Syria's Jabhat al-Nusra seeks direct relationship with al-Qaeda leadership

Jabhat al-Nusra pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, who
					appears in this frame from a 2012 message announcing al-Qaeda's ties to
					Somalia's extremist al-Shabaab fighters. [AFP/SITE Intelligence

Jabhat al-Nusra pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, who appears in this frame from a 2012 message announcing al-Qaeda's ties to Somalia's extremist al-Shabaab fighters. [AFP/SITE Intelligence Group/HO]



  • Print this article
  • increase decrease

Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's announcement that his group had merged with the Syrian group Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) marks a remarkable development in the modus operandi of armed groups affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Middle East.

The announcement not only confirmed what analysts have been saying for months about the link between ISI and JAN, but was remarkable in the sense that JAN leader Abu Mohammed al-Joulani hastened to refute the announcement of JAN's merger with ISI, al-Qaeda's branch in Iraq, and instead "renewed the bayaa" (oath of allegiance) to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

What could the two contradictory announcements by the leaders of al-Qaeda branches in Iraq and Syria signify?

To answer this question, it may be helpful to present a brief summary of the history of the relationship between these two branches of al-Qaeda.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) was officially established in late 2004, when Jordanian Abu Musaab al-Zarqawi, then emir of al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, announced the merger of his group with al-Qaeda and swore allegiance to Osama bin Laden. The latter responded by appointing al-Zarqawi leader of the al-Qaeda branch in "Mesopotamia" (Iraq).

Prior to joining al-Qaeda, al-Zarqawi had succeeded in establishing cells for his group, al-Tawhid wal-Jihad, in countries adjoining Iraq, including Lebanon and Syria. Those cells joined al-Qaeda in early 2005 when al-Zarqawi became bin Laden's representative in Iraq, according to a series of reports published by al-Hayat in 2010.

The al-Hayat reports, which cited Arab jihadists as sources, said that after these cells transferred to al-Qaeda they became unofficial branches of al-Qaeda in the Levant but remained directly affiliated with AQI, led by al-Zarqawi, rather than al-Qaeda's central command in the Pakistan-Afghanistan border areas.

No formal announcement was ever made about the establishment of an al-Qaeda branch in the Levant, perhaps because of the blows dealt by Syrian and Lebanese security forces in 2007 and 2008 to those cells, which were inherited from al-Zarqawi and had grown when he became leader of al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

Those cells seemingly remained strictly associated with the leadership of al-Qaeda in Iraq, however, even after al-Zarqawi was killed in 2006 and succeeded by Abu Ayyub al-Masri. At the end of the same year, ISI was established under the leadership of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.

With this historical background in mind, perhaps a better understanding can now be gained of the on-going argument between al-Qaeda's branches in Iraq and Syria.

In an audio recording posted on jihadist websites a few days ago, al-Joulani, JAN's "general commander", said he was involved in what he referred to as "jihad" in Iraq before returning to Syria to launch JAN after the onset of the revolt against the regime in 2011.

Al-Joulani praised al-Baghdadi, saying "he gave the people of the Levant their due and repaid the debt twofold", recalling that "hundreds" of fighters from the Levant and elsewhere died in Iraq fighting alongside al-Qaeda and ISI.

Al-Joulani said al-Baghdadi "approved a plan we proposed to him to come to the aid of our vulnerable people in the Levant. We then split the treasury of the [Islamic] State despite the financial hardship they were experiencing, and he put his full trust in this poor subject and authorised him to develop the policy and plan, and assigned him a few brothers".

That was the first public confirmation of its kind by al-Joulani that JAN is directly linked to AQI.

But what is more striking is that al-Joulani refuted al-Baghdadi's announcement that JAN and ISI had merged.

Instead, he said his organisation "was not consulted" before al-Baghdadi announced that JAN is an extension of ISI and that the names of both organisations would be dropped and replaced with one name: "The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant".

"Delaying the announcement is not due to feebleness of religion or weakness on the part of JAN members, but stems from wisdom based on legitimate principles," al-Joulani added.

JAN may have declined to confirm the link because it is aware of al-Qaeda's bloody track record in Iraq, which could harm JAN's cause among Syrians.

At the same time, however, al-Joulani renewed his allegiance to al-Zawahiri, saying "This is a bayaa from the sons of Jabhat al-Nusra and their general commander that we renew to the Sheikh of Jihad, Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri". JAN will continue to operate under its current name, he added, even though it takes "pride" in the name 'Islamic state' proposed by al-Baghdadi.

With that, al-Joulani clearly pledged JAN's allegiance to al-Qaeda, limiting it specifically to al-Zawahiri and not the leader of al-Qaeda's branch in Iraq, thus for the first time shifting the allegiance of al-Qaeda's cells in the Levant to the organisation's leadership in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border areas.

Al-Qaeda and its branches employ the same tactics

If al-Joulani had in the past declined to confirm JAN's emergence from AQI primarily to avoid having Syrian citizens view his organisation with the same suspicion with which they view AQI, JAN's actions since 2011 have revealed what its leader has not; that the suicide bombings it has carried out, which have killed as many civilians as regime military personnel, confirm beyond any doubt there is no fundamental difference between JAN and AQI.

Al-Joulani's refusal to merge his branch with al-Baghdadi's and his pledge of allegiance to al-Zawahiri is peculiar, as there is no real difference between the actions of al-Qaeda and those of its affiliates, which supposedly represent it and follow its orders and instructions.

Therefore, al-Joulani's pledge of allegiance to al-Zawahiri and not al-Baghdadi leads to speculation that he believes JAN today is too big to merge with the branch that spawned it, and is in fact on equal footing in its relationship with the parent organization led by al-Zawahiri.

It is not yet clear whether al-Baghdadi will resent al-Joulani's stance, or where al-Zawahiri stands with regard to the contradictory stances of the leaders of his organization's branches in Iraq and Syria. The indisputable truth, however, is that JAN has officially become an al-Qaeda affiliate.



    عامراسعد ياسرنفاع


    The West divided us and troubled our life politically, denominationally, and regionally in a way that will require long years to be resolved. It planted its military base, the Zionist entity, in the heart of the nation, to rob its wealth and riches. In this way, we became backward scientifically, agriculturally, industrially, politically, and even religiously and morally. I see that the fall of the Zionist regime would end all forms of racism and fanaticism. These peoples have been coexisting for hundred of years and they do not need guardians. The land and its riches are known to all and religion is for God. Each one can worship God as he wishes without assaulting anyone in hand or in tongue. The road to paradise is known in all religions and sects. Let all the coming generations in this region live in peace away from wars, blood, conspiracies, or assassinations. The coming generations must preserve the wealth and money of the nation, particularly in Iraq and Syria, which have been suffering terribly in the past century. The people have the right to live with dignity and to enjoy peace, security, and stability. All sects and followers of all religions must enjoy the freedom to worship God as they wish, in a climate that is based on respect for the others irrespective of the disagreements. This should never affect the coexistence and God would reckon all people at the end because this world is not ours, but we will all pass away. Many thanks and love to all.

  • نسرين المصريه


    O God! Destroy the enemies of the religion.

  • اسعد


    God grants victory to those who support Him. This is the strongest response.

  • muslim


    The western states can revive their economies through selling arms to the different states, knowing that these states reached Mars and they have all the scientific, political, and planning capabilities, which qualify them to make up plays and anything to guarantee the continuity of their trade. We congratulate the western states for these hellish and devilish ideas that allowed them to hit a thousand birds with one stone.

  • حيدر


    May God damn you! Those people can never be Muslims. May God grant victory to Iraq over you.

  • احسان


    Valuable information

  • الحمداني


    If you fight in the name of jihad, then Palestine is more worthy to fight in it than Iraq and Syria. You have to fight the Jews instead of fighting in the Arab states.

  • اخوكم في الاسلام ابومحمدمن السعودية


    I ask you to reevaluate yourselves, because your work is a service to the USA and Israel, as well as it weakens the Muslims. Go and liberate Palestine first and we will believe you. Save us from the Zionists and Jews and then handle the Muslims, whom you consider as infidels. Fear the hell fire and remember the wrath of God the Almighty. In religion, the life of the animals must be protected. Therefore, killing the hunting dog is prohibited and if this happened, his owner must be compensated. So, how do you legalize killing the Muslim Shia, who did not attack you at any time except perhaps in the case of self-defense? I just advise you and I oppose the sectarianism and racism. Go and fight Israel and we will all support you.

  • شيعيه واصلي جعفري واكره اليكره علي


    May God curse the Wahhabis. They claim that they defend Islam, while they have no relationship with it? If you had been Muslims, you would not have attacked the shrine of Abraham, may God exalt his mention, or shrine of Sayyeda Zaynab, who is the granddaughter of the Prophet, peace be upon him? Why do you try to demolish her pure shrine? No, you are Jews and terrorist Wahhabis not Muslims. We will never submit and we are ready to sacrifice our souls for the sake of Sayyeda Zaynab.

  • ايو امير


    Bashar Al-Asad will defeat the so-called Free Syrian Army, God willing.

  • اسيل الموالي


    O God! Curse Al-Qaeda, the Takfiris and Nasibis like the fighters of the Free Syrian Army.

  • الشيباني


    May God curse those infidels. What is the religion of those bastards? To hell forever.

  • امجد الياسري


    Why did Al-Qaeda adopt this bombing, which killed innocent and armless people including women and children and even consider it an act of jihad? What jihad are you talking about?

  • جواد الزركاني


    Through justice and law, there would be no poverty or backwardness. No to Al-Qaeda and its thoughts.

  • ابو احمد


    Stop bloodshed in the name of the religion. I think that the Muslims had suffered enough because of disunity. The Muslims have the most honorable religion on earth. Let us be united behind the methodology of Muhammad, peace be upon him, against the enemies of the religion. O God! Grant victory to Islam and Muslims.

  • البغدادي


    If we checked the origins of al-Qaeda, we would discover that it has no known origins. If we said that it is a jihadist group, then why it did not defend our Palestinian brothers? It carried out no single operation in Palestine. This is a strong evidence that it is a suspicious and disloyal movement which defamed the image of Islam around the world.

  • ابونبراس


    Al-Qaeda (USA +Israel) is the alias for a group that seeks to destroy the Muslim states and annihilate them from the surface of the earth. However, their end would be at the hands of the Imaam, may God accelerate his emergence.

  • فادي البانياسي


    God is the Greatest.

  • حسن الجوراني


    What does Al-Qaeda mean by the intellectual and ideological term? What is the source of the legitimacy for murder in your opinion?

  • ناصر الشريعة


    Al-Golani is the student of Al-Baghdadi. O enemies of the state, the mujahidin are everywhere and they will accept nothing less than application of the sharia.

  • فراس ابو علي الكفاح


    O honorable men of Anbar and Iraq, do not be a cause of division in Iraq. This is not proper to be adopted by you. Feras Abu Ali Al-Kafah.

  • سعدالحرير


    O God grant victory to Al-Qaeda and the Nusra Front. O God make them strong and steadfast.

  • مروة عبد الرحمن


    The denunciation of the Syrian opposition for the threats of Hezbollah isn’t enough. The people getting funded and involved with Hezbollah have to be stopped. The problem is that Hassan Nassrallah is in Lebanon, and gives orders and threatens and unfortunately his soldiers are brainwashed under pretext of religion, I hope they all wake up from this coma before the Free Syrian Army eliminates Hezbollah. As Hezbollah really doesn’t know Allah, they don't know anything but the language of blood, they’re really a terrorist organization and no one can deny this, and if the Syrian regime has friends and they want to support them, the opposition as well are having friends and they can help them too, and want so much to help the Free Army and the US comes on the top of these friends.

  • سهيل سامى


    There is no power but from Allah. I wonder what Hezbollah still wants from Syrians. They are expected to understand that there is no need for what is currently happening in Syria. I wonder whether Hezbollah wants to play the starring role. In fact, I hope that this role will serve the interests of the people. Yet, Hezbollah is currently destroying Syria and wreaking havoc in it. Consequently, the people cannot live because of the acts of Bashar Assad on the one hand and Hezbollah on the other. We should not forget Iran of course and its heroic role in Syria. For these reasons, I pray to Allah to take revenge on Bashar, Hezbollah and Iran since they are thinking of carrying out the most heinous crimes and Syrians will not be able to face all these hardships.

  • نيفين عدلى


    Worse people met worst. This increases our worry as Arabs from Al Qaeda organization as we know it well. There is no power but in God the High, the Great. Qaeda organization destruct Arab states. We find In Syria the Nussrah front which stated its unity and allegiance to Al Qaeda. They pose danger against the Arab region. We wish this merger fails against the united powers of the Arabs. Nussah front in Syria with Al Qaeda in Iraq, Yemen, and other Arab states, it means that terrorists could be found in all Arab states now and after. There is no replacement before Arab states except Science which could defeat those new moguls.

  • انصار الحق


    From the very beginning, Ayman al-Zawahiri called for the merger of the Nusrah Front in Syria with al-Qaeda in Iraq. This indicates that the terrorists will try to cross the Iraqi Syrian borders secretly. The terrorists want to cooperate. For this reason, the Iraqi border forces deployed more and more in the region. The authorities are trying to prevent the terrorists from moving inside and outside the Iraqi territories. The Iraqi security forces are trying to prevent the terrorists from creeping into the territories of the country. God willing, the insurgents will be trapped in the ambushes of the border guards. We call on the security forces to impose tighter control on the borders of the country. We expect them to fight the terrorists there and to arrest them, whenever possible. We pray Allah to help them.

  • ابو خالد الحر


    The supporters of the pagan party of Hezbollah slaughter the children of Syria. However, the Nusra Front will confront them. O God guide them.

  • عبدالكريم قايدمقبل


    Yes, this is the best thing

  • هشام


    I have a question to the scholars in Anbar. Why did you abandon the religion and worked in politics.

  • خالد العراقي


    O God! protect Sayyeda Zaynab. We ar ready to sacrifice our souls for it.

  • ودالمحينة


    God is the Greatest. All praise be to Allah.

  • adel


    Whoever knows God would know that he can reach him through the love and he would understand the right of coexistence.

  • 714467073


    O God! grant victory to our brothers everywhere.

  • البدراني


    Does the army of the Nusra Front in Iraq have links with the Nusra Front?

  • ابوخطاب الافغاني


    God is the Greatest. God the Almighty Al-Golani is an experienced leader and he was educated by the great imaam sheikh Ayman.

  • الذهبي


    The true morals is to commit to the teachings of Muhammad and his household.

  • احمد


    This has nothing to do with Al-Qaeda or the Nusra Front. It is Islam which demands us to defend the souls, honor, land and religion. We are required to raise the banners of victory over oppression, and supporting the truth in all fields of honor and dignity when the rights return to their owners. However, the enemies do not need this and they describe all those who defend their religion, honor or rights or try to defend himself or his Muslim brothers as being a member of Al-Qaeda or the Nusra Front to justify attacking them. in this way, all Muslims would be members of Al-Qaeda and the Nusra Front.

  • فادي يوسف


    I wish there will be an article on the stance of the sheikhs and Imaams of the mosques of Anbar as well as their fierce defense of Al-Qaeda in Iraq. They do not benefit from the experiment during which Iraq lost its best youth. Do they believe in cancelling the other? Thank you very much.

  • فهد مصعب


    I just wanted to know why Hezbollah intervenes on the borders and in Sayeda Zeinab and at a quick pace. Hezbollah claims that its insurgents took such initiatives individually. However, they raise the Hezbollah flag at their funerals, which provoked Sunnis and even Shiites who would love to see Hezbollah fighters in the battlefields against the Israeli enemy. In fact, they are not fighting the Israelis and the British in Syria. The Syrian people, the loyal as well as the opponents of Bashar, did not hesitate to support Hezbollah. Do not tarnish your bright image. You represent the hope and the awakening of the Arab and Islamic nations. I urge Mr. Nasrallah to show up to explain the real position of Hezbollah and to prove that we are wrong.

  • النجدي


    Go a head may God support you O mujahidin.

  • محمدالمشولي


    O Allah! Grant victory to the mujahidin everywhere, O Allah! Grant them victory over their enemies. O Allah! Grant victory to our brothers in Syria. A loving brother from Yemen.

  • سعد الربيعي


    Did the writer of this article know that al-Qaeda will be under our feet because they are criminals and do not fear God? They are like the people of Lot, and God will send torment against them.

  • حبيب بركات


    I want to join this article.

  • محمود بابل


    Al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization.

  • سلفي


    The Nusra Front will achieve the final victory. Glory be to the Muslims. we will come to you Washington.

  • صﻻح العراقي


    Death to anyone who kills people; of the Wahhabis who are the supporters of terrorism worldwide. In Iraq, we have seen all their vices.

  • أبو مجاهد


    Al-Qaeda will always remain the hope of the nation and I ask God to grant victory to the Nusra Front and Islamic state of Iraq as well as all the jihadist groups everywhere.

  • سلفادو العرب


    This is correct.

  • mohammed


    I love Syria.

  • مجاةد


    God is the Greatest.

  • ابومالك العريفي


    The writer of this article is sick.

  • حسام عبدالله الرعيني


    O God! grant victory to our brothers in Syria. amen.

  • ابو عمر


    I respect Al-Qaeda, which will cut off the head of every apostate, infidel, and debaucher.