Syrians in Lebanon Vote in Presidential Elections


As Syrians abroad have been gathering to vote in the presidential elections at Syrian embassies around the world, Anne Barnard tweeted from the scene in Beirut. These tweets were very interesting, and I am providing them below, along with a few from others. An article on the voting in Lebanon was also published by Anne today, here. These elections began with bids submitted by more than 20 candidates, all but three of which were disqualified by Syria’s supreme court. Not long after, one of the surviving candidates, Hassan al-Nuri, stated that “There are no losers in these elections because we are all winners; as of now I consider myself a winner and the presidential chair is not the goal.” A Press TV interview with candidate Hassan al-Nuri is available here.

Oliver Holmes: Tens of thousands of Syrians abroad vote in early poll 

AP: Assad’s supporters abroad vote in Syrian election

VICE: Polls Open in Syrian Elections, but Real Choices Are Hard to Find

Shweta Desai: In Delhi’s Vasant Vihar, 750 Syrians line up to vote in an election denounced by critics as a farce

Syrians vote in presidential elections in Indian embassy

Voting taking place in environments where one candidate is explicitly promoted – Photo:

The National: Syrian elections put Tehran and Moscow in a fix


In the above tweet, the Arabic of the man’s comment was a bit ambiguous; he could have meant “we had to come,” though being forced seemed to be the sense he conveyed. Regardless, numerous reports have surfaced of many individuals believing they were coerced to vote, or were voting out of fear of the repercussions were they not to do so.

“Deal” should be “seal” in following tweet

Anne relays the account of a Syrian who was jailed for 3 months for having delivered humanitarian aid, who explained to her why he wouldn’t vote:

Think it funny to see photos of one candidate at a polling station?

Syria: The West Should Stop Raising False Expectations – By Nikolaos van Dam

Syria: The West Should Stop Raising False Expectations
By Nikolaos van Dam*
Delivered at the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Berlin, 19 May 2014
Discussion series “Understanding Syria”. Discussion 3: German and European policy towards Syria: “Look the other way and wait as a strategy?

In my view there are two main ways of ending the conflict in Syria:

1. Further negotiations between the regime and the predominantly secular opposition groups. (Although I am aware that negotiations with the al-Asad regime may not yield much in the end, I do believe negotiations should be attempted more seriously than they have been so far in a proper effort to prevent further bloodshed).

2. To continue the present internal war until one side can claim victory.
For the secular opposition groups to win militarily, they need to be properly armed, but the West does not provide them with enough military support to achieve this. Al-Asad’s chances of winning the war have increased and Islamic extremist forces are now overpowering the predominantly secular opposition forces. The worse the situation becomes, the more the al-Asad regime starts to be seen as an option to be preferred over the radical Islamic state that the Islamist forces want to establish. If al-Asad does win this war, however, it will not be the end of this drama. For sooner or later there will be a reckoning against the al-Asad regime and its crimes against humanity. Therefore, negotiations are the better option, both for him and the opposition.

The Western approach to the Syrian uprising has from the very beginning been dominated by an overdose of wishful thinking, because precedence was given to supposedly democratic and moralistic ideals over realpolitik. Many Western politicians based their positions on their day-to-day domestic political reflexes, rather than on the long-term vision and result-oriented pragmatism that is needed to work towards genuinely helping to solve the conflict. Most Western politicians became fixated on the idea that the conflict could only be resolved if al-Asad was removed from power. They had clear thoughts about what they did not want, but no realistic ideas of what they wanted in al-Asad’s place. Yes, they wanted a democracy, but a violent deposal of al-Asad could not realistically have been expected to result in such a desired peaceful democracy.

Al-Asad never had any intention to leave. On the contrary, he intends to overcome the revolution and win the battle for Syria, whatever the costs. And the higher the costs, the more there is a will to continue the struggle, if only to prevent all the victims from having died in vain. It appears to be all or nothing for both al-Asad’s regime and the opposition movements; at least for the time being, as long as there is no war fatigue.

We should not expect any mercy in the way al-Asad’s regime deals with its opponents: there will be no pardon for the massive armed revolutionary opposition groups that are trying to topple the regime. It is to kill or be killed. A compromise has, as of yet, not really come in sight because a real compromise between the opposition and the regime, with real power sharing and substantial political reforms could be the prelude to the fall of the Ba’th regime later on.

If the regime were to be toppled, its leaders can expect certain execution, and the key figures of the al-Asad regime which have been recruited from the Alawi community can expect to be in severe danger, just like the Alawi community itself, even though this community contains many opponents to the Alawi dominated Ba’th regime. It would be naive to expect President al-Asad to sign his own death warrant.

By branding the rule of President al-Asad as illegitimate, Western countries may have been morally just, but they thereby prematurely cut off any opportunity they had to play a constructive role in helping find a political solution to the crisis. What should have priority: being morally correct or helping find a solution?

Many Western countries considered it politically inappropriate to continue to directly communicate with the al-Asad regime, since they did not want to be seen as condoning its methods. They did not want to be seen as being lenient or compromising their morality in any way with al-Asad’s forces, who already had the blood of hundreds of lives on their hands during the early stages of the revolution in 2011.

Three years after the beginning of the revolution, however, once it became apparent that the regime was much stronger than anticipated, and more than 125.000 dead had fallen, Western countries conceded that they needed to return to the idea of political dialogue, by helping organize the Geneva II conference in 2014. Iran was not allowed to participate in Geneva II, although it might have played a constructive role in trying to convince the Syrian regime to change its position.

In general, as the examples of excluding the PLO, Hamas, Hezbollah or Iran from serious negotiations in other conflict situations have shown, it is a grave mistake to exclude main players in a conflict from dialogue aimed at solving it. Such exclusion achieves nothing, and only contributes to postponing a solution and allowing further bloodshed.

Imposing sanctions in the first year of the revolution with the aim of hitting the hard core of the regime, whilst simultaneously wanting to spare the population from its negative effects, turned out to be illusionary, as could have been predicted on the basis of earlier experiences with boycotts and sanctions elsewhere (e.g. in Iraq). The wishful thinkers hoped that al-Asad would step down once enough pressure had been exercised by the countries condemning him, but dictators do not follow the rules of democratic accountability and decency. Additionally, sanctions that are not accompanied by dialogue or communication generally fail to achieve their intended aim.

Most Western countries closed their embassies in Damascus, thereby further cutting off any opportunities they may have had to engage with the regime, and to maintain a good understanding of internal Syrian developments. The closing of these embassies was meant to send a message of strongest condemnation to al-Asad from the European community, but the symbolism was probably wasted on the Syrian President, who is unlikely to have lost any sleep over the withdrawal of the Western community.

I do not want to argue that if Western efforts for dialogue with the Syrian regime had been taken up much more seriously at an early stage, there would have been any guarantee of success, but it should at the very least have been attempted. At an earlier stage, when much less blood had been shed, compromise would have been much less difficult to reach than it is now.

In its seemingly unwavering conviction that the opposition would be preferable to al-Asad, it was also overlooked that the al-Asad regime is supported by a substantial part of the Syrian population, perhaps some 30 per cent or more, including part of the Arabic speaking minorities (like the Alawis, Christians and Druze). This support should not be interpreted as the existence of real sympathy for the regime, but rather as the prevalent feeling among many that an alternative regime could be even worse. Many Syrians for the time being prefer to preserve their livelihoods under the existing dictatorship rather than having their livelihoods, their shops and spare sources of income and belongings destroyed as a result of the internal war, let alone having themselves and their families be killed. Many are just as, if not more, afraid of what the opposition could bring as they are of the regime’s way of ruling before.

Does the West still have options to help solve the conflict?

- Western military intervention with “boots on the ground” seems to be out of the question. There is no political appetite for it. When the Syrian regime used chemical weapons in Summer 2013, thereby crossing president Obama’s so-called “red lines”, neither the US nor the UK reacted militarily although it had been suggested they would. This seriously undermined Western credibility and demonstrated that their moral threats had no teeth.

- The West’s declared aim to arm the opposition, thereby strengthening their chances of winning the war, seems to have been restricted mainly to non-lethal weapons. It is, however, impossible to win a war with non-lethal weapons. When the EU arms embargo against Syria had been lifted at the insistence of the UK and France in 2013, there was – contrary to expectation – no real change as far as arms deliveries to the opposition were concerned. It turned out that there was no political will to really arm any part of the opposition, even the predominantly secular side. Questions were raised around which of the many opposition groups should be armed and with what aim, as the West obviously wanted to avoid an Islamic extremist dictatorship at all costs. But was there any guarantee that arms provided to others would not end up in their hands? What the West clearly wants to see is a moderate democratic secular pluralist successor regime, but is such a regime a serious possibility? I don’t think it is a realistic prospect; at least not in the foreseeable future.

- The rationale behind delivering arms might also be to provide a counterweight to the regime, strong enough to help force a negotiated settlement. For that to happen, both sides should be convinced that this would be the best, or least bad option. The question remains, however, whether the party that thinks it can win the battle is prepared to negotiate, except perhaps for tactical reasons. Western politicians may continue to pay lip service to the secular opposition, but as long as they do not provide them with the necessary means to win the battle, their moral support has hardly any value. While clearing their political conscience by expressing support for the opposition, they are, in reality, unintentionally helping al-Asad move towards victory.

- In order to play a role in helping achieve a solution, Western contacts need to be maintained with both sides, not just with the opposition. Syrian National Coalition offices could for instance be welcomed in European capitals, as was recently done in the US. It should be clear, however, that such a move would presently be not much more than moral support. At the same time, direct contacts with the Syrian regime should be continued or reestablished.

- Various EU-leaders have on several occasions called for the imposition of no-fly zones in Syria to protect the opposition and population from air-based regime attacks, but nothing has come of this. This may partly be due to the fact that imposing a no-fly zone implies direct war with the Syrian regime.

-The setting up of humanitarian corridors to help the population gain access to food aid has turned out to be unsuccessful as well. Although the relevant Security Council resolution was passed in February 2014, this has so far been no more than a success on paper.

- Most actions by the West have been reactive, with no clearly defined plan or aim for the future beyond removing President al-Asad and his regime from power. The absence of this type of analysis is surprising, particularly given the fact that a future regime could, for example if it were to be a radical Islamist dictatorship, turn out to be worse than the current regime.

- Most Western policies have been no more than declaratory, with few tangible positive results on the ground for the opposition. Supposedly, the good intentions that were widely expressed, were generally not followed up by concrete actions, because the Western countries had their hands tied politically.

A key question that has run throughout debates around the Syrian crisis has been: do we want justice? The answer is, yes, of course, but at which cost? It is easy to say that president al-Asad should be tried for crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. So he should. But does that help us in finding a solution? I would say it does not. Let us make no illusions. The idea that Al-Asad would ever be able to leave Syria alive for such a court case, is extremely unrealistic.

Calling for justice is good in itself, as is the documenting of all the war crimes that have been committed. This has to be done, of course, but not over and above efforts to proactively work towards finding a solution and preventing the further bloodshed that will undoubtedly continue if no serious negotiations are facilitated among Syria’s various clashing factions. The call for justice needs to be a part of wider efforts to create peace, focusing on Syria moving forward, rather than merely focusing on the punishment of those that are guilty for the crimes against the Syrian people committed in the recent past. A solution must be found before justice can be done. It cannot be the other way around.

The West should stop raising false expectations, as it has so often done in the past, and adopt an attitude of result-oriented pragmatism in an effort to really help solve the conflict.

* Nikolaos van Dam is the author of The Struggle for Political Power in Syria and former ambassador of the Netherlands to Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, Germany and Indonesia.

Did the Killing of Abu Bassir Lead to the First Lattakia Offensive?

by Matthew Barber

Make sure to view this amazing video published by Vice News, entitled “Wolves of the Valley.” The video contains daring reporting by Aris Roussinos (@arisroussinos) who entered Idlib to bring us an interesting picture of the front-line in the conflict between ISIS and SRF fighters.

Vice’s posting of the video is here.

Roussinos also has an article about the situation, published yesterday, here.

In the video, one of the leading SRF fighters gives “a message” to Muslims in the West emphasizing that they do not want new fighters to join them in Syria. He says they have enough men and don’t need more. They do discuss their need for weapons, however, and the video gives an interesting look at equipment and training materials provided to the fighters by the U.S. One of the men describes participating in a weapons training program in Turkey and Qatar. After completing the training, the men return to Syria and receive shipments of weapons. Only those who participate in the training receive weapons, the fighter claims, and he says that the weapons are for “fighting Da’ash” rather that for fighting the regime.

The tactics of ISIS are renounced as un-Islamic by the SRF fighter speaking to Roussinos. He attacks such practices as decapitation and extracting jizya from Christians.

Along with this effort to self-market as “moderate” comes the practice of denigrating ISIS (who, as everyone knows, represents the very antithesis of “moderate”), and amusingly, the commander does denigrate them… as Shiites “who have nothing to do with Islam.” There’s something inherently ironic about leveling the accusation of “Shiism” against al-Qaida groups: first, no one has targeted Shiites with more violence than al-Qaida, and second, one of the defining features of al-Qaida’s immoral character is the intolerance that typifies their ideology. The problem isn’t that they’re “this” or “that,” but that they’re willing to kill those who are “this” or “that.” So judging them because they are “Shiites”—beyond the categorical inaccuracy—seems to betray the fact that even the rebel enemies of ISIS are more influenced than they’d like to admit by the intolerant outlook of al-Qaida itself.

At one point in the film, Roussinos visits a number of prisoners being held by the SRF, among whom are captured ISIS members. They require the men to view a video of a recent mass execution of civilians performed by ISIS and then ask the prisoners if this behavior is Islamic. One of the prisoners in this scene can be heard responding to the accusations of his captors in another video that was posted online a little over a month ago, after his capture:

In this video, the fighters are arguing about the first Lattakia offensive that occurred last August, because the events leading up to it were partly what led to the beginning of the war between ISIS and other rebels groups. Though the Syria National Coalition tried to take credit when the offensive began, calling it part of the Syrian Revolution, it soon became clear that it was masterminded by the al-Qaida franchises. FSA participants were the followers, only joining up after the Islamists spearheaded the campaign. (Here is a video of Salim Idriss visiting the front as a gesture of participation.)

In the video, they argue over who lost more fighters, then the SRF commander says to the captured ISIS fighter: “Why did [ISIS] choose that time to invade? You know why? Because Abu Ayman al-Iraqi was suppose to be presented to a shari’a court for killing Abu Bassir, and he asked for 3 days after which ‘under shari’a I will surrender myself.’ So he started this battle to divert attention and people lost martyrs; we lost 230 martyrs in this failed battle you’re talking about and we suffered 300 injuries and everybody had to focus on themselves.” The ISIS fighter then says he admits that Abu Ayman al-Iraqi killed Abu Bassir without cause, and also that he doesn’t understand why they killed Abu Khaled al-Suri.

What we see here is that the SRF fighters blame ISIS for starting a battle that FSA fighters felt obligated to join, but which ultimately failed and resulted in heavy losses. They are also accusing ISIS of starting the first Lattakia offensive as a distraction to evade the question of justice following their killing of Abu Bassir, an FSA field commander.




Al-Qaeda Is Dead, Long Live Al-Qaeda by Jean-Pierre Filiu

Since the May 2011 death of Osama bin Laden, his al-Qaeda group—which is now led by bin Laden’s successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri—typically has been seen as a complex of overlapping “franchises” that together make up the core of a global jihadi movement.

But this is no longer true. The former Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda has now superseded bin Laden’s network to become the more important driving force behind the global jihad in its current guise as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. The key to understanding current jihadi dynamics is not which group Zawahiri is prepared to bless or banish but which forces tolerate or fight the ISIL.

It is time to forget about Zawahiri, because it is now the ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi who is the most important inspiration for global jihad. …

… The UN estimates the number of foreign fighters in Syria at a minimum of 7,000. Not all of them join the ISIL, but its recruiters are roaming the Turkish borders to catch inexperienced volunteers and use them as cannon fodder for their global propaganda and suicide attacks. Syria is far more accessible than any jihadi battlefield in the past, and the ISIL is now bracing for a sustained global campaign from the core of the Middle East.

The foreign recruits will not significantly enhance the ISIL’s fighting force in the current battles in Syria. Instead, they are basically a trump card to magnify the international outreach of Baghdadi’s networks—first in the jihadi diaspora and later as potential operatives in their home countries. The Sinai-based jihadi faction known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which is presently the most active jihadi group in Egypt, has already endorsed the ISIL, and many others are also tempted to switch publicly their allegiance from Zawahiri to Baghdadi. The clock is ticking—and it is no longer only about Syria.

Despair of the Syrian beggar boy – Ruth Sherlock

Before Iraq election, Shi’ite militias unleashed in war on Sunni insurgents

… “There were men in civilian clothes on motorcycles shouting ‘Ali is on your side’,” one man said, referring to a key figure in Shi’ite tradition. “People started fleeing their homes, leaving behind the elders and young men and those who refused to leave. The militias then stormed the houses. They pulled out the young men and summarily executed them.” …

What Would the Fall of Homs Mean? – Aron Lund

Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi gives an interesting lecture on the various jihadi factions of Syria, their origins and conflicts, here

If Assad Wins War, Challenge From His Own Sect May Follow – Anne Barnard

FSA strikes jihadist-held stronghold

Syrian rebels launched their biggest offensive yesterday against thousands of jihadists in the north who have used terrorist tactics and imposed strict Islamic rules on minorities.

About 1,500 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) were involved in the push towards the city of Raqqa, which is controlled by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (Isis), according to an opposition spokesman. …

Massive explosion in Aleppo today, here; Zahran Aloush/IF take credit for the explosion, here.

Kuwait, a U.S. ally on Syria, is also the leading funder of extremist rebels – WP

Abdullah ibn Zubayr Battalions of Deir az-Zor Reject Fighting ISIS

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

Since the outbreak of the wider infighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS) and other rebel groups, some factions have emerged with a definitive anti-fitna stance, insisting on neutrality. The latest case is the Abdullah ibn Zubayr Battalions of Deir az-Zor province, which is instead directing efforts to fighting regime forces in Deir az-Zor city. From a strategic perspective, this approach is offensive: the Jabhat al-Nusra et al. offensive on ISIS in al-Markadah and the ISIS incursions into Deir az-Zor province have so far been little more than a futile waste of manpower and weapons, as the overall stalemate shows. Below is my preliminary translation of their statement.

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New Abdullah ibn Zubayr Battalions statement rejecting infighting

“On the principle of self-distancing, and the lack of spilling Muslims’ blood in intervening in the ongoing war between Islamic factions: this war that has eaten up the everything and everybody, this war that has diverted the revolution from its true goal and has offered a service to the regime it dreamed of, allowing it to attempt to advance here and there at more than one point in Ard al-Rabat [Syria].

Accordingly, the leadership of the Group of Abdullah ibn Zubayr battalions announces the following:

1. No intervention in this war on one side against the other.

2. If any member gets involved in this war, he is considered expelled, and the Group has no link with his behaviour; as for someone from the people of the village (non-military) getting involved, we are not responsible for his behaviour and have no link with him whether near or far.

3. The Group will not allow any side involved to use our land as a battlefield.

Leaders of the battalions:

Ayad al-Malihal
Hassan al-Daba’
Hissan al-Jad’an
Bassam al-Badran
Khalid al-Musharraf
Khalifa al-Tayyas
Raed al-Hammad
Ammar ash-Sha’ar
Salama al-Jabar
Muhammad al-Salah
Huwaidi al-Dabbagh”

Abdullah ibn Zubayr fighters in industrial quarter of Deir az-Zor city

Muhajireen Battalions in Syria (Part Two)

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

Back in December I profiled a variety of battalions of Sunni foreign fighters (part one). Here are some more to add to the list:

Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi

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Logo of Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi

This group, which has existed at least since the summer of last year, is the Libyan division of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham (ISIS), despite false rumours that the battalion had defected to Jabhat al-Nusra. Libya itself has been a big source of muhajireen in both Iraq and Syria over the past decade, so the fact that there is a battalion devoted to recruiting Libyan fighters should come as no surprise. The existence of Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi as a front group for ISIS perhaps reflects a wider pro-ISIS trend across central North Africa with the Ansar ash-Shari’a movements in Tunisia and Libya.

In the former country, Ansar ash-Shari’a takes an official pro-ISIS line that dates back to at least the summer of last year (likely explaining the disproportionate number of Tunisian fighters in ISIS’ ranks). In the video linked to, Ansar ash-Shari’a in Tunisia’s official spokesman hails ISIS for making “the Jews, Rafidites [Shi'a] and Nasara [Christians] cry” in addition to freeing Muslim brothers from their prisons. In a document dated to 26th June 2013 and written by Sheikh Abu Ja’afar al-Hatab, a member of the organization’s Shari’a committee, it is argued that “the bay’ah [pledge of allegiance] of Jabhat al-Nusra is false in every aspect, so whoever pledges bay’ah to Jabhat al-Nusra, his bay’ah is corrupt, and there is no bay’ah to him or on him, and the members of Jabhat al-Nusra must repent to God and switch their bay’ah to the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham.”

Despite the outbreak of wider infighting between ISIS and other rebel groups since January, there is no sign of a distancing on the part of Ansar ash-Shari’a Tunisia from ISIS.

“Support from Kairoun for the Islamic State: remaining and expanding”: This placard from Kairoun- a known area of Ansar ash-Shari’a Tunisia activity- replicates ISIS slogans baqiya wa tatamaddad

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An ISIS fighter in Syria reciprocates Ansar ash-Shari’a Tunisia’s support for ISIS: “Support for Ansar ash-Shari’a Tunisia from the soldiers of the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham.” Image released in late February via Ansar ash-Shari’a Tunisia social media.

Tunisians feature disproportionately in ISIS’ ranks in both Iraq and Syria. Abu al-Dera’ the Tunisian: an ISIS fighter who along with Abu Hafs of Misrata led the recent ISIS assault on Imam Kadhim University in Baghdad.

Abu Omar the Tunisian: an ISIS fighter killed in February in Qalamoun, Damascus province.

Below are some photos of Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi.

Members of Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi praying.

Members of Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi pose with the finger of Tawheed.

Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi fighters.

Abu Talha al-Faranjani, who was killed during the initial outbreak of the wider ISIS-rebel infighting in Atarib, Aleppo province.

Abu Aasem al-Tarabulusi (from Tripoli, Libya), also killed in Atarib.

Abu Talha al-Dernawi (as his name suggests, he is from Derna): carried out a suicide operation for ISIS.

Abu Ayoub, killed on 30th March this year in al-Markadah, southern Hasakah province. The locality has been renamed “Maysara” by ISIS amid heavy fighting against Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic Front and the Authenticity and Development Front.

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Abu Muadh al-Misrati (from Misrata)

Abu Yahya al-Libi, said to have been “killed by the Jowlani Front [Jabhat al-Nusra].”

Members of Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi in al-Markadah. Photo taken on 22nd March.

Raw meat to be cooked by Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi

More delicacies courtesy of Katiba al-Bittar al-Libi

Katiba al-Muhajireen

Not to be confused with Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar, which sometimes used the same name, Katiba al-Muhajireen has been primarily based in the Latakia countryside. It was founded in mid-2012 as an independent group (rather than an ISIS front group as I initially thought; though, like the vast majority of muhajireen groups, it shares the ideological program as Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS) by Libyan muhajireen, some of whom come from the Ansar ash-Shari’a movement. The group participated in the Latakia offensive last summer, but in late December formally joined Jabhat al-Nusra for the sake of unity in the ranks of the mujahideen.

Katiba al-Muhajireen statement announcing its joining Jabhat al-Nusra

Katiba al-Muhajireen fighters praying in Jabal Turkoman, Latakia countryside.

Abu al-Faruq the Libyan: a Katiba al-Muhajireen commander killed in Latakia in mid-August last year.

Abu Obeida al-Maghrebi, a Moroccan fighter for Katiba al-Muhajireen fighter killed last summer.

Statement by Katiba al-Muhajireen claiming targeting of Kasab in May with 30 locally-made rockets.

On a more general level, the case of Katiba al-Muhajireen is important in noting that the muhajireen battalions remaining in Latakia have always tended to be closer to Jabhat al-Nusra than ISIS and that has become more so with time. I have already explained this situation with regards to Harakat Sham al-Islam, which still remains an officially independent group. It is also the case with Suqur al-Izz, an officially independent Saudi muhajireen-founded and led group which has had to turn to Jabhat al-Nusra in the face of loss of financial support from private donors in the Gulf (thanks to Chris Looney for corroborating my observation). Indeed, in the ongoing fighting in Latakia, Suqur al-Izz has essentially been subsumed under Jabhat al-Nusra’s wing. It would not be inaccurate to call Suqur al-Izz and Harakat Sham al-Islam al-Qa’ida front-group projects.

Abu Nabhan al-Ansari: a native Syrian fighter for Suqur al-Izz killed at the end of March in the Latakia fighting.

Imam Bukhari Battalion

Logo of the Imam Bukhari Battalion

An officially independent Uzbek-muhajireen battalion dating back to at least autumn of last year, the group’s ideology is similar to that of other foreign fighter groupings: that is, at least aspiring for Bilad ash-Sham to be ruled by Shari’a alone. The Imam Bukhari battalion primarily operates in Aleppo province. It is led by one Sheikh Ismail Bukhari.

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Imam Bukhari Battalion fighters in a training camp

Graduating from the Sheikh Muhammad Ali training camp for the Imam Bukhari Battalion

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“Assault on the buildings and cleansing them of apostates”- from an Imam Bukhari Battalion video of operations in al-Layrmoun and Zahara, Aleppo province.

“Ash-Sham will only be ruled by God’s law: Imam Bukhari Battalion.” A good summary of the battalion’s ideology.