Muhajireen Battalions in Syria (Part IV)

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

I have previously documented part/predominantly foreign fighter battalions in Syria here, here and here. Below are a couple more groups as part of this series.

Jaysh Muhammad in Bilad al-Sham

Logo of Jaysh Muhammad in Bilad al-Sham, with motto reading: “We are victorious or we die.” The group’s other main slogan is: “The law of God rules us,” similar to the mentality of other foreign fighter battalions like the Imam Bukhari Battalion of Uzbek fighters.

Al-Mi’ad Media, the media wing of Jaysh Muhammad.

Jaysh Muhammad is a jihadi faction led by one Abu Obeida al-Muhajir (of Egyptian nationality). The group primarily operates in Aleppo province but has extended operations to other governorates: for example, the group participated in October 2013 with the Green Battalion and the Islamic State (IS), among other “Islamic battalions,” in an offensive on the Sakhna region in Homs province.

In Aleppo province, Jaysh Muhammad worked and co-existed with the Islamic State in some areas prior to and somewhat after the start of wider infighting between IS and other rebels. For instance, in July 2013, a joint operations room as part of “The Battle of True Dawn” was formed in an attempt to capture the two Shi’a localities of Nubl and Zahara’ in Aleppo province, including Jaysh Muhammad, IS, Ahrar al-Sham and a local north Aleppo battalion. As for the aftermath of the beginning of infighting in January 2014, the most notable instance of Jaysh Muhammad-IS cooperation came in the “And Don’t Separate” initiative- an alliance of jihadi factions including Jabhat al-Nusra and independent groups like the Green Battalion- to capture Kweiris military airbase to the east of Aleppo city. It quickly fell apart though as all battalions except IS withdrew.

The most interesting case of IS-Jaysh Muhammad relations was the locality of Azaz, which was seized by IS in autumn 2013 from the FSA-banner brigade Northern Storm. To recap briefly the story of what went on there, IS entered the town of Azaz in the summer of 2013- to the chagrin of some locals– and the group moved into what was a services office to engage in da’wah and social outreach, without initially having a military presence. It was only when IS decided to seize on a pretext to take over the town that fighters and tanks were called in from outside.

That said, in a recent interview with me, a spokesman for Northern Storm- which has since returned to become the sole ruling authority in Azaz following IS’ withdrawal earlier this year and has formally joined the Islamic Front- affirmed that while Northern Storm and IS had worked together in the fall of Mannagh airbase in summer 2013, IS had been stockpiling weapons seized from the base in what was then its da’wah office. In any event, when fighting initially broke out in Azaz in September 2013, a ceasefire agreement was mediated by Liwa al-Tawhid and required both Liwa al-Tawhid and Jaysh Muhammad to implement the agreement.

It turns out that while Liwa al-Tawhid was nowhere to be seen in the face of IS’ subsequent breaking of the ceasefire agreement to expel Northern Storm entirely from Azaz, Jaysh Muhammad had remained in Azaz, having a base there and essentially standing by as IS took over the town. Whereas Liwa al-Tawhid’s inaction at the time appears to have been the result of an informal condemnation of Northern Storm by Aleppo’s Shari’a Committee, Jaysh Muhammad more likely did nothing out of jihadi ideological sympathy for IS.

What happened in the run-up to IS’ strategic abandonment of Azaz at the end of February- considering that the area was cut off from the rest of IS’ contiguous territory in east Aleppo province- is also of interest. If we are to believe the testimony of foreign fighter and Twitter personality “Abu Hamza al-Erhabi”- who at the time claimed affiliation with Jaysh Muhammad- then Jaysh Muhammad planned in advance to abandon Azaz if IS left. According to Northern Storm’s spokesman in an interview with me, Northern Storm imposed an ultimatum on Jaysh Muhammad to leave Azaz, join the fight against IS, or face war.

Despite past events in Azaz and elsewhere suggesting affinity with IS, Jaysh Muhammad actually seems to have been closer to Jabhat al-Nusra all along, even as all three groups of course ultimately have the same goal of a global Caliphate. Indeed, Abu Hamza al-Erhabi had described his group as “sort of” Jabhat al-Nusra. However, in July this year, Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo put out a statement disavowing organizational relations with Jaysh Muhammad:

“Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo announces that the Jaysh Muhammad battalion under the leadership of the brother Sheikh Abu Obeida the Egyptian- may God protect him- has no organizational connection with Jabhat al-Nusra, for the behavior of the battalion is not considered appropriate in Jabhat al-Nusra’s eyes with the maintenance of a relation of brothers, affection and sincerity between us.”

Jaysh Muhammad then issued a response affirming that it never had allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra in the first place and attempting a further clarification:

“In response to the prevailing view regarding the statement of the Jabhat al-Nusra brothers in Aleppo- may God give them strength- and the clarification of the relationship between Jaysh Muhammad in Bilad al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, we clarify the confusion that has arisen: Jaysh Muhammad did not pledge allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra from the beginning and Jabhat al-Nusra has no pledge of allegiance on the neck of Jaysh Muhammad for it to be understood that Jaysh Muhammad was expelled from Jabhat al-Nusra.

But the statement was published on account of what is prevalent among the people: that Jaysh Muhammad is under allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra on the basis of coordination and cooperation between Jaysh Muhammad and Jabhat al-Nusra: but this is mistaken, for in reality there is joint cooperation and organization between Jaysh Muhammad and Jabhat al-Nusra; moreover, this has not ceased their continuing to be our brothers and beloved ones, and there continues to be a relationship of being brothers in God, affection and sincerity.”

The current status of the relationship between Jabhat al-Nusra and Jaysh Muhammad is unclear, but arguably as part of the wider trend of non-IS jihadi groups beginning to implement their own state/proto-state legislation projects as territory in Syria is increasingly gobbled up by the regime and IS,[i] Jaysh Muhammad announced in July its intentions of implementing Shari’a and hudud regulations in their entirety in all captured areas. At the moment nothing suggests that Jaysh Muhammad has joined some of the other jihadi groups operating in Aleppo province that formed the Jabhat Ansar al-Din coalition.

Update: It has now emerged that despite the Northern Storm ultimatum, Jaysh Muhammad has retained a base in the wider Azaz area (though not participating in any way in governance of the town of Azaz), as the Islamic Front has just released a statement giving Jaysh Muhammad three days to evacuate the Azaz area in light of the fighting against IS. 

Jund al-Aqsa

Flag of Jund al-Aqsa

Jund al-Aqsa media committee.

Jund al-Aqsa (“Soldiers of al-Aqsa”) is a foreign fighter battalion of a variety of nationalities (including some of South Asian origin)- as well as comprising a native Syrian contingent- primarily operating in Idlib and Hama governorates. The group was in January of this year confronted by rebels on the grounds of being an ally of IS, but with IS’ withdrawal from Idlib and Hama provinces, any tensions between Jund al-Aqsa and other rebels have since calmed down, and the group has notably taken part in joint offensives with Ahrar al-Sham of the Islamic Front (e.g. capturing the village of Ma’an in Hama province in February, which culminated in a massacre of local Alawites). More recently, Jund al-Aqsa has been participating with the Islamic Front in an operation to capture Hama military airport: Ghazwa Badr al-Sham al-Kubra, announced last month and ongoing. Indeed, it is notable that even as other jihadi groups have set about working on their own administrative initiatives, it is striking that Jund al-Aqsa still remains focused on advertising military operations.

Jund al-Aqsa claiming to fire heavy weaponry at regime aircraft as part of the offensive on Hama military airport.

Jund al-Aqsa claiming to target regime positions around Hama military airport as part of the same offensive.

Jabhat al-Nusra has also continued to work with Jund al-Aqsa, pointing to Jund al-Aqsa’s closer affinity at the present time to Jabhat al-Nusra than IS, whatever the prior relations were with the latter. In this photo released in June, Jabhat al-Nusra claims coordination with Jund al-Aqsa in targeting a hotel building in Idlib city that members of Hezbollah were supposedly using as a base.

Abu Abd al-Aziz al-Qatari, the amir of Jund al-Aqsa killed in fighting with rebels in January. Of Palestinian origin, he was apparently a veteran of the jihad in Iraq for some time before going to Qatar and continuing to support the insurgency against U.S. forces in Iraq.

Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Masri: an Egyptian fighter for Jund al-Aqsa whose death was announced on 26 July this year.

Muhannad al-Ansari, from Saraqeb (Idlib province), killed in the Ghazwa Badr al-Sham al-Kubra. Death announced on 30 July.




[i] Though Jabhat al-Nusra has tried to backtrack in its public rhetoric on the leaked ‘emirate’ announcement by leader Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani, its recent record on the ground of seizing territory from one-time allies of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front in Idlib in particular and the announcement of economic and societal regulations therein undermine its attempts at ‘clarification.’

Undoubtedly too the behavior by Jabhat al-Nusra is partly explained as the result of a perception that some rebels are receiving Western arms on the condition of not cooperating with Jabhat al-Nusra and therefore constitute a threat in the long-run as territory available for control- particularly crucial border areas- becomes increasingly scarce.

Comments (217)

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201. Syrialover said:

ALAN in #199 keeps spinning irrational fantasies to comfort himself.

Meanwhile sinister new sparks could be gathering on punk Putin’s backside.

The word’s out that Chechnya could be the next targeted opportunity for hordes of disaffected and displaced “holy warriors” as the Middle East gets too hard.

Putin’s diplomatic and military wastage in Ukraine and the badly punctured Russian economy means a violent extremist infestation on his patch now could be devastating.

And what a satisfying playground Chechnya will be for those well-armed, battle hardened terrorists and extremists! Unlike little game-playing Bashar Assad, Putin has built up real enmity through years of attacks on Islamic extremists and their sympathisers.

But who would care? Who’d help him fight them? His Syrian rotting burden Bashar Assad?

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September 11th, 2014, 5:32 pm


202. Syrialover said:

The failed dictator Bashar Assad “who looks like his head has been squeezed out of a tube” (to quote the Wall Street Journal) could be about to face the final push off his rotting throne.

The plans for an internationally-supported rally on Syrian soil against ISIS are coinciding with signs of protest, desperation and fatigue by the long-suffering Alawites Assad’s dragged into hell with him and chewed through as cannon fodder.

Bashar Assad’s filthy betrayal and destruction of Syria and suspicious inactivity against ISIS are foremost in the minds of all those he fantasises will now ally with him to fight the “terrariths” as he calls them.

And what could he bring to the table anyway? Shia militias and commanders provided by Iran? They’ve rushed off to fight fires in Iraq.

People are noting the prolonged silence from Hezbollah, which paid a high price in manpower fighting in Syria for their Iranian paymasters.

What’s left of Nasrullah’s boys are now scrambling back home in Lebanon, bracing for a fight against ISIS.

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September 11th, 2014, 6:15 pm


203. Syrialover said:

Great tweets from Maysaloon:

# Look closely for those crying Sovereignty! Assad, Moscow and Tehran condemn Obama’s plan for air strikes against Isis

# For forty years the Syrian regime treats Syrian sovereignty like a twenty dollar hooker and these people never complained once

My comment: Not only never complained, they took sinister and ruthless advantage, getting what they wanted at a huge discount to the $20

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September 11th, 2014, 7:03 pm


204. Ghufran said:

Obama wants to train and arm Syrian rebels using Saudi money. A letter is being sent to key congressmen and senators to ask them to block congress approval of the plan.
Consider adding the following talking points in the letter you send to your congressman:

According to CIA officers testimonies and numerous western accounts from the battle field and video testimonies from previous FSA leaders, there are no moderate rebels in Syria. Furthermore, allying with Saudi Arabia and trusting Turkey with a war against terrorism deify historical proof of both countries financing and helping militant groups which according to the UN have committed war crimes including the forceful expulsion of Christians from a number of towns in Syria. Just today, the so called moderate rebels in one of Damascus suburbs have reached an agreement with Isis declaring that their common enemy is the Nusiari Rafidi  regime, a derogatory term to describe Shia.

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September 11th, 2014, 9:24 pm


205. ALAN said:

Obama is pushing the situation to the brink of a regional war! And the break of Syrian army is in fact break of the will of the Russian-Chinese and Iranians . The intensification of the American troops presence in Erbil is an aggressive provocation requires preparation of a regional relentless war.

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September 12th, 2014, 5:21 am


206. ALAN said:

Syria is not a failed state as trying to mislead here at 13:08
Syria is now in an ongoing undeclared war and of improper described this description during the conduct of military operations.We cannot give assessment of States failed or not during the course of wars.
The US policy towards Syria was failed as announced by the US desperate officials
The defragmentation is typical for those who are trained and financed by the United States, and not for the Syrian Arab national army. on the other hand it is worth emphasizing the huge number of non Syrians are in battle. The thoughts floundering in the context of the interview.
Looking forward to hear the opinion of a more realistic

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September 12th, 2014, 6:05 am


207. Syrialover said:

GHUFRAN we know you hate giving sources and especially never give links, but how about giving us even ONE to back up this lying, silly statement you want people to send to US congress members:

“According to CIA officers testimonies and numerous western accounts from the battle field and video testimonies from previous FSA leaders, there are no moderate rebels in Syria”(#204).

Your advice reads like you are desperate for the rest of the world to 1. despise and dismiss the people of Syria as much as you do and 2. forget and forgive the vicious destruction of Syrians’ lives and their country by a weak coward and criminal who looks like his head has been squeezed from a tube.

It won’t work. You have to do better than that.

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September 12th, 2014, 9:49 am


208. Syrialover said:

Best informed and calmest analysis of what the global alliance against ISIS means for the Syrian opposition.

“Confronting the Islamic State” by Hassan Hassan:

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September 12th, 2014, 10:16 am


209. Syrialover said:

ALAN you are not thinking straight. The harder and longer the US and its allies whips the ass of ISIS the less powerful the threat to Punk Putin by jihadists in Chechnya.

As it stands, they say the “holy warriors” are sniffing Putin’s weakness and targeting Chechnya as the next big playing ground.

At which point the world will happily leave them to it.

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September 12th, 2014, 10:30 am


210. ALAN said:

Washington’s insistence on repeating search for ” moderate armed militias ” in Syria and the effort of Saudi intelligence to conduct a series of assassinations of leaders of these various militias in order to be a subject for the Wahhabi-American agenda will necessarily provoke those militias to carry out operations to reach Riyadh and Washington. Is not that is the logical next stage of the strategy of hornet’s nest?
Stop doing more crimes. Will spread terrorism in the world like wildfire as a result of your criminal actions in armament, assassination and employment. The Terrorism will come back to you

209. SYRIALOVER : You are hopeless

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September 12th, 2014, 1:07 pm


211. ALAN said:

Neocons Revive Syria ‘Regime Change’ Plan
Robert Parry
Why is Israel Missing from ISIS Fight?

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September 12th, 2014, 2:19 pm


212. ALAN said:

Obama’s dilemma with ISIS in Syria is as follows: there is no moderate armed opposition to Assad worth mentioning; the FSA does not exist; it has morphed into small criminal gangs, or was swallowed by one of the jihadist name brands, or was blown out of the Syrian landscape. So the only credible force that can take over the territory ISIS has been decimated by US bombers is SAA. But Obama can’t do that because that would be admitting Putin was right all along and the attempt to overthrow the “dictator” by force, deploying foreign jihadis was a big strategic mistake.

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September 12th, 2014, 4:24 pm


213. Ghufran said:

Ted Cruz, Sen-R Texas, was humiliated at a conference in Washington DC when he was forced to leave the stage after suggesting that Christians have to support Israel to be true Christians. The conference was held by IDC a collection of eastern churches who came invited by the White House. Cruz and his fellow NeoCons and Zionist Christians want middle eastern Christians to be Israel’s pimps in the region, something most Christians refuse to do.
Nusra and rebels in Qnaitra on the other hand are openly cooperating with Israel and their spoke person called Israel’s second tv channel to assure Israel that rebels in the south have no intention to attack Israel. This came after Qatar paid $ 20 million to free UN peace keeping soldiers who were held by nusra terrorists. Nusra wants to be removed from the UN black list and become the new face of anti Assad rebel force.
You have to be a fool to deny the fact that the GCC, turkey and Syrian rebels are in bed with Israel because they believe that Israel is no longer the enemy.
يا أمة ضحكت من جهلها الامم

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September 12th, 2014, 9:33 pm


214. ghufran said:

Newsweek on KSA army:

Western technicians at Dhahran Air Base like to joke that the only aircraft the Saudis can keep in the air by themselves is a model of a British Tornado on a pedestal at the gates.
Indeed, the entire Saudi military arsenal—including the world’s biggest fleet of American F-15s outside of the U.S. and Japan—couldn’t function without the several hundred mostly American and British technicians who keep the royal family’s tanks, ships, artillery and warplanes in working order. As with everything else in the Saudi economy, from servants to oil field workers, the Saudis just don’t “do” such hands-on work.
The same goes for Saudi ground troops: There are officers, and there are grunts (not all of them Saudis), and nothing in-between. The concept of a corps of sergeants actually running things, is, well, foreign, to the desert kingdom’s rulers, for a variety of tribal and cultural reasons. But as any Western general knows, an army wins (or doesn’t) on the strength of its sergeants, the blue-collar guys down below the colonels, majors and lieutenants who prod the grunts and make sure things get done. And it’s the sergeants who do the training.

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September 13th, 2014, 9:08 am


215. omen said:

you don’t appreciate something until it stops working. thank you for maintaining the search feature.

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September 13th, 2014, 11:07 am


216. omen said:

213. Ghufran said: Nusra and rebels in Qnaitra on the other hand are openly cooperating with Israel and their spoke person called Israel’s second tv channel to assure Israel that rebels in the south have no intention to attack Israel.

perfect. this serves as a nice counter for critics who disingenuously claim there are no moderates in syria.

an infuriating meme meant to smear all syrians as terrorists.

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September 13th, 2014, 11:28 am


217. omen said:

207. Syrialover said: GHUFRAN…silly statement…“According to CIA officers testimonies and numerous western accounts from the battle field and video testimonies from previous FSA leaders, there are no moderate rebels in Syria”(#204).

hahaha ghufran demolished his own propaganda by later complaining about rebels working with israel. ha

the “no moderates” charge is a crude way of discounting all syrians, also meant to dissuade against intervention and acts as a sort of psychic salve meant to give us comfort for ignoring assad wage mass murder (we’re not supposed to care if all the dead are terrorists.)

but this is also a sort of coded complaint against people who refuse to recognize the right of israel to exist. e.g. people against zionism are regarded as “extremist.”

seeing how rebels are cooperating with israel (especially when wounded & needing medical care) that renders them moderates!

by the way, ghufran himself should be offended by the slander. would he accept outsiders asserting he doesn’t exist?

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September 13th, 2014, 12:17 pm


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