Jamaat Ansar al-Islam in Syria Joins The Islamic State?

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

As outlined previously on this site and elsewhere in my writings, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam (JAI) is a jihadi group that originated in Iraq and expanded into Syria in 2011 thanks at least in part to the efforts of one Abu Muhammad al-Muhajir (an Iraqi himself who was later killed near Mosul while returning from Syria to Iraq). A rival of the Islamic State (IS) because it did not accept the statehood claims of IS or its previous incarnations, JAI tried to ride the initial rapid wave of IS-spearheaded insurgent gains in Iraq beginning with the fall of Mosul in June 2014 but soon found itself suffering from arrests, killings and defections at the hands of IS.

By the end of August 2014, a statement had been issued in the name of JAI Iraq’s Majlis Shura affirming the dissolution of JAI in Iraq and joining IS. Although this statement was denied by those controlling JAI Iraq’s official Twitter account, it is apparent that the affirmation of allegiance to IS represented the vast majority of JAI Iraq, leaving the remnant loyalists no choice but to quit the field, with the result that there have been no more releases in the name of a JAI Iraq, including a very significant break from previous years with the lack of an Eid al-Adha message or media release. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, JAI Iraq has ceased to exist.

All this is in contrast with JAI’s Syria branch, which had originally spanned the entirety of northern Syria but on account of conflict with IS became confined mainly to Aleppo and Idlib provinces, more recently making a claimed showing in Latakia province. JAI Syria, which put out photos for Eid al-Adha, continued to advertise its presence on the ground with photos displaying its banner and members via its official Twitter account @ansarulsham.

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JAI Syria reportedly in the ‘Sahel’ region of Syria (Latakia). Photo released last month by the @ansarulsham account.

Now, however, a controversy has arisen whereby the @ansarulsham account has issued a statement declaring a supposed decision by JAI Syria’s leadership for the group to pledge allegiance to IS:

Statement 449
17 Rabi’ al-Awal 1436
8 January 2015

Allegiance of JAI in Bilad al-Sham [Syria] to IS

[…]

Indeed we give good tidings to the Islamic Ummah in the east and west of the land of the fact that ‘JAI in Bilad al-Sham’ is following the example of their brothers from ‘Ansar al-Islam in Iraq’ and so we announce our pledge of allegiance (bay’ah) to Caliph Ibrahim- may God protect him- the Caliph of the Muslims…And this pledge of allegiance is to be considered the dissolution of ‘JAI in Bilad al-Sham’ in answer to the command of God Almighty both to do away with division and unite the Muslims under one banner and Caliph who may implement the ruling of God’s law in the land, declare all tyranny of idolatry to be disbelief, defend the sanctities of the Muslims, give victory to the Ahl al-Sunna in every region of the Earth, while not compromising his religion for the material world or bartering at the expense of the upright direction [program]. We have announced this pledge of allegiance and hope it to be a source of pain for all the disbelievers and hypocrites and a source of joy and happiness for all the Muslims.

This statement is to be considered the last from the group in Bilad al-Sham and this account is the sole official account for the group and any statement issued after this number as false and coming from factions not linked to us (…).

Leadership of JAI in Bilad al-Sham.
17 Rabi al-Awal 1436
8 January 2015

This statement had been preceded in time by the establishment of another account on Twitter- @ansarulislam_sh– that claimed the @ansarulsham account had been hijacked:

“After we lost connection with our account @ansarulsham and until we recover it, we will tweet and work using this new account. And we inform you that the group is not responsible for what is published on the aforementioned account, including the last two tweets [from January 5 urging followers to expect a new release] and what will be published after. And the brothers are currently working to recover it, so until then this is our sole official account on Twitter.”

The account then published a series of images of a graduation of a new cohort of children from Qur’an memorization school- a program said to have been done in cooperation with JAI Syria. The date given is 17 Rabi al-Awal 1436 AH, though the corresponding Gregorian date given (4 January 2015) appears to be incorrect. Perhaps there is a confusion in that the photos may have been produced on 4 January 2015.

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Photo from the latest series released by @ansarulislam_sh

So what is going on here? Which of the two accounts represents the majority of JAI Syria? Is this the end of JAI Syria?

To answer the last of the above questions in a short phrase: probably not. To preface though, one should not give too much credence to Ansar al-Islam fanboy accounts like @ansaruna, who has his/her facts confused in claiming a logical contradiction between this purported allegiance to IS by JAI Syria and a supposed IS claim that ‘hole [sic: whole] Ansar al-Islam give them bay3a [bay’ah]’ 5 months ago. Actually, the original statement put out in JAI Iraq’s name by the majority of IS loyalists in August 2014 never claimed the dissolution of all of JAI but only the Iraq branch, while urging the Syria branch to follow its example.

In any case, the situation in Syria vis-a-vis JAI and IS is not exactly analogous to that in Iraq. In Iraq, territory can be divided three ways: Sunni insurgent control, central government forces control, and Kurdish control. For the non-IS insurgent groups in Iraq, the latter two do not offer a ‘third way’ of safety from the power of IS in the way that remaining rebel-held territory in Syria does. Already another notable difference exists in that the @ansarulislam_sh account is at least trying to substantiate JAI Syria’s continued existence with visual evidence, something which the JAI Iraq remnants that controlled the official Twitter account failed to do after denying the statement of joining IS (with no subsequent statements, photos, videos etc.). Further, in Iraq, the eventual statement by IS loyalists in JAI Iraq did not come from nowhere but had rather been the product of two months of direct pressure on the group from IS’ power with a series of pledges of allegiance first advertised by IS in late June 2014.

There is also the issue of practicality: being spread in Idlib, Aleppo and Latakia, would it be so easy for the entirety/majority of JAI Syria, if it merged with IS, to evacuate to IS-held territories? Here, some further context and clarification of the JAI Syria presence are needed. According to a Jabhat al-Nusra member from Aleppo with whom I spoke on my trip to the Azaz district last month (18th-22nd December), JAI Syria is thought to have “hundreds” of members and has been working with Jabhat al-Nusra on e.g. the contested Handarat front in Aleppo province. This is so even as some members of JAI Syria have given allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra. Further, the spokesman of Northern Storm, which also fights on the Handarat front, claimed to me that JAI Syria is specially protected by Jabhat al-Nusra (I would add that there appears to be a close bond with the independent jihadi coalition Jabhat Ansar al-Din). Indeed, it was precisely my asking about JAI Syria that attracted the suspicion of Jabhat al-Nusra in the Azaz area, on the grounds that I might be gathering information on Jabhat al-Nusra and JAI Syria positions to hand over to the coalition.

Yet the control of the @ansarulsham account by IS loyalists within JAI Syria’s ranks could not have come from nowhere. Some serious defections have clearly happened. Indeed, Abu Obeida the Salafi- JAI’s ‘intellectual heavyweight’ based in Iraq and still supporting JAI in Syria- wrote on Twitter before the issuing of the allegiance pledge by @ansarulsham: “How odd! Some [emphasis my own] of the soldiers and amirs from JAI don’t know of the coming decision….” He thus concedes that the allegiance pledge has involved at least some commanders within JAI Syria.

It is also evident here that IS has pursued the familiar strategy it applied to JAI Iraq and Jamaat Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis in Sinai/Gaza: that is, urging those within the group ready to pledge allegiance to issue a statement in the name of the entire group announcing allegiance in the hope of overcoming those who object. That some high-rank JAI Syria members might choose to join IS should not come as much of a surprise: similar defections have happened within Syria’s other jihadi groups. But the evidence at present does not quite suggest that this latest IS move against JAI Syria is fatal. In short, expect JAI Syria’s presence to continue on the ground for the time being, though it is possible that those from JAI Syria who have not pledged allegiance may end up fully merging with Jabhat al-Nusra and/or Jabhat Ansar al-Din if it is felt the group’s continued existence is an unviable project. On the whole, looking at the big picture in Iraq and Syria, JAI is a mere shadow of its former self.


H/T to my friend and colleague Caleb Weiss for drawing the @ansarulsham statement to my attention and first raising the questions that led to the genesis of this article.

Comments (14)


1. El Chino said:

Wow! Shocking! I hope they’re sending a cleanup crew to truck all the empty beer cans and used tampax to the dump.

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January 8th, 2015, 10:17 pm

 

2. ghufran said:

alqaeda, isis, nusra, ahrar al-sham,ansar alshariaa, ansar al-islam, jaish Muhammad, etc and the list goes on and on, reminds me with one American friends who asked me when he was trying to understand the difference between various rebel groups:
is not all of that the same s..t?
How insane some people can be?
a newspaper that thrives on being outrageous publishes a cartoon making fun of prophet Muhammad in 2011, almost 4 years later 2 terrorists out of “love” of the prophet guns down 12 civilians at the newspaper office in Paris !!
I told you: Muslims today form a group of failed and failing nations.

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January 8th, 2015, 11:59 pm

 

3. ghufran said:

With Khoja the Turkish dude becoming the SNC new clown in chief, Turkey ,and the MB, will be in charge of the SNC more than ever and you can reliably write off that body from any future political deal.
Khoja on his twitter account gives people a clear idea of his beliefs and where he stands on the issues, check it out at (twitter.com/khaledkhoja) and see why his choice as the SNC new puppet will hurt the opposition more than the regime.

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January 9th, 2015, 12:54 pm

 

4. Alan said:

El-Chino
Вашей пошлости не место здесь на этом блоге.

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January 9th, 2015, 6:13 pm

 

5. Observer said:

I thought this article on Huffington post extremely apt.
One has to remember that the Salman Rushdie fatwa stands to this day by the Velayet e Fagih and that the leader of the Party of God in Beirut has declared that if it were carried out, there would not have been any cartoons deriding the Prophet.

There is an essential thing to be said about the relationship of man to God today in light of the horrifying events happening in our world. The defeat of development in the face of religious doctrines is fascinating to chart out. Take a look at Iraq and Afghanistan and watch the parties of God as they axe two of the most ancient and formerly well-advanced societies and bring them to the level of Sudan and Somalia, where other parties of God have been well on their way for a long time. Or look at Syria and Iraq and witness the fascinatingly morbid accession of another extreme party of God, ISIS, as they mass slaughter their way to establish a terror caliphate in the name of God. Then, shift your gaze to Iran where the divine awaiting of the Twelfth Imam fortifies their momentous accession of apocalyptic weapons all the while giving them the right to bolster their fellow parties of God in Lebanon and Syria whose purpose has shifted from freedom fighting to freedom hijacking and subjugation of all their fellow citizens, also, in the name of God.
Then look at Israel, formerly known as Palestine, where Jewish settlers in the name of their Messiah have been stealing lands for decades and morbidly abusing the indigenous people because they believe that their right to the persecution of the Palestinians is God ordained as he has “chosen” them over others by giving them a biblical right to menace and bring on apocalypse in the name of God. These Israeli settlers are backed by no other than the American Evangelical fundamentalists, whose ancestors were also once Messianic settlers, also European, who also took the lands of the native tribal people in the name of God and redemption and left them sequestered if not dead in a land they inhabited for centuries; those same Christian fundamentalists believe that supporting Israel is in favor of God, the same God who shames homosexuality, criminalizes scientific development, forbids the teaching of science in schools and despises other races. As for those who wish to fight Israel, they obviously go through God as well. Indeed, militant Islamic parties take faith in knowing that God works through violence, killing, and suicide bombing, processes only worthy of medieval culture where ignorance and torture were the currencies of the day, and where people lived, persecuted and savagely shamed each other in the name of God as there was no other way to validate their miserable, wretched lives. As for the Muslim fundamentalists who were able to get out of their countries of origin, those who now inhabit the cities of London, Oslo, Paris and DC, they derive their self-importance from hating on the West and cannot wait to take “offense” at something Westerners do against their Islam and their God, as if their very livelihood isn’t the biggest offense to Islam and God.
As for my country Lebanon, where the currency is religious politics and every political party has the signature of God stamped on their ludicrous manifesto, where the presidency has been customarily ordained to the petrified, egotistic Maronite creed, the weaponry ordained to the vengeful, self-absorbed Shiite creed, and the vapid well of insipidity ordained to the anaemic Sunni creed. Here, you cannot marry your loved one if you belong to different religions, you cannot inherit your spouse if you belong to different religions, and if that is not enough harassment in one’s lifetime, they will even persecute you after death as you cannot even be buried next to your spouse if you belong to different religions, all in the name of God.
As for those who decree that “these terrorists are not ‘real Muslims’ or ‘real Jews’ or ‘real Christians’… They all misinterpret religion,” to you I respond, that although perhaps more commendable, your version of what “real religion” should be is just another opinion, not more nor less correct than anyone else’s interpretation. Just because you think it to be right, it does not make it right, not for you, nor for them; your opinion just adds another shade to religion, yours just happens to be less savage. Judging yours to be “right” or “wrong” is simply arrogant to disclaim. There is no such thing as a “real” interpretation of a pre-medieval indoctrination, the only “real” thing about indoctrination is how beastly it is, no matter how soft is your version. Why? Because in indoctrination, there is an obligatory, inherent alienation of other human beings, an inherent racism of “us” and “them” and that alone should be a red flag showing you how disturbingly unfit ANY doctrine is for the well-being of the world.
History and the wide discourse of the majority have unequivocally decided what the stamp of religious indoctrination is, and it is the footprint of a beast, the footprint of self-absorbed, alienating ignorance. People are passionate and vain. People are so vain that they believe in the irrefutability of their opinion. Look at the state of politics in every country and how people offensively deride the dignity of others for simply holding a different opinion from theirs. If that’s true for politics, if that’s even true for family dinners, what do you make of it when it comes to God-ordained indoctrinations? There is a danger to indoctrination everywhere, because indoctrinations are forcibly alienating, and a system that inherently alienates others is by default a failed system. Religion is a failed system. A power apparatus created around racist ideas to control societies. That is religion. It is a political system of power. It is man’s selfish story of faith, but it is not faith. Religion cannot be faith. If this world learns to understand the difference between religion and faith, we would witness the beginning of an unprecedented age of Enlightenment. Religion and faith are mutually exclusive. Religion is indoctrinated politics. Faith is inherently apolitical. Religion is a human brand, a human system. Faith can have no brand, no label, no system, no technique. It is immaterial, transcendental and cannot relate to earthly commodities, while religion is obligatorily based in earthly commodities, and that is why it is so corrupt. Religion thrives on power and subjugation, whereas faith thrives on inner-empowerment and emancipation. Religion is the darkness. Faith is the light. Religion is Godless. Faith is God.
I denounce the indoctrination of religion as man-made hell on earth. I condemn the top-down organization of any belief, be it divine or political, for it is nothing more than the very organization of racism and bigotry hidden behind the ecstatic fantasy that there is an invented, fear-mongering God who is corrupt enough to prefer “your type of people” over others just because you follow one book over another; a God who people believe is vapid enough to want to meddle in your uninspiring affairs, judge your tedious thoughts, or worse, worry about your sexual behavior, the opinions of your neighbor, or whether you force yourself to go once a week to some brick building with an awkward semiotic symbol to talk to yourself. The almighty God, not the invented God such as the one who apparently was in need of “revenge” against a Parisian satirical publication, does not and cannot ever thrive in any earthly religion; if it has a label, it has no God. For if you believe that God is good, if you believe that God is love, if you believe that God is liberty, then God abides by no label, God is rejected in your religion because you have rejected other people. Rejection is savagery, and God does not thrive in savagery, God only thrives in loving faith.
But as long as we cling onto our indoctrinated identities, this world will be racked with the most insufferable pain, for these identities will forever demarcate our differences when what we need most is to find our common aspirations. And mark my words, common aspirations will never be found in a doctrine, no matter how “correct” you believe your interpretation to be, but they will be found in our common humanness because humanness has no stamp, and that alone is all-encompassing and divine.

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January 10th, 2015, 9:15 am

 

6. SANDRO LOEWE said:

Putin playing check with Charlie Hebdo false flag operation. France intelligence in Paris must investigate the source of two kalashnikovs used in the attack.

Assad and Putin are very happy about the attack perpetrated against french interests, giving an idea of the nature of next terrorist attacks they are planning.

Last 2006 I was still living in Damascus when the Mohammed Cartoons in Denmark provoked the rage of islamists. I passed by the masses who were going from University of Damascus in Baramkeh to the Abou Rummaneh embassy of Denmark. The crowd were escorted by shabbiha in black leather holding walkie-talkies. The regime escorted the masses to torch the Denmark Embassy. The day after Assad calmed down the world and assured the Western Countries that under Assad any further islamist movement would be controlled.

From that day I discovered the real nature of most staged islamist terrorist attacks in the world.

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January 13th, 2015, 11:42 am

 

7. Amir in Tel Aviv said:

Observer #5,

Bravo! very well written.

Mankind (especially men), will always find justifications and reasons to fight. Fighting is the survival of a race, species, tribe, people. This is a rule set by a biology.

If not over religion, they will find “secular” and “universal” excuses and pretexts to continue the fight. So it will be over socialism, communism, monarchy, Fascism, Nazism, Capitalism, Marxism etc.

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January 16th, 2015, 2:09 am

 

8. Juergen said:

A new map of Syria… dont get fooled most of ISIS controlled land is just desert.

The tiny part in olive green is the regime hold areas…

http://www.thedailybeast.com/content/dam/dailybeast/2015/01/13/150113-mak-syria-map-jan-embed.jpg

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January 16th, 2015, 2:39 am

 

9. ALAN said:

It is time for the West to allow the Arab world to govern itself and to choose its path without Western military interference. And there are heartening reasons to believe that a self-governing Arab Middle East would wisely choose to become a peaceful global crossroads and a partner in science, culture, and development.
The Arab world has played that beneficent role in the past, and it can do so again. The region is filled with talented people, and the overwhelming majority in the region want to get on with their lives in peace, educate and raise their children in health and safety, and participate in global society. Their objectives – prosperity and human security – are our own.
http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/radical-islam-western-military-intervention-by-jeffrey-d-sachs-2015-01

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January 16th, 2015, 1:53 pm

 

10. ALAN said:

Really, the US to send troops to train ISIS… Again? It has been documented and proven that ISIS rose from the ashes of the Syrian war. The US has been funding and training ISIS this whole time that is yet another fact that has been proven. Now for the kicker, the US is going to send 400 “troops” to train the Syrian rebel groups which as you can see below they are leaving the Syrian “rebels” and joining ISIS….
http://rt.com/news/223207-pentagon-syria-us-opposition/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxPsNvB2shM
ISIS territory in Syria has DOUBLED since US airstrikes began
Watch pls
http://video.foxnews.com/v/3992835796001/why-is-the-us-strategy-against-isis-not-working/?playlist_id=922779230001#sp=show-clips
this is absolutly insane
official photo shows how ever since the air strikes have started, isis have taken more and more territory
http://s24.postimg.org/sj0sudc4l/Be_Funky_Untitled_jpg.jpg
that politically correct bastard obama still refuses to calm it a war on radical islam
and is STILL releasing high threat terrorists
its like obama is SUPPORTING ISIS
this passive weak attitude is going to be the death of the western world
and the sad thing is, we have had the power to stop this!

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January 16th, 2015, 2:14 pm

 

11. Alan said:

What kind of “revolution” for reforms and democracy is this that is fought by Salafi Jihadists from several countries and supported by Israel? http://radioyaran.com/2015/01/16/syrias-nusra-front-is-and-israel/

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January 17th, 2015, 12:03 pm

 

12. SANDRO LOEWE said:

More Hizbullah mercenaires(both iranian and lebanese) including Imad Mughniye´s son killed by israelí army in Quneitra.

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2015/Jan-18/284494-israeli-strike-on-golan-heights-targeted-hezbollah-vehicle-kills-4-source.ashx

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January 18th, 2015, 12:33 pm

 

13. SANDRO LOEWE said:

It has been documented and proven that ISIS rose from the ashes of the Syrian revolution logistically fed by Assad, Iran and Russia as well as finantially by Gulf Countries in one of the most complicated false falg and multi-proxy international operations in human history.

This is why US accepted to hit ISIS. And this is why US is going to keep momentum on trying to help the reduct of FSA insurgency.

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January 18th, 2015, 1:16 pm

 

14. ALAN said:

Doing the same thing, in the same way, over and over, yet expecting a different outcome, is one of the classic definitions of insanity.

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January 18th, 2015, 4:06 pm

 

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