car will be liable to the greatest punitive measures regardless of the reasons which called him to do that.”
Figure 1: Jabhat al-Nusra local statement announcing a return to the city of Raqqa, first seen on 13 September.
As can be seen, this statement, in referencing the supposed ‘exploitation’ of JN’s name to describe implicit criticisms of ISIS’ conduct in Raqqa, corroborates my earlier analysis of JN and ISIS as interchangeable in Raqqa in May and June. The imprisonment of rivals as provoked small-scale protests in June whereby demonstrators could be heard denouncing the names of both JN and ISIS. Further, in initially pledging ba’yah to Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, it does not follow that Abu Sa’ad al-Haḍrami was hostile to the name of JN or Sheikh Jowlani, and in rallies from the period JN and ISIS flags could be observed side by side.
Since JN’s return to Raqqa, Abu Sa’ad al-Haḍrami has reportedly gone missing. One claim is that ISIS is holding him hostage, and some activist networks in Raqqa have recently circulated a purported JN statement criticizing ISIS for the continued detention of a number of people, including Abu Sa’ad al-Haḍrami. However, the statement bears no JN seal or signature, and appears to be a forgery that is trying to exaggerate the level of fitna between JN and ISIS in the town.
It is true that a local dispute in the town led to a brief clash in which one member of JN was killed, but since then the JN-ISIS relationship in Raqqa has moved away from tension. This cooperation trend has most notably entailed joint Eid al-Adha celebrations and prayers- a phenomenon that has also been observed in Ghouta, Damascus area. Meanwhile, joint JN-ISIS military fronts (together with other battalions) are operating in Deir az-Zor and Sakhna (Homs governorate). This runs counter to the media narrative that tends to see JN and ISIS as being on staunchly hostile terms with each other.
Figure 2: Joint ISIS-JN Eid prayers and celebrations in Raqqa.
Figure 3: Joint ISIS-JN prayers from Raqqa.
As of now, therefore, the ISIS-JN relationship in Raqqa is one of separate entities but clearly cooperating and trying to bridge the problem of the disagreement between Sheikh Baghdadi and Sheikh Jowlani, even as some JN members undoubtedly harbor reservations over ISIS’ methods of dealing with rivals. In turn, ISIS appears to be more aware of the problem of resentment over its conduct and accordingly issued a statement to residents of Raqqa on their being entitled to submit complaints about members’ conduct. In any event, most FSA-banner remnants in Raqqa have now been absorbed by ISIS or JN, though FSA banners may still be observed alongside those of JN or ISIS at civilian rallies. In short, Raqqa today is under a triumvirate of JN, ISIS and Ahrar ash-Sham.
Figure 4: “The Engineering Battalion”- a local JN affiliate in Raqqa.
Figure 5: Screenshot from a rally in Raqqa on 5 October featuring an ISIS banner alongside FSA flags.
Figure 6: Recent ISIS statement to the people of Raqqa on how to submit complaints about ISIS members’ conduct if necessary.
Without further ado, here is an archive of the billboards put up by ISIS across the city of Raqqa as part of its da’wah efforts. The billboards primarily promote the importance of modest dress for women, the need for Shari’a as the sole source of legislation, and the importance of fighting jihad. They are always signed in the following form: “From your brothers in the da’wah office: Raqqa.”
Figure 7: “Speak to the believing women as they lower their eyes, guard their openings and do not show their adornments except what has appeared from them.”
Figure 8: “The Almighty has said: ‘But God hated that they were being sent, so he kept them back, and it was said: Remain with those who are remaining.” (Qur’an 9:46)
Figure 9: “God’s law or man-made law?”
Figure 10: “Perform your prayers; your life is sweet.”
Figure 11: “My modesty is the secret of my beauty”- a billboard promoting the niqab/burqa.
Figure 12: Alongside the billboard promoting the niqab/burqa, we have another ISIS billboard to the right reading “By Islam we build the land, and by education we ascend to Heaven.”
Figure 13: A billboard promoting jihad: “The messenger of God- may God’s peace and blessings be upon him- said: ‘And know that Paradise is under the shade of swords’.”
Figure 14: “Narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira: he said: ‘The Messenger of God- may God’s peace and blessings be upon him, said: ‘Islam began as a strange thing, and it will return just as it began: as a strange thing. So blessings be on strangers.’” Abu Huraira was a transmitter of ahadith considered reliable by Sunnis.
Figure 15: “’And fight them until there is no more fitna and religion is God’s alone’ (Qur’an 8:39). The highest calling of religion is jihad against idolatry, so let us wage jihad or let life throw us out.”
Figure 16: “The Almighty said: ‘So fight in the path of God, and do not hold [anyone] responsible except yourself.” Sura an-Nisā’, Ayah 84 (Qur’an 4:84).
Figure 17: “Narrated on the authority of Abu Huraira, may God be pleased with him. He said: ‘The messenger of God- may God’s peace and blessings be upon him- said: ‘Whoever has died and did not fight [jihad] or think about doing so has died among the people of hypocrisy.’ Sahih Muslim.”
Figure 18: “The Almighty has said: ‘Be helpers of God just as Jesus son of Mary said.’ Sura as-Ṣaff, Ayah 14 (Qur’an 61:14).”
Figure 19: “The rule of God’s law: ‘Verily legislation is a matter for God alone, who hath ordered that ye worship only Him.’- Yusuf 40 (Qur’an 12:40).”
Figure 20: “My hijab is my glory/might.”
Figure 21: “And when I am ill, he heals me (Qur’an 26:80).”
Figure 22: “Together let us spread

Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad: Bay’ah to Baghdadi: Foreign Support for Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham

NOTE: An archive of the Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad column can now be found here.

Bay’ah to Baghdadi: Foreign Support for Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Click here for a PDF version of this post
Over the past couple of months, jihadi media outlets have circulated numerous photos and statements indicating support from various places abroad for Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) as the group has expanded its influence in Syria and has experienced a resurgence in Iraq. Below is a selection of those gestures of support, and the analytical implications.
Saudi Arabia
The gestures of support from Saudi Arabia primarily take the form of anonymous individuals holding placards declaring admiration for ISIS. Note that the photos below are not in chronological order. The ideological inclinations of the placard-holders are made clear by calling Saudi Arabia ‘Bilad al-Haramain’ (‘Land of the Two Sanctuaries’- referencing Mecca and Medina).
This photo, taken near the Kaaba in late July, celebrates the successful prison breaks orchestrated by ISIS at Abu Ghraib and Taji in Baghdad that resulted in the release of hundreds of detainees, including muhajireen who had been imprisoned since 2006/7. The placard reads: ‘Greetings from Bilad al-Haramain to the lions of the two rivers [Tigris and Euphrates] for the liberation of Taji and Abu Ghraib prison; for the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham’.
This photo comes from an unspecified location in Saudi Arabia. The placard reads: ‘We bless/congratulate Abu Bakr [al-Baghdadi] for the liberation of Abu Ghraib and Taji prison. The sons of Bilad al-Haramain.’
Again with unspecified location in Saudi Arabia, and the handwriting is not entirely clear, but the first few lines can be discerned as follows: ‘From Bilad al-Haramain, I pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi…and my greetings to Abu Mohammed al-Adnani [ISIS’ main spokesman].’
Perhaps one of the more bizarre demonstrations of support for ISIS from Saudi Arabia, a cake baked with the ISIS flag for the icing.  The dedicatory placard reads: “All thanks to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and the heroes of the Islamic State. Your brothers…the free men of Bilad al-Haramain.”
An earlier image of an ISIS cake from Saudi Arabia had appeared with an accompanying explanation that it was baked to celebrate the fact that a Saudi family’s son was heading off to Syria to fight jihad. However, that image and the Facebook page that featured it have since been deleted.
A photo released on a jihadi forum as part of the same set as the ISIS cake above. A young Saudi girl holds a placard with ISIS insignia. The first and relevant part of the placard reads: ‘How excellent you are, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and your heroic soldiers! Verily you have caused pain to the Safavids.’ In this context, the term ‘Safavids’ is a derogatory reference to the Shi’a.
Two Saudi children hold placards celebrating the ISIS jailbreaks in Baghdad. The placard on the left reads: ‘We congratulate the Ummah of Mohammed for the liberation of some 600 prisoners from the prisons of the Rafidites [Shi’a]. Thanks to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Bilad al-Haramain.’ The placard on the right says: ‘Our amir Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi…send us some of your soldiers to free our prisoners. Bilad al-Haramain.’
Testimony on the ground from northern Syria in particular suggests to me that one factor behind ISIS’ success in expansion is that the group has much more financial clout at its disposal than most other rebel factions, such that first-hand observers seem puzzled. Cross-border coordination with mujahideen in Iraq and limited oil revenues from control of some oil fields in Syria can partly explain the depth of ISIS’ financial resources. Yet I would also suggest that by conveying these gestures of support from Saudi individuals to ISIS, jihadi circles are implying that ISIS is receiving significant funding from private Saudi citizens who support ISIS.
Somalia, home to the official al-Qa’ida affiliate Harakat Shabaab al-Mujahideen (HSM), has also seen gestures of support for ISIS and Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The images below have been released through the end of July and into August by the pro-ISIS media channel ash-Sham, which is based in Raqqa, Syria. There have of course been rumors and anecdotes of Somali fighters in Syria. Somalia itself has also seen small demonstrations in support of the uprising in Syria.
The ash-Sham channel’s logo is to be observed in the right-hand corner. The placard held by the HSM fighter reads: ‘And if I were in ash-Sham, I could only be a soldier in the Islamic State.’
A child supporter of HSM stands besides a large ISIS/HSM banner, holding a placard that reads: ‘Greetings to the amir in the state of free men: Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, demolishing the walls.” Note that ‘demolishing the walls’ is in reference to the successful ISIS jailbreaks in Baghdad last month.
Two HSM fighters show their support for ISIS. The mujahid on the left displays the same placard as in the first photo from this series. The mujahid on the right holds a placard that says, ‘An Eid gift to the lions of Tawhid in the Islamic State.’ The building behind the two HSM fighters has the Somali word ‘Xuuriye’ inscribed on it, meaning ‘freedom’ and borrowed from Arabic (in Somali writing, ‘x’ replaces Arabic ḥ in loanwords).
Niqab-wearing supporters of HSM demonstrate their support for ISIS. The placard on the right reads, ‘Remaining [steadfast] in Iraq and ash-Sham.’ It should be noted that this slogan is a recurring theme in ISIS discourse, originating from Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s speech in June, in which he rejected Sheikh Aymenn al-Ẓawahiri’s insistence on separation between Islamic State of Iraq and Jabhat al-Nusra. Since then, ‘bāqīya’ has even become the name of a pro-ISIS media outlet: Bāqīya Media, dedicated to putting out material on ISIS in Bilād ash-Sham.
A Somali child holds the same placard as in the first photo in this series.
HSM fighters hold the ISIS banner with the inscription ‘Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham’ on it.
Somali women in niqabs display ISIS banners. Note the one on the left with the inscription ‘Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham.’
Somali children hold the ISIS banner.
Somali women hold placards in support of ISIS. The writing on the discernible placard on the far left is the same as the third one in this series.
Given HSM’s status as an al-Qa’ida affiliate, it is noteworthy that its members and fan-base have shown support for ISIS and Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, while not indicating any similar appreciation for Sheikh Abu Mohammed al-Jowlani and Jabhat al-Nusra.
This would seem to suggest that ISIS’ reputation is far greater than that of the latter two in many jihadist hotspots around the Muslim world- something that has no doubt been abetted by ISIS’ quick expansion across northern and eastern Syria in particular, along with ISIS’ leading role in recent rebel offensives like the capture of Mannagh airbase.
Despite Sheikh Ẓawahiri’s indication of the need to dissolve ISIS, not only are al-Qa’ida affiliates elsewhere acknowledging ISIS and Sheikh Baghdadi as the leader of the jihad in Bilad ash-Sham, but also official jihadi forums like Shamūkh Islām no longer appear to be deleting posts put out in ISIS’ name.
That said, al-Furqān media- the official outlet of what was Islamic State of Iraq- still avoids overt reference to the name ‘Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham’ in its current video releases, even as it is becomes clear that ISIS’ jihad in Syria is being promoted (e.g. the interview with the martyred French convert and another with an elderly mujahid for the group).
In any event, it is clear that ISIS is more or less accepted in jihadi circles now as a reality on the ground, and Sheikh Ẓawahiri is unlikely to issue another directive calling for the

Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad: The ISIS Cavalcade: Round-Up of Some Claimed Martyrs for the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham

NOTE: An archive of the Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad column can now be found here.

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Since Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) in April as a merger between Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) and Islamic State of Iraq, one question that has arisen is the composition of fighters under the banner of ISIS. Some media reports- most notably the Reuters analyses by Mariam Karouny– have drawn a dichotomy of foreign mujahideen behind ISIS and native Syrians in JAN.
It is of course true that JAN is largely composed of native Syrian fighters (a point often missed in commentary, as my friend Charles Lister noted on Twitter recently). But how far is the notion of ISIS as a foreign force true?
It is my contention that the most useful way for an observer to look into this question is through examining the list of claimed martyrs for ISIS. Though it is only through self-reporting by jihadis so one shouldn’t conclude too much from it either since they could not want to report certain deaths. The title of this study- ‘ISIS Cavalcade’- is a tribute to Phillip Smyth’s ‘Hizballah Cavalcade’, which has in part given lists of fighters for Hizballah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and Iraqi proxies of Iran killed in Syria, with helpful links to sources and insightful commentary.
The ISIS Cavalcade will take the following format: name, nationality, and further comments with sources and a photo where possible. Disputes as regards affiliation will be noted.
1. Name: Waleed Midawi al-Asiri (nom de guerre: Abu Dajana al-Azadi)
Nationality: Saudi (Bilad al-Haramain)
Comments: According to a report by the pro-ISIS channel ash-Sham, al-Asiri was responsible for the first martyrdom operation in the name of ISIS in the Latakia region, attacking a checkpoint and housing belonging to ‘Nuṣayri officers and their families.’ The claimed death toll of the operation- carried out by means of a car bomb laden with 4 tons of explosives- amounts to ‘at least 90 Nuṣayris.’
To an extent, ash-Sham’s account is corroborated by this Youtube video in which al-Asiri is said to appear- featuring him in a room with a banner on the wall entitled ‘Room of operations of the Mujahideen: Latakia.’ As a further point, I would note that the Latakia area has been an active area of operations for foreign fighters affiliated with the battalion Katiba al-Muhajireen (KAM).
If al-Asiri was also under the banner of ISIS, that would provide evidence for my contention that the relationship between KAM and ISIS is rather like that between Kata’ib Hizballah and Hizballah in Iraq– namely, that the two entities are not separate, but mirror fronts for one another.
Conversely, here is a purported JAN statement- dated 25 May, one day before ash-Sham’s report- claiming al-Asiri as a JAN fighter. The authenticity of this statement is strongly disputed by a forum user, while the original poster on said forum purports to defend it as emanating from JAN’s official channel al-Manārah al-Bayḍā. However, the fact is that the channel was officially offline during this period when Asiri’s martyrdom was announced and has only resumed recently. My overall judgment is therefore that Asiri likely belonged to KAM/ISIS.
Figure 1: A photo of Waleed Midawi al-Asiri (source: ash-Sham)
2. Name: Abu Yaqub al-Tunisi
Nationality: Tunisian
Comments: The jihadi forum Ansar al-Mujahideen featured a post on 14 May containing a short biography of Abu Yaqub al-Tunisi. He is said to have ‘abandoned the contemptible world in the land of the West and returned to Tunisia. From there he migrated to the land of ash-Sham.’ He was killed in a fight with regime forces in the Aleppo area.
The original biography can be traced to the pro-Al-Qa’ida page Qaḍaaya al-Ummah, though no affiliation with ISIS is explicitly mentioned there. That claim goes back to ash-Sham, as well as several pro-ISIS Twitter users. In contrast, the outlet Tanit Press cites Tunisian Salafist sources to say that Abu Yaqub al-Tunisi belonged to Jabhat al-Nusra, as do a few other Twitter users.  There is thus a possibility that al-Tunisi was originally JAN but declared affiliation with ISIS after the latter was announced by Sheikh Baghdadi.
Figure 2: Photo of Abu Yaqub al-Tunisi (source: Twitter and Facebook).
3. Name: Ali al-Qadhdhāfi (Nom de guerre: Abu Junaid)
    Nationality: Libyan
Comments: On 19 May, the Youtube user Abu Thabit al-Ansari uploaded a video of Alī al-Qadhdhāfi, featuring footage of him pictured with the ISIS banner, clearly indicating his affiliation with ISIS, which is further corroborated by the fact that on 11 May via Twitter, his death was reported to have taken place in Iraq rather than Syria. This particular martyrdom is important to note, for it still indicates the role of foreign fighters- and Libyans in particular- in the al-Qa’ida insurgency in Iraq.[i]
Figure 3: A photo of Ali al-Qadhdhāfi (source: here).
4. Name: Hamoud Mohammed al-Bdaiwi (nom de guerre: Abu al-Yazin)
Nationality: Saudi (Bilad al-Haramain)
Comments: The Facebook page ‘Kamishli’ (pro-regime) reported on 23 June that al-Bdaiwi was one of those behind attacks in the Damascus area on that day: specifically, in the neighborhood of Bāb al-Muṣallā, which- as authors George Atiyeh and Ibrahim Oweiss note- ‘constitutes the main part of Lower Mīdān.’
On the other hand, the Facebook page ‘Al-Ghurabā fī ath-thawra as-Sūrīya’ claims that he was killed in Aleppo. I remain agnostic as to the precise location of his death, but neither city is implausible, for ISIS has a presence in both Aleppo and Damascus.[ii]
The source for the photo of him given below goes back to the outlet Burydah News, which appears to have been the first outlet to report his death. However, no specific location within Syria for his martyrdom is given. As ever, the pro-ISIS channel ash-Sham claims him as a martyr for ISIS, but no pro-JAN sources to my knowledge have claimed him for JAN. Further, ash-Sham describes the circumstances of his death as a ‘martyrdom operation,’ indicating that perhaps he died in a suicide attack.
Figure 4: Photo of Hamoud Mohammed al-Bdaiwi
5. Name: Marwan bin al-Haj Saleh (Nom de guerre: Abu Ismail al-Tunisi)
Nationality: Tunisian
Comments: The pro-ISIS channel ash-Sham reported on 24 June that he was killed in Aleppo. His affiliation with ISIS is proven by his appearance alongside ISIS banners in the photo of him given below. The Facebook page Qaḍāya al-Ummah gives more precise details as to the circumstances of his death: namely, that he was killed during the rebel assault on Mannagh airport- an operation in which ISIS is known to be participating in coordination with other battalions.

Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad: Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham: Deir ez-Zor and the wider east of Syria

NOTE: An archive of the Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad column can now be found here.

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
On account of the border with Iraq, one might infer through common sense stronger links in Deir ez-Zor and the east with mujahideen in Iraq fighting under the command of Sheikh Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who announced the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) in the first place. Thus, it might be predicted that ISIS has either taken over the eastern areas completely or is otherwise indistinguishable from Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), as is the case in Raqqah.
The city of Deir ez-Zor
An overview of the evidence demonstrates a more complicated picture. In the city of Deir ez-Zor itself, it would appear that JAN and ISIS are two separate entities. This can be shown by the fact that there is no overlap in claimed operations for the two groups.
Thus, the main source for ISIS actions in Deir ez-Zor comes from the pro-ISIS channel ash-Sham, which put out a video of members of ISIS destroying a Shi’i mosque in Deir ez-Zor. Confirmation of ISIS responsibility is made clear by the fact that the opening speaker introduces those in the video destroying the mosque as members of ISIS.
Here is another video released by ash-Sham of ISIS gunmen executing two men in Deir ez-Zor, described in the video tag as ‘murtadeen’ (‘apostates’) and apparently guilty of crimes against Muslims. ISIS also appears to be playing a role in the ongoing battle for Deir ez-Zor airport between regime forces and rebels. Considering that those under the banner of the ‘Free Army/FSA’ are continuing to fight for the airport, it is likely that there is coordination in this operation between ISIS and other rebels.
JAN is also playing its own role in leading and coordinating operations with other rebels, despite what appeared to be a decline in evidence of JAN activity in Deir ez-Zor (contrasting with the western regions of the country) between Sheikh Baghdadi’s announcement of ISIS and Sheikh Aymenn al-Zawahiri’s letter of compromise between ISIS and JAN.
Thus, on 15 June, some rebel outlets reported that JAN along with the ‘Jamaat al-Tawhid wa l-Jihad’ had taken over the military court in Deir ez-Zor. Ugarit News says that the operation was a joint one between JAN and those under the banner of the ‘Free Army’, with additional mention of a joint JAN-‘Free Army’ takeover of a Bemo Bank building. Neither of these operations has been claimed for ISIS, and vice-versa as regards ISIS actions in Deir ez-Zor.[i]
Abu Kamal and the Kata’ib Junud al-Haq
Outside of Deir ez-Zor- in particular in eastern towns freed from regime control- there is not really a clear distinction between ISIS and JAN. The best case-in-point comes from the town of Abu Kamal on the Euphrates that is right on the border with Iraq, making links with jihadis in Iraq perfectly logical. During the upsurge in claimed ISIS videos in mid-May, one emerged purporting to show ISIS’ presence in Abu Kamal, allegedly showing operations by the ‘Kata’ib Junud al-Haq’ (‘Battalions of the Soldiers of Righteousness’- KJAH) based in Abu Kamal and with claimed affiliation to ISIS.
Later that month, another video emerged of an ISIS training camp for youths in Abu Kamal. For instance, at 0:33 in the latter video, some of the ISIS cub scouts are seen holding the ISIS banner with the inscription ‘Islamic State of Iraq and Sham’ in Arabic and English.
The clip also includes teaching children to disarm opponents of their weapons at close quarters, marksmanship and using sniper rifles. Moreover, there is the chanting of slogans such as ‘God preserve the Muhajireen’ (3:52), suggesting that some foreign fighters- and in this case I would in particular suggest Iraqis from the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI)- have been involved in the running of the training camp.
The key to tracking developments as regards the ISIS-JAN relationship in Abu Kamal lies in KJAH, about which nothing in English has otherwise been written. A look at the group’s Facebook page is most revealing.  Originally, KJAH was set up as a front-group for JAN in Abu Kamal. This is apparent from their first logo that included the name of Jabhat al-Nusra underneath ‘Kata’ib Junud al-Haq.’
Furthermore, in March, a video was released purportedly showing dead Shabiha fighters in the town of ash-Shaddadi in Hasakah province. The speaker in the video mentions that the men were killed at the hands of ‘Kata’ib Junud al-Haq- Kata’ib Jabhat al-Nusra.’
Here is another video of the battalion coordinating operations with those identifying as the ‘Free Army’ in trying to take Kabajab from regime forces (in Deir ez-Zor province). Note that neither of these videos was released through al-Manārah al-Bayḍā, suggesting that like the JAN military council in Deraa, KJAH should in theory enjoy some degree of autonomy.
At the same time, KJAH’s sympathy- at the minimum- with Sheikh Baghdadi’s ISI was made clear with another emblem uploaded in March to mark a purported JAN offensive to take Homs. The name of Jabhat al-Nusra is inscribed as with the first logo but part of the ISI logo is incorporated, perhaps acknowledging KJAH’s debt to ISI (something that applies to JAN more generally).
A more glaring change came at the end of April- some three weeks after the announcement of ISIS- that saw KJAH drop JAN’s name from their logo entirely, making clear its affiliation to ISIS. Indeed, the impression of ISIS affiliation was strengthened by those two videos in May mentioned above.
The battalion also released a statement in mid-May- under its own name but openly claiming membership of ISIS- addressed to the people of Abu Kamal, notifying them that the battalion’s request for permission for students in Abu Kamal to sit their exams in Abu Kamal rather than in Deir ez-Zor had been turned down.

At the same time, the switch to ISIS name and imagery did not mean a rejection of or hostility towards JAN, as indicated by the fact the Facebook page uploaded a photo featuring JAN fighters and their logo on 10 May.
In any event, when Sheikh Zawahiri announced his compromise ruling in favor of maintaining JAN’s name, KJAH switched back to claiming affiliation with JAN, while maintaining on its Facebook page the logo adopted after Sheikh Baghdadi’s announcement of ISIS.
The most recent statement released by KJAH explicitly states affiliation as JAN’s wing in Abu Kamal, discussing a recent problem of residents of villages near Abu Kamal receiving weapons from regime forces in Deir ez-Zor.
KJAH is a good example of how defining the exact ISIS-JAN relationship in Syria can be difficult to describe in general terms. Certainly the changes in claimed logos and affiliations reflect the disputes at the leadership level of the jihad in Syria over the names of JAN and ISIS, but KJAH’s adoption of one or the other did not mean hostility to the other name or banner, regardless of the battalion’s composition.
Further, besides the praise of ‘Muhajireen’ being taught in the then KJAH/ISIS camp in Abu Kamal, one should note that some of KJAH Facebook postings appear to have been made in Baghdad, adding credence to my hypothesis of strong links between the mujahideen in Abu Kamal and Iraqi fighters, if not the presence of Iraqi mujahideen in Abu Kamal.
If that be the case, then Abu Kamal presents an example of how views on JAN and ISIS are not always predictable according to a foreign-fighter vs. native Syrian dichotomy.

Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad: Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham in Raqqah: Demonstrations and Counter-Demonstrations

NOTE: An archive of the Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad column can now be found here.

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
In a previous post for Jihadology I documented how looking at evidence from Raqqah Governorate basically illustrates that the designations of Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) and Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) are interchangeable in that area. The latest controversy that has emerged in the city of Raqqah itself further demonstrates this conclusion.
The controversy began with videos that came to light of a sit-in demonstration being held by some women in front of what the channel Aks Alser termed ‘the headquarters of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham.’ The grievances focus on calls for ISIS to release close family members from detention, with one woman holding a placard entitled ‘I want a piece of my liver’ (i.e. an idiomatic expression for ‘I want my son/offspring’).
The woman who first speaks at length in the video holds a sign saying ‘Where is my son?’. The lady to her right holds a sign asking ‘Where is my brother?’ As for the speaker, she mentions how men from rival battalions like the Kata’ib al-Farouq[i] have been detained with no knowledge of their fate, with some having been held for up to a whole month now.
Similarly, another video [H/T: @Syrian_Scenes] emerged showing demonstrations ‘in front of the headquarters of Jabhat al-Nusra,’ where a young girl first appeared, crying about the fact that her father- himself a rebel fighter- had been detained with ‘that Jabha’ for more than a month. By ‘Jabha’ (‘front’), she is presumably referring to ‘Jabhat al-Nusra’, as she also mentions how they are ‘Islamiyeen’ (‘Islamists’). In her pleas for her father, the young girl was one of the figureheads for the protests.
To be sure, the protestors shown in this video are religious, but they clearly do not subscribe to a comprehensive Islamist program, and only the Free Syrian Army flag is to be observed here.
Some Arabic news channels like al-Arabiya seized upon news of these protests, prompting a response from activists in JAN and ISIS circles. Most notably, here is a statement released by a pro-JAN activist based in Syria who uses the handle @9amar_1.
She begins by complaining of the spreading of slanderous attacks on ‘the mujahideen of the Islamic State [of Iraq and ash-Sham][ii] and Jabhat al-Nusra, especially in light of what is transpiring from the protests in Raqqah in front of the headquarters of the Islamic State, by which also Jabhat al-Nusra has faced accusations- for general distortion- in the media,’ later singling out al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera in particular for incitement against the mujahideen.
She goes on to explain how the ruling of Syria by a ‘Nusayri regime’ has distanced the people from religion. As for those whom ‘the Islamic State has arrested,’ she justifies the detention by asserting that said prisoners ‘have exceeded the boundaries of Shari’a.’
One conclusion to note from this activist’s statement is the importance of not generalizing about the ISIS-JAN relationship in terms of what activists in these ideological circles. It is quite clear that @9amar_1 views ISIS and JAN as working for the same goals but the naming is a matter of personal preference and completely interchangeable.
In turn, it is clear that a conflation of JAN-ISIS in terms of the naming of the headquarters outside of which were protests and the faction against which the protests took place indicate how ISIS and JAN in Raqqah are essentially one and the same.
In Raqqah itself, further evidence of an ISIS-JAN unity became clear in the counter-demonstrations on the ground. Here is one such video, featuring several youths holding the banners of Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiya (which, to recall, was the main group of battalions responsible for the rebel takeover of Raqqah in March), ISIS and the general flag of jihad.
The video itself is entitled ‘Syrians’ response to the al-Arabiya report against Jabhat al-Nusra, Raqqah.’ In the video, the speaker sarcastically asks, ‘Where is the Arab Jabha?’- a clear retort to denunciations of JAN. He concludes by making clear that the only worthy slogan is the Shahada. Here is another video of a recent counter-demonstration, featuring the banners of Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiya, JAN and ISIS.
These videos form a marked contrast with footage of demonstrations from Raqqah before. While it is evident that the numbers in these rallies and counter-rallies are fairly small in comparison to the protests based on common causes like solidarity with the rebels fighting for Quṣayr, they mark for the first time a true demarcation based on ideology, whereas in earlier demonstrations I documented banners and factions from across the spectrum could be seen.
At the same time, it is apparent that ISIS/JAN in Raqqah does not think it can assert itself in the face of ideologically-opposed protestors by means of an armed confrontation. Notice how the demonstration outside its headquarters was entirely left alone, even as the group has made its show of strength clear with spectacles like the execution of three men in a public square, accused of working for the Assad regime.
However, if the rallies and counter-rallies continue, it may well be that no concord can be reached again whereby FSA and ISIS flags feature side-by-side in rallies, and instead a situation emerges as in Aleppo where ISIS and other sympathetic factions have their own separate marches.
The recent developments should also debunk the false dichotomy posed by some commentators of ‘Salafist nationalist’ Syrian Islamic Front [SIF] groups like Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiya versus transnational jihadist groups (cf. my overview of statements put out by various factions on Sheikh Jowlani’s bayah to Sheikh Aymenn al-Zawahiri).
To sum up, the recent wave of demonstrations in Raqqah only reinforces the point that in this part of Syria, ISIS and JAN are interchangeable. Further, it illustrates how groups like Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiya of SIF can on the ground display more affinity with overtly transnational jihadist groups than commonly thought. The current tensions are unlikely to spill into overt bloodshed between rival battalions in Raqqah itself, but that could well change when such rivalries are on display in the border town of Tel Abyaḍ.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University, and a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum. His website is Follow on Twitter at @ajaltamimi

[i] Farouq Battalions in Raqqah Governorate have a long-standing rivalry with JAN/ISIS, centering on border control at Tel Abyaḍ. See my post here and Shami Witness’ article here. [ii] In discourse within Syria, it is common to abbreviate ‘Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham’ to just ‘State of Islam’ (literal translation here) or ‘Islamic State.’

Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad: "HAMAS and Syria"

NOTE: An archive of the Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad column can now be found here.

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi


The past couple of weeks has seen Hamas’ tensions with Hezbollah come to the forefront despite past cooperation as the former has urged the latter to withdraw from the Syrian conflict immediately. At first sight, one may be tempted to accuse Hamas of hypocrisy on the basis of widespread rumors of the group’s involvement in Syria in aid of the rebels against the Assad regime. But how far, if at all, is Hamas really participating in the civil war?
Mainstream Media Reports
The main basis for claiming Hamas involvement in Syria lies in a few reports in media outlets. Thus in April the British newspaper The Times claimed Izz ad-Din al-Qassam fighters were training rebels in Damascus- citing anonymous Western diplomats. In the same month, the Kuwaiti paper ‘As-Sayaasah al-Kuwaitiya’ claimed that Hamas was preparing to send a thousand fighters from Lebanon into Syria to take on Hezbollah.
More recently, Rania Abouzeid wrote a piece for The New Yorker on arming rebels of Syria where she claimed in passing that rebels in Idlib had produced projectiles resembling the Qassam rocket, attributing the production to the provision of know-how from Hamas. Abouzeid offered no source for the conveying this information to her.
The problem with these claims is that they are all second-hand in nature, and they have all been denied vigorously by Hamas, whose leadership stresses an official policy of non-intervention in the Syrian conflict, even as Hamas officials abandoned Syria out of alienation from the Assad regime’s harsh repression against the mainly Sunni Arab uprising.
Hamas and the Social Media of Jihadis and other Rebels
Outside of the scanty media report testimony, claims of Hamas fighters’ presence in Syria primarily come from pro-regime media. For instance, one video was circulated recently of a Syrian soldier beside the bodies of several men, whom the soldier claimed were Hamas fighters and showed a photo of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin that one of the men purportedly had as proof.
In contrast, one can find extensive first-hand evidence of Hezbollah involvement even from before the Battle for Qusayr, most notably through pro-Hezbollah social media (Twitter, Facebook and chat forums) featuring photos of Hezbollah ‘martyrs’ killed in Syria. Far more reliable evidence by any measure than rebel media circles. By the same standard, the only real way to ascertain a Hamas presence in Syria is through acknowledgement in rebel media organs, jihadist organs, and so on.
Yet such acknowledgement is sorely lacking. There are of course many cases of Palestinian martyrs killed in Syria while fighting for rebel forces, but they are of a Salafist orientation in line with the rebel-battalion coalition known as the Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), rather than the Muslim-Brotherhood-alignment of Hamas.
From Gaza itself, I have counted only two martyrs via forums and social media. One of them- called Mohammed Ahmad Quneiṭa– had gone to Syria some months before his death, participating in battles and training rebels. He is said to have been a commander in the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
There are also conflicting reports as to whether he was acknowledged by Hamas in Gaza as one of its own: here is one report from the pro-regime site ‘Syria Now’ that claims so, pointing to the alleged acknowledgement of Quneiṭa as definite proof of Hamas involvement in Syria, besides giving citations from a ‘Syrian military source.’ Here is another Arabic news report that claims Hamas acknowledged the fighter.
However, the pro-regime site Zanobia denies that Hamas acknowledged him. Zanobia claims that Quneiṭa went on to become leader of a Jabhat al-Nusra contingent in the Idlib countryside near the Turkish border, but Hamas did not support his enterprise and apparently tried to dissuade him from doing so.
On balance, I am inclined to go with Zanobia’s account, for there is nothing in pro-Hamas social media to corroborate the claim of the group’s acknowledgment of him. It is merely on the basis of Quneiṭa’s apparent senior connections within Hamas that Zanobia takes as proof of Hamas involvement in Syria on the side of the rebels.
It is also of interest to note that the authoritative jihadi news agency- Dawaa al-Haq- claims that Quneiṭa was dismissed from the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades for going to Syria to fight jihad. The entire report is worth reading, with claimed citations of close friends of Quneiṭa that purportedly show that despite his membership in the Qassam Brigades, he was always more sympathetic to the Salafi circles at odds with Hamas, such that he had even been arrested a number of times.
The other Gazan martyr- Niḍal al-Ashi– was a Salafist fighter killed in the Aleppo area and was claimed by jihadi sources to have been subject to persecution by Hamas’ security services, including time served in Hamas prisons for firing rockets at Israel and involvement in a plot to assassinate the former head of the International Relief Agency in Gaza.
Salafis in Syria and Hamas
Indeed, the Hamas-Salafist rivalry in Gaza has not escaped the notice of the SIF or al-Qa’ida-aligned battalions like the Katiba al-Muhajireen, both of which have issued statements criticizing Hamas for alleged mistreatment of Salafist mujahideen in Gaza.
Neither acknowledges any Hamas contribution to aiding the uprising against Assad. The SIF in particular made its sentiment clear as its statement was released with a subheading ‘On Hamas’ betrayal of the Syrian revolution’. The SIF then accused Hamas of still being beholden to Iran, noting Hamas officials’ denial of involvement in Syria.
Summary Analysis
In short, we can say at most that to the extent that any Hamas fighters have been involved in Syria, they have been doing so without approval from the Hamas leadership, and either travel to the country from abroad out of their own accord- perhaps with Hamas in Gaza passively allowing this- or could be left-behinds from Hamas’ evacuation of Syria. This is quite far removed from the level of Hezbollah’s involvement in the civil war.
In any event, attempting to infer a Hamas presence from rebel tactics can be easily explained by the fact that many Palestinian fighters of Salafist orientation were once Hamas-aligned and then defected.
Conclusion: Hamas, Syria and the Wider Region
Examining Hamas’ stance vis-à-vis Syria is important for analyzing the group’s wider position in the region. While it is conventional to talk of Hamas’ shift to the ‘Sunni bloc’, the reality is that the group is very much in a state of limbo, with all sides harboring some form of reservation towards it.
Iran- angered by Hamas’ withdrawal from Syria and abandoning of Assad- has drastically cut financial support for the group. Salafist factions in Gaza and Syria accuse it of collaborating with Egyptian intelligence to suppress true jihad against Israel. One particularly egregious accusation came from an Egyptian Majlis Shura al-Mujahideen commander in the Sinai, who claimed some Hamas military leaders fund takfiri terrorists.
Egypt, which has now given a green light for citizens to fight in Syria, has not been any more relaxed about border controls with Gaza, preoccupied with economic troubles at home and concerned about security threats posed by militants in the Sinai with links to Gaza.
Finally, Gulf states like Qatar have not been all that forthcoming on aid promises to Gaza, such that the Hamas government there faces its own financial crisis.
While Hamas’ popularity may flare up every time there is a conflict with Israel, the fact is that the group is more isolated than ever, with few reliable friends in the region. If Hamas is going to get more involved in Syria, then the Egyptian and Qatari governments in particular will at the minimum have to demonstrate a greater willingness to aid the Hamas government in Gaza.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a Shillman-Ginsburg Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a student at Brasenose College, Oxford University. His website is

Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad: Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham: Deraa Governorate

NOTE: An archive of the Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril on Jihad column can now be found here.

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
General Overview

While both Raqqah and Aleppo offer ample evidence for an Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) presence, there is nothing of the sort for Deraa. In fact, a search in Arabic on Twitter for ISIS and Deraa turns up one result: namely, a query I had sent to another user about whether he knew of any ISIS fighters operating in Deraa.
That question went unanswered. Youtube, Facebook and jihadi forums likewise turn up no results. Instead, one only finds evidence for fighters operating under the banner of Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN), which continues to play an important role in rebel offensives in Deraa.
Indeed, while the disagreement that arose in April between Sheikh al-Baghdadi and Sheikh al-Jowlani on the merging of JAN with Islamic State of Iraq remained unresolved by a verdict from Sheikh Aymenn al-Zawahiri, not only did numerous reports via rebel media outlets continue to appear of JAN activities in Deraa, but there also emerged a ‘Jabhat al-Nusra: Wilaya of Deraa’ council that put out statements for distribution in jihadi media circles.
Deraa itself is perhaps the best example of how, despite Jowlani’s pledge of allegiance to Zawahiri, other rebel battalions of different ideological inclinations have still been willing to cooperate with JAN in operations against Assad regime forces.
This was most apparent at the beginning of May when a video emerged of JAN’s takeover of the eastern front in Deraa, with the cooperation of other battalions like Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiya.[i] Later that month, a video was posted explaining JAN’s seizing control of a sample area in Deraa with the cooperation of those identifying by the label of the ‘Free Army.’ Here was another video where ‘Free Army’ rebels acknowledged cooperation with JAN in Deraa, though it has since been removed from Youtube.
This testimony of cooperation between JAN and those calling themselves the ‘Free Army’ is corroborated by an earlier Omawi News interview with a Jabhat al-Nusra field commander in Deraa on operations conducted against the Syrian army with the cooperation of ‘our brothers in the Free Army’ (eastern region).
Towards the end of May and into the beginning of June, more overt evidence of JAN’s presence in the rebel offensives in Deraa emerged. For example, here is a collection of photos released at the start of June of JAN fighters in Buṣra ash-Sham[ii]. Note the distinctive flag and the use of a distinct ‘Deraa’ logo with a JAN flag as a media outlet for JAN in the area.
In a similar vein, here is a video of a JAN tank operating in Deraa. Here is another video of the JAN tank released via the channel al-Maysar. Further, here is a video of Jabhat al-Nusra, ‘with the participation of a number of battalions,’ in the battle for Wadi al-Yarmouk in west Deraa.
JAN’s Deraa Media Outlet and Military Council
The Deraa media channel for JAN bears further consideration. Here is a video released by the outlet at the end of May of a JAN training camps in Deraa, introduced by the nasheed ‘Madin Kas-Sayf’ by Abu Ali (see translation here). Deemed ‘camps of martyrs’, the fighters wear sophisticated military uniforms and the JAN flag features prominently throughout, with a banner at around 3:50 reading ‘An Ummah whose leader is Mohammed (sall Allahu alayhi wa salam) will not bow down [in submission]’.
Here likewise is a JAN Deraa video from the beginning of June denouncing Assad, Iran and Hezbollah, with admiration for figures like Osama bin Laden and Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi also made clear.
In the meantime, some statements have been released on jihadi forums and elsewhere from the ‘Military Council in Jabhat al-Nusra (Province of Deraa).’ They were not put out in the name of JAN’s official media channel al-Manarah al-Bayḍā, suggesting a degree of autonomy for JAN in Deraa.
For example, corroborating the video and photographic evidence of JAN operations in Buṣra ash-Sham, the council released a statement at the end of May, indicating that it had undertaken operations in the ‘battle to liberate Buṣra ash-Sham’ in cooperation with ‘Liwa al-Haramain affiliated with Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiya, Liwa al-Qādisiya al-Islami, Liwa al-Yarmouk, Liwa al-Fallujah, Liwa Mohammed bin Abdullah, Liwa Hāfiẓ Meqdad, Katiba Usud as-Sunnah, and Katiba Muṣ’ab bin Umair al-Islamiya.’
Apart from Liwa al-Haramain, which by virtue of its affiliation is part of the Salafist Syrian Islamic Front (SIF), and Liwa al-Qādisiya al-Islami with its espousal of global jihad, most of what can be ascertained about the other battalions is that they are what is considered ‘mainstream’ in the overall Syrian insurgency. That is, combining some sort of Islamic motif(s) with notions of the Free Syrian Army.
For instance, see this Facebook page of Liwa Mohammed bin Abdullah, which features the banner of jihad and the FSA flag, though the page has been inactive since being taken over by pro-Assad hackers. In a similar vein, here is the Facebook page of a detachment affiliated with Liwa Hāfiz Meqdad (also called Katība Shaheed Hāfiz Meqdad).
For further evidence, here is a video from the end of January in Buṣra ash-Sham of a dead Shabiha militant called Jawad Jafar, killed by Liwa Hāfiẓ Meqdad. Note the nasheed playing in the background but also the claimed affiliation with the ‘Free Army.’
All of these data only reinforce my earlier point about JAN’s ability to work with a variety of rebel battalions even after the pledge of allegiance to Zawahiri that many commentators characterized as a turning-point for the worse in JAN’s fortunes.

JAN and Minorities in Deraa

Another statement from the Deraa military council for JAN concerns its position vis-à-vis the Druze community. While some media reports conveyed the impression of a shift in allegiances among the Druze towards the rebels a few months back, the reality is that the majority of Druze have not taken up arms and among those that have done so, the tendency is to side with the regime.
In fact, in response to a video at the start of May that purportedly showed JAN fighters on the march to Deraa as reinforcements (NB just before the announcement of JAN’s takeover of the eastern rebel front in Deraa), some pro-Assad Druze from Suweida released a video purporting to show resolute Druze support for the regime.
The JAN Deraa council probably had that in mind, along with the Battle of Qusayr, when it released a statement warning the Druze in Suweida in particular and other communities that they would face the consequences at the hands of the mujahideen for any support lent to the Shabiha or Hezbollah, said by the council to be fighting in Buṣra ash-Sham. Key to this message is the notion of, ‘Leave us alone, and we will leave you alone’ (i.e. a defensive jihad), with citation of the example set by Christian villages and by villages inhabited by minority sects in Idlib.[iii]
The Latest Offensive
The council further released a statement on 6 June announcing the beginning of a new offensive to liberate the checkpoints of al-Banayyat and al-Khazan in Deraa, in cooperation with Liwa al-Haramain, Liwa al-Qadisiya al-Islami and Harakat al-Mothana al-Islamiya.[iv] This statement is corroborated by the earlier videos of the JAN tank from June mentioned above, illustrating operations to take over al-Banayyat.  See also this video from 10 June of a tank with the banner of Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham