Overview

Also Known As:

Executive Summary:

The Nusra Front—also known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (“the Levantine Conquest Front”)—is an internationally sanctioned terrorist group, the second-strongest insurgent group in Syria after ISIS, and a formerly open al-Qaeda affiliate that seeks to replace the Assad regime with an Islamic state. Operating as a part of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham coalition since January 2017,Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda and allies announce ‘new entity’ in Syria,” Long War Journal, January 28, 2017, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2017/01/al-qaeda-and-allies-announce-new-entity-in-syria.php. the Nusra Front stands accused of serving as a base for global al-Qaeda operations.Patricia Zengerle and Mark Hosenball, “U.S. Spy Chiefs Say Number of Foreign Militants in Syria Rises,” Reuters, January 29, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/29/us-usa-security-syria-idUSBREA0S1XL20140129. In the years since its formation in 2011, the Nusra Front has gradually amassed and sustained territory throughout Syria.Christiaan Triebert and Rao Kumar, “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’s Income and Resources,” Hate Speech International, August 15, 2016, https://www.hate-speech.org/jabhat-fateh-al-shams-income-and-resources-an-open-source-investigation/#fn-2879-45. As of early 2017, the Nusra Front controls territory in northern, western, and southern Syria, including large portions of Syria’s Idlib province.Bassem Mroue, “AP EXPLAINS: Why Syria’s al-Qaida may be considering a split,” Associated Press, July 27, 2016, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/d10d759d35824b70b47501d85f0ff8c3/ap-explains-why-syrias-al-qaida-may-be-considering-split;
Christiaan Triebert and Rao Kumar, “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’s Income and Resources,” Hate Speech International, August 15, 2016, https://www.hate-speech.org/jabhat-fateh-al-shams-income-and-resources-an-open-source-investigation/#fn-2879-45;
Liveuamap MiddleEast, Twitter feed, accessed February 14, 2017, https://twitter.com/lummideast.

Before its formal dissociation from al-Qaeda, the Nusra Front had a long and proven history of serving as al-Qaeda’s loyal affiliate. On July 28, 2016, al-Qaeda released an audio statement giving the Nusra Front formal permission to break ties if the link was “conflicting with [the Nusra Front’s] unity and working as one body.”Reuters, “Al Qaeda tells Syrian branch Nusra Front it can drop links,” Thomas Reuters Foundation News, July 28, 2016, http://news.trust.org/item/20160728110801-ogl17;
Cole Bunzel, “Abandoning al-Qaida: Tahrir al-Sham and the Concerns of Sami al-‘Uraydi,” Jihadica, May 12, 2017, http://www.jihadica.com/abandoning-al-qaida/.
Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammad al-Golani declared a formal split from al-Qaeda after thanking “our brothers, the commanders of al-Qa’eda,” and announcing the group’s name change from Jabhat al-Nusra (“the Victory Front”) to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (“the Levantine Conquest Front”).Orient News, “Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed Joulani commander officially announced the disengagement from al-Qaeda and the establishment of a new entity,” YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oossAtDYbrs. Analysts had long surmised that a break from al-Qaeda, however artificial, could enable the Nusra Front to attract more funding from Gulf States like Qatar, consolidate local support, and present itself as a legitimate insurgent group in Syria.Bassem Mroue, “AP EXPLAINS: Why Syria’s al-Qaida may be considering a split,” Associated Press, July 27, 2016, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/d10d759d35824b70b47501d85f0ff8c3/ap-explains-why-syrias-al-qaida-may-be-considering-split;
Reuters, “Al Qaeda tells Syrian branch Nusra Front it can drop links,” Thomas Reuters Foundation News, July 28, 2016, http://news.trust.org/item/20160728110801-ogl17.
The Nusra Front continued to pursue this strategy when, on January 28, 2017, it announced that it was dissolving its organization to be subsumed under a larger Syrian Islamist merger, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (“Assembly for the Liberation of the Levant” or HTS), led by Hashim al-Sheikh, the former leader of fellow Islamist faction Ahrar al-Sham.“Tahrir al-Sham: Al-Qaeda’s latest incarnation in Syria,” BBC News, February 12, 2017, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-38934206.

For years before the announced split, however, Golani had reaffirmed his group’s allegiance to al-Qaeda. The Nusra Front’s founder, current ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, claims to have dispatched Golani and others—then al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) fighters—into Syria in 2011 in order to take advantage of the power vacuum stemming from the civil war.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda in Iraq, Al Nusrah Front Emerge as Rebranded Single Entity,” Long War Journal, April 9, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/04/the_emir_of_al_qaeda.php#ixzz3Mw15S2jb. The United States confirms this claim, maintaining that that the Nusra Front was formed by AQI to “hijack the struggles of the legitimate Syrian opposition to further its own extremist ideology.”“Treasury Sanctions Al-Nusrah Front Leadership in Syria and Militias Supporting the Asad Regime,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 11, 2012, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1797.aspx. In April 2013, after Baghdadi unilaterally claimed to subsume the Nusra Front into AQI, now known as ISIS, Golani broke ties with Baghdadi and reaffirmed his allegiance to al-Qaeda central.“Syria Crisis: Al-Nusra Pledges Allegiance to Al-Qaeda,” BBC News, April 10, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22095099.

Despite the group’s origins in Iraq and historical deference to al-Qaeda, the Nusra Front has branded itself as a native rebel group with foreign experience. In Syria, the group continues to profess its goal of toppling the Assad regime and establishing an Islamic state in its place, albeit incrementally. In its effort to consolidate local support, the Nusra Front has adopted military and outreach strategies from al-Qaeda-linked jihadist Abu Musab al-Suri: participating in numerous Syrian-based coalitions and collaborating with other Islamist, and occasionally secular, rebel groups to carry out joint attacks against Assad forces.Hassan Hassan, “A Jihadist Blueprint for Hearts and Minds Is Gaining Traction in Syria,” National, March 4, 2014, http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/a-jihadist-blueprint-for-hearts-and-minds-is-gaining-traction-in-syria. The Nusra Front, and now HTS, also operates a civil administrative wing called the “Public Services Administration” which provides basic administrative needs and security and governs several rebel-controlled towns under various forms of Islamic law.Favier, Agnes, Luigui Narbone, and Virginie Collombier, Inside Wars Local Dynamics of Conflicts in Syria and Libya, Fiesole: European University Institute, 2016, http://cadmus.eui.eu/bitstream/handle/1814/41644/Inside%20wars_2016.pdf.

Although the group has succeeded in embedding itself in the Syrian insurgency, the Nusra Front remains committed to employing terrorist tactics in order to secure an Islamic state. Since its founding, the Nusra Front has conducted formal military campaigns, assassinations, hostage takings, and ‘lone wolf’ operations, including al-Qaeda’s trademark suicide bombings. By June 2013, the Nusra Front had claimed responsibility for 57 out of 70 suicide attacks conducted during Syria’s civil war.Bill Roggio, “Suicide Bombers Kill 14 in Damascus,” Long War Journal, June 11, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2013/06/suicide_bombers_kill_14_in_dam.php. The group has since continued to carry out its signature suicide bombings in Syria and expanded its operations into neighboring Lebanon after Hezbollah joined the war in mid-2013. “Nusra Front, Syrian rebels attack government forces near Aleppo, gain ground,” Reuters, April 2, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-aleppo-idUSKCN0WZ0O5;
“Nusra Front claims Lebanon suicide attack,” Al Jazeera, September 18, 2016, http://video.aljazeera.com/channels/eng/videos/nusra-front-claims-lebanon-suicide-attack/3982582295001.
In Lebanon, the Nusra Front works to stoke sectarian divisions, conducting and attempting suicide bombings against civilian centers like Beirut and Hezbollah strongholds like Hermel, along Lebanon’s north-eastern border with Syria.“Nusra Front attacks Hezbollah outposts near Arsal,” Daily Star (Beirut), June 2, 2015, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Lebanon-News/2015/Jun-02/300248-nusra-front-attacks-hezbollah-outposts-near-arsal.ashx;
“Jabhat al-Nusra claims deadly Lebanon bombing,” Al Jazeera, February 1, 2014, http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/02/al-nusra-front-claims-deadly-lebanon-bombing-201421221112955650.html;
Alex Rowell, “Bombings in Lebanon since 2011,” Now, September 1, 2016, https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/reportsfeatures/535852-vehicle-explosions-in-lebanon-since-2011.

As of mid-2016, the Nusra Front’s paramilitary force remains one of the strongest rebel forces in Syria, reportedly comprised of around 5,000 to 10,000 fighters, including an estimated 7,000 fighters in Idlib province alone.Cameron Glenn, “The Nusra Front: Al Qaeda’s Affiliate in Syria,” Wilson Center, June 17, 2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/the-nusra-front-al-qaedas-affiliate-syria;
Lidia Kelly, “Russia Announces Daily Ceasefires in Syria’s Aleppo to Let in Aid,” Reuters, August 10, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-russia-idUSKCN10L1WL.
The terrorist group has attracted the largest contingency of foreign fighters to Syria after ISIS.Ryan Browne, “Report: Syria’s al-Nusra ‘more dangerous’ than ISIS,” CNN, January 26, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/25/politics/al-qaeda-al-nusra-isis-threat-experts/.

Doctrine:

The Nusra Front adheres to a Salafist, jihadist ideology with the professed aim of establishing Islamic governance in all areas under its control. In the group’s January 2012 inaugural video, a masked representative outlined its regional objectives. He introduced the Nusra Front as “Syrian mujahedeen” who have come “back from various jihad fronts to restore God's rule on the Earth [shari’ah law] and avenge the Syrians’ violated honour and spilled blood.” Paul Wood, “Syria: Islamist Nusra Front Gives BBC Exclusive Interview,” BBC News, January 17, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-21061018. Years later, when Abu Muhammad al-Golani announced the Nusra Front’s formal split from al-Qaeda, Golani reaffirmed the group’s objectives, saying that in separating from al-Qaeda, the Nusra Front (renamed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham) was not “compromising or sacrificing our solid beliefs or laxity in the necessity of the continuity of the Jihad of Al-Sham.”Orient News, “Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed Joulani commander officially announced the disengagement from al-Qaeda and the establishment of a new entity,” YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oossAtDYbrs; Dania Akkad, “Nusra confirms split with al-Qaeda ‘to protect the Syrian revolution,’” Middle East Eye, July 28, 2016, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/nusra-front-announces-official-split-al-qaeda-520293064. Golani reaffirmed that his group sought to use “Islamically legitimate means” to unify mujahideen (jihadists) in Syria and the “masses of people in Al-Sham [Syria]” in order to replace the Assad government with one based on sharia (Islamic law).Orient News, “Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed Joulani commander officially announced the disengagement from al-Qaeda and the establishment of a new entity,” YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oossAtDYbrs; Dania Akkad, “Nusra confirms split with al-Qaeda ‘to protect the Syrian revolution,’” Middle East Eye, July 28, 2016, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/nusra-front-announces-official-split-al-qaeda-520293064.

While the Nusra Front works to establish Islamic law in all areas under its control, it has done so incrementally, in order to sustain local support. In this way, the group follows the guidelines and strategy of al-Qaeda-linked writer Abu Musab al-Suri, who sought to win the hearts and minds of locals in order to pursue his Islamist objectives.Hassan Hassan, “A Jihadist Blueprint for Hearts and Minds Is Gaining Traction in Syria,” National [UAE], March 4, 2014, http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/a-jihadist-blueprint-for-hearts-and-minds-is-gaining-traction-in-syria. In a statement posted online, Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammad al-Golani said, “Beware of being hard on [the locals]. Begin with the priorities and fundamentals of Islam, and be flexible on the minor parts of religion.”Hassan Hassan, “A Jihadist Blueprint for Hearts and Minds Is Gaining Traction in Syria,” National [UAE], March 4, 2014, http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/a-jihadist-blueprint-for-hearts-and-minds-is-gaining-traction-in-syria. In December 2012 interview with the Dubai-based National, Golani said that that his group’s “first goal is to get rid of Assad. Then we want a state where the Quran is the only source of law.”Balint Szlanko, “Jabhat Al Nusra's new Syria,” National (Dubai), December 15, 2012, http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/jabhat-al-nusras-new-syria.

Although the Nusra Front publicly emphasizes its regional aims, it has shown signs of a more expansionist ideology in line with al-Qaeda’s brand of global jihadism. Despite the group’s emphasis on its Syrian character, the Nusra Front has expanded operations into neighboring Lebanon, where it has succeeded in establishing a cell.“Nusra Front – Lebanon,” Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium, accessed December 25, 2014, http://www.trackingterrorism.org/group/nusra-front-lebanon. The group also stands accused of plotting attacks against the West,Patricia Zengerle and Mark Hosenball, “U.S. Spy Chiefs Say Number of Foreign Militants in Syria Rises,” Reuters, January 29, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/29/us-usa-security-syria-idUSBREA0S1XL20140129. seemingly through the elusive Khorasan group, or what one Dubai reporter has exposed as the Nusra Front’s ‘Wolf unit.’Jenan Moussa, “Exclusive: Documents Show that the Khorasan Group Is the Same Group as Wolf’s Nusra,” Al Aan TV, October 1, 2014, http://www.alaan.tv/news/world-news/114998/khorassan-group-is-in-fact-the-wolf-unit-of-nusra-front-documents-show. When the Nusra Front was sent to Syria, one of its founding goals was reportedly to establish a safe haven for training recruits and stashing weapons,Noman Benotman and Roisin Blake, “Jabhat al-Nusra Jabhat al-Nusra li-ahl al-Sham min Mujahedi al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad. A Strategic Briefing,” Quilliam Foundation, accessed February 3, 2015, http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/publications/free/jabhat-al-nusra-a-strategic-briefing.pdf. allegedly on behalf of al-Qaeda in Iraq (now ISIS).Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda in Iraq, Al Nusrah Front Emerge as Rebranded Single Entity,” Long War Journal, April 9, 2013, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/04/the_emir_of_al_qaeda.php#ixzz3Mw15S2jb.

Organizational Structure:

The Nusra Front is both hierarchical and regionalized. Each region is equipped with an overall leader, a military commander, and a religious leader.Rania Abouzeid, “Interview with Official of Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria’s Islamist Militia Group,” Time, December 25, 2012, http://world.time.com/2012/12/25/interview-with-a-newly-designated-syrias-jabhat-al-nusra/. The group as a whole is directed by a small consultative council called Majlis-ash-Shura,Noman Benotman and Roisin Blake, “Jabhat al-Nusra Jabhat al-Nusra li-ahl al-Sham min Mujahedi al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad. A Strategic Briefing,” Quilliam Foundation, accessed February 3, 2015, http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/publications/free/jabhat-al-nusra-a-strategic-briefing.pdf and headed by its emir (“commander” or “prince”), a man known by the alias “Abu Muhammad al-Golani.” For years, Golani has carefully avoided showing his face in public, releasing audio statements and providing in-person interviews to news outlets with his face blurred out. In July 2016, however, Golani appeared in a video to announce his group’s formal split from al-Qaeda.Orient News, “Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed Joulani commander officially announced the disengagement from al-Qaeda and the establishment of a new entity,” YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oossAtDYbrs.

The Nusra Front’s paramilitary force is reportedly composed of around 5,000 to 10,000 fighters, including an estimated 7,000 fighters in Idlib province alone.Cameron Glenn, “The Nusra Front: Al Qaeda’s Affiliate in Syria,” Wilson Center, June 17, 2016, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/article/the-nusra-front-al-qaedas-affiliate-syria. The Nusra Front has also attracted the largest contingency of foreign fighters after ISIS.Ryan Browne, “Report: Syria’s al-Nusra ‘more dangerous’ than ISIS,” CNN, January 26, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/25/politics/al-qaeda-al-nusra-isis-threat-experts/. The group’s military branch is responsible for conducting coordinated attacks against the Assad regime, loyalists, thugs, and perceived colluders, as well as rival groups like ISIS. The branch also conducts ‘lone wolf’ operations (including suicide bombings) and hostage missions. The Nusra Front also stands accused of plotting attacks against Western targets through its small and secretive ‘Wolf Unit.’Jenan Moussa, “Exclusive: Documents Show that the Khorasan Group Is the Same Group as Wolf’s Nusra,” Al Aan TV, October 1, 2014, http://www.alaan.tv/news/world-news/114998/khorassan-group-is-in-fact-the-wolf-unit-of-nusra-front-documents-show.

In addition to the group’s military branch, the Nusra Front manages a civilian program to govern areas under its control which, as of mid-2016, included areas in northern, western, and southern Syria.Bassem Mroue, “AP EXPLAINS: Why Syria’s al-Qaida may be considering a split,” Associated Press, July 27, 2016, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/d10d759d35824b70b47501d85f0ff8c3/ap-explains-why-syrias-al-qaida-may-be-considering-split. This branch operates under the direction of its head of civilian programs, Hajji Rasoul.Ruth Sherlock, “Syria: how jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra is taking over Syria's revolution,” Telegraph, February 8, 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9857846/Syria-how-jihadist-group-Jabhat-al-Nusra-is-taking-over-Syrias-revolution.html. In the past, the program has coordinated bread rations and enforced Islamist regulations on the Nusra Front’s de facto subjects.Liz Sly, “Islamic Law Comes to Rebel-Held Areas of Syria,” Washington Post, March 19, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/islamic-law-comes-to-rebel-held-syria/2013/03/19/b310532e-90af-11e2-bdea-e32ad90da239_story.html As part of the group’s governance program, the Nusra Front levies taxes and supplies special permits to civilian vehicles.Christiaan Triebert and Rao Kumar, “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’s Income and Resources,” Hate Speech International, August 15, 2016, https://www.hate-speech.org/jabhat-fateh-al-shams-income-and-resources-an-open-source-investigation/#fn-2879-45.

For recruitment and publicity purposes, the Nusra Front has a media branch called al-Manara al-Bayda ( “the White Minaret”). This branch manages the group’s public image and media program, disseminating videos and posting statements by the group on jihadist websites, as well as on encrypted messaging applications, video-hosting websites, and social media websites.Rania Abouzeid, “Interview with Official of Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria’s Islamist Militia Group,” Time, December 25, 2012, http://world.time.com/2012/12/25/interview-with-a-newly-designated-syrias-jabhat-al-nusra/;
White Minaret, Telegram, accessed July 28, 2016, https://web.telegram.org/#/[email protected]_Manara.

The Nusra Front has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda“Syria Crisis: Al-Nusra Pledges Allegiance to Al-Qaeda,” BBC News, April 10, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22095099 and previously reported to the latter group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri. On July 28, 2016, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released an audio statement giving the Nusra Front formal permission to break ties with al-Qaeda as needed.Reuters, “Al Qaeda tells Syrian branch Nusra Front it can drop links,” Thomas Reuters Foundation News, July 28, 2016, http://news.trust.org/item/20160728110801-ogl17. Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammad al-Golani accepted the offer, thanking al-Qaeda and its leaders and announcing that the group no longer has “any affiliation to any external entity.”Orient News, “Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed Joulani commander officially announced the disengagement from al-Qaeda and the establishment of a new entity,” YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oossAtDYbrs.

Financing:

The Nusra Front has been well-funded since its inception in 2011.Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, “Taking Syria Back From the Extremists,” Washington Post, December 27, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/taking-syria-back-from-the-extremists/2012/12/27/2b6ce1a6-3d96-11e2-ae43-cf491b837f7b_story.html. As of August 2016, the group reportedly receives streams of funding through a variety of means, including taxation, tariffs, fines, ransoms, international donations, oil sales, looting, and smuggling.Christiaan Triebert and Rao Kumar, “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’s Income and Resources,” Hate Speech International, August 15, 2016, https://www.hate-speech.org/jabhat-fateh-al-shams-income-and-resources-an-open-source-investigation/#fn-2879-45.

The most stable source of income for the Nusra Front is believed to come from taxes, tariffs, and fines that the group imposes on locals within its territory. Among the taxes levied by the group are income, business, services and utility taxes, including taxes on access to electricity and water. The Nusra Front also reportedly receives funding by leasing out homes, and is even reported to have levied a tax on internally displaced persons within Idlib province.Christiaan Triebert and Rao Kumar, “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’s Income and Resources,” Hate Speech International, August 15, 2016, https://www.hate-speech.org/jabhat-fateh-al-shams-income-and-resources-an-open-source-investigation/#fn-2879-45. In addition to taxes, the group also seizes assets from religious minority groups within its territories and receives funding through an arms and weaponry tariff on other rebel groups. In this way, the Nusra Front is believed to receive roughly half of the ammunition and weapons sent to the Free Syrian Army in northern Syria.Christiaan Triebert and Rao Kumar, “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’s Income and Resources,” Hate Speech International, August 15, 2016, https://www.hate-speech.org/jabhat-fateh-al-shams-income-and-resources-an-open-source-investigation/#fn-2879-45.

Sources of funding for the group also reportedly include private donations from wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, who are believed to launder the funds through small money transfers, or by dispatching the money with individuals who cross state borders into Nusra-held territory.Oliver Holmes and Alexander Dziadosz, “Special Report: How Syria's Islamists Govern with Guile and Guns,” Reuters, June 20, 2013, http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/06/20/us-syria-rebels-governance-specialreport-idUSBRE95J05R20130620; Suleiman al-Khalidi, “Syrian Al Qaeda Reach Foothills of Israeli-Held Golan,” Reuters, May 22, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/05/22/us-syria-south-insight-idUSBREA4L03Z20140522; Christiaan Triebert and Rao Kumar, “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’s Income and Resources,” Hate Speech International, August 15, 2016, https://www.hate-speech.org/jabhat-fateh-al-shams-income-and-resources-an-open-source-investigation/#fn-2879-45.

The Nusra Front has also secured revenue from oil sales and smuggling,“Russia intensifies strikes on Nusra Front oil sites -military official,” Reuters, May 27, 2016, http://www.reuters.com/article/mideast-crisis-syria-russia-idUSR4N18K01I. as well as through extortion. Although governments typically deny payment for the release of hostages, the Nusra Front is believed to have racked up millions of dollars through hostage exchanges negotiated by the Qatari government. In one hostage exchange, the group reportedly received $4 million when it released four Greek Orthodox nuns in March 2014.Christiaan Triebert and Rao Kumar, “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’s Income and Resources,” Hate Speech International, August 15, 2016, https://www.hate-speech.org/jabhat-fateh-al-shams-income-and-resources-an-open-source-investigation/#fn-2879-45. In another exchange, the Nusra Front reportedly received $25 million when it released 45 U.N. peacekeepers.Alroy Menezes, “Al Qaeda-Backed Nusra Front Frees Captured UN Peacekeeping Troops After Releasing Video Of Troops,” International Business Times, September 11, 2014, http://www.ibtimes.com/al-qaeda-backed-nusra-front-frees-captured-un-peacekeeping-troops-after-releasing-video-1685352; “Report: UN Had Qatar Pay Off Al-Qaida Fighters for Release of Fiji Peacekeepers,” Haaretz, October 11, 2014, http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/1.620228. U.S. citizen Peter Theo Curtis was believed to be released in August 2014 in exchange for anywhere between $3 million and $25 million, although the circumstances of Curtis’s release were not made public.Rukmini Callimachi, “U.S. Writer Held by Qaeda Affiliate in Syria Is Freed After Nearly 2 Years,” New York Times, August 24, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/25/world/middleeast/peter-theo-curtis-held-by-qaeda-affiliate-in-syria-is-freed-after-2-years.html.

Recruitment and Training:

The Nusra Front requires recruits to procure tazkiyya (a vouch on behalf of the recruit) from two commanders on the front line in order to join.Noman Benotman and Roisin Blake, “Jabhat al-Nusra Jabhat al-Nusra li-ahl al-Sham min Mujahedi al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad. A Strategic Briefing,” Quilliam Foundation, accessed February 3, 2015,http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/publications/free/jabhat-al-nusra-a-strategic-briefing.pdf. The recruit must then take a 10-day religious training course followed by a 15 to 20 day military training program.Rania Abouzeid, “Interview with Official of Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria’s Islamist Militia Group,” Time, December 25, 2012, http://world.time.com/2012/12/25/interview-with-a-newly-designated-syrias-jabhat-al-nusra/ Once the recruit is accepted, he must swear bay’ah (an oath of allegiance) to the group, thereby cementing his religious commitment.Noman Benotman and Roisin Blake, “Jabhat al-Nusra Jabhat al-Nusra li-ahl al-Sham min Mujahedi al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad. A Strategic Briefing,” Quilliam Foundation, accessed February 3, 2015, http://www.quilliamfoundation.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/publications/free/jabhat-al-nusra-a-strategic-briefing.pdf.

The Nusra Front recruits online and in private messaging applications through its media branch, al-Minara al-Bayda. Within Syria, the group has attracted recruits by appealing to the locals in a strategy adopted from al-Qaeda jihadist Abu Musab al-Suri.Hassan Hassan, “A Jihadist Blueprint for Hearts and Minds Is Gaining Traction in Syria,” National [UAE], March 4, 2014, http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/a-jihadist-blueprint-for-hearts-and-minds-is-gaining-traction-in-syria. When it comes to attracting recruits, the Nusra Front holds a financial advantage over competing rebel groups, as has historically been able to provide members with salaries and weapons.Mohammed Alaa Ghanem, “Taking Syria Back From the Extremists,” Washington Post, December 27, 2012, http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/taking-syria-back-from-the-extremists/2012/12/27/2b6ce1a6-3d96-11e2-ae43-cf491b837f7b_story.html.

Key Leaders

  • Sami al-Oraidi

    Main sharia authority, second-in-command
  • Maysar Ali Musa Abdallah al-Juburi

    Shari’ah leader; religious and military commander in eastern Syria
  • Hajji Rasoul

    Head of civilian program
  • Anas Hassan Khattab

    Civilian administrative leader

History

 

Violent Activities

Designations

Designations by the U.S. Government:

December 10, 2012: The Department of State designates the Nusra Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (under Executive Order 13224).Department of State, Public Notice, “In the Matter of Amendment of the Designation of al-Qa’ida in Iraq, aka Jam’at al Tawhid wa’al-Jihad, aka The Monotheism and Jihad Group, aka The al-Zarqawi Network, aka al-Tawhid, aka Tanzim Qa‘idat al-Jihad fi Bilad alRafidayn, aka The Organization of alJihad’s Base of Operations in Iraq, aka al-Qaida of Jihad in Iraq, aka al-Qaida in Iraq, aka al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, aka al-Qaida in the Land of the Two Rivers, aka al-Qaida of the Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers, aka al-Qaida of Jihad Organization in the Land of the Two Rivers, aka al-Qaida Group of Jihad in Iraq, aka al-Qaida Group of Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers, aka The Organization of Jihad’s Base in the Country of the Two Rivers, aka The Organization Base of Jihad/ Country of the Two Rivers, aka The Organization of al-Jihad’s Base in the Land of the Two Rivers, aka The Organization Base of Jihad/ Mesopotamia, aka The Organization of al-Jihad’s Base of Operations in the Land of the Two Rivers, aka Tanzeem qa’idat al Jihad/Bildad al Raafidaini, as a Foreign Terrorist Organization pursuant to Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act; To include the aliases Al-Nusrah Front, Jabhat al-Nusrah, Jabhet al-Nusra, The Victory Front, Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, Public Notice 8104,” Federal Register 77, no. 238 (December 11, 2012): 73732, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-12-11/pdf/2012-29870.pdf; Department of State, Public Notice, “In the Matter of the Amendment of the Designation of al-Qa’ida in Iraq, aka Jam’at al Tawhid wa’al-Jihad, aka The Monotheism and Jihad Group, aka The al-Zarqawi Network, aka al-Tawhid, aka Tanzim Qa‘idat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn, aka The Organization of al-Jihad’s Base of Operations in Iraq, aka al-Qaida of Jihad in Iraq, aka al-Qaida in Iraq, aka al-Qaida in Mesopotamia, aka al-Qaida in the Land of the Two Rivers, aka al-Qaida of the Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers, aka al-Qaida of Jihad Organization in the Land of the Two Rivers, aka al-Qaida Group of Jihad in Iraq, aka al-Qaida Group of Jihad in the Land of the Two Rivers, aka The Organization of Jihad’s Base in the Country of the Two Rivers, aka The Organization Base of Jihad/Country of the Two Rivers, aka The Organization of al-Jihad’s Base in the Land of the Two Rivers, aka The Organization Base of Jihad/Mesopotamia, aka The Organization of al-Jihad’s Base of Operations in the Land of the Two Rivers, aka Tanzeem qa’idat al Jihad/Bildad al Raafidaini, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity pursuant to Executive Order 13224; To include the aliases Al-Nusrah Front, Jabhat al-Nusrah, Jabhet al-Nusra, The Victory Front, Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, Public Notice 8105,” Federal Register 77, no. 238 (December 11, 2012): 73732, http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-12-11/pdf/2012-29870.pdf. May 16, 2013: The Department of the Treasury designates Mohammed al-Golani as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.“Syria Designations; Syria Designations Removals; Counter Terrorism Designations; Iran Sanctions Designations and Identifications,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, May 16, 2013, http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20130516.aspx.
May 14, 2014: The Department of the Treasury designates the Nusra Front as a Specially Designated National.“Kingpin Act Designations and Updates; Counter Terrorism Designations and Updates; Kingpin Act Designations Removals – Special Designated Nationals Update,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control, May 15, 2014, http://www.treasury.gov/resource-center/sanctions/OFAC-Enforcement/Pages/20140514.aspx. August 18, 2014: The Department of State designates Said Arif as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (under Executive Order 13224).“Treasury Targets Hizballah for Supporting the Assad Regime,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, August 10, 2012, http://www.treasury.gov/press-center/press-releases/Pages/tg1676.aspx.

Designations by Foreign Governments and Organizations:

European Union— designated the Nusra Front as a sanctioned group of persons, groups, and entities on May 28, 2014.“Commission Implementing Regulation (EU) No 583/2014 of 28 May 2014,” Official Journal of the European Union, May 29, 2014, http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32014R0583&rid=2. Australia— listed the Nusra Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on June 23, 2013.“Jabhat al-Nusra,” Australian National Security, accessed on January 29, 2015, http://www.nationalsecurity.gov.au/Listedterroristorganisations/Pages/Jabhatal-Nusra.aspx.
Canada—listed the Nusra Front as a terrorist entity on November 7, 2013.“Currently Listed Entities,” Public Safety Canada, accessed December 21, 2014, http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/ntnl-scrt/cntr-trrrsm/lstd-ntts/crrnt-lstd-ntts-eng.aspx#2049. France—listed the Nusra Front as a terrorist entity on May 30, 2013.“Liste Terroriste Unique au 23 Décembre 2014,” Trésor Direction Générale, accessed on December 25, 2014, http://www.tresor.economie.gouv.fr/File/409144.
New Zealand—listed the Nusra Front as an organization associated with Al-Qaeda on May 15, 2013.“Designated Individuals and Organisations,” New Zealand Policy, November 26, 2014, http://www.police.govt.nz/sites/default/files/publications/designated-entities-26-11-2014.pdf. Russia—listed the Nusra Front as a terrorist group on December 29, 2014.“Supreme Court bans Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra in Russia as terrorist organizations,” Tass Russian News Agency, December 29, 2014, http://itar-tass.com/en/russia/769731.
Saudi Arabia—listed the Nusra Front as a terrorist group on March 7, 2014.“Saudi Arabia Designates Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Group,” Reuters, March 7, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/07/us-saudi-security-idUSBREA260SM20140307. Turkey—listed the Nusra Front as a terrorist organization on June 13, 2014.“Turkey lists al-Nusra Front as terrorist organization,” Hurriyet Daily News, June 3, 2014, http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkey-lists-al-nusra-front-as-terrorist-organization.aspx?pageID=238&nID=67322&NewsCatID=359.
United Arab Emirates—listed the Nusra Front as a terrorist organization on November 15, 2014.“UAE Cabinet Approves List of Designated Terrorist Organisations, Groups,” Emirates News Agency, November 15, 2014, http://www.wam.ae/en/news/emirates-international/1395272478814.html. United Nations—listed the Nusra Front as an entity associated with Al-Qaeda on May 30, 2013.“Security Council Al-Qaida Sanctions Committee Amends Entry of One Entity on Its Sanctions List,” United Nations Security Council, May 30, 2013, http://www.un.org/press/en/2013/sc11019.doc.htm.
United Kingdom—listed the Nusra Front as a foreign terrorist group on July 19, 2013.“UK bans Syria's Al-Qaida-Linked Nusra Front,” Associated Press, July 19, 2013, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/uk-bans-syrias-al-qaida-linked-nusra-front; “Proscribed Terrorist Organisations,” Britain’s Home Office, last modified January 23, 2015, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/380939/ProscribedOrganisations.pdf.  

Associations

Ties to Extremist Entities:

Khorasan
According to the United States, the Khorasan group, allegedly a collection of core al-Qaeda veterans, has worked with the Nusra Front, possibly as a subset of the group. Former CIA deputy director Mike Morrell said that the Khorasan group functions as an “external operations arm” of the Nusra Front,“What is Khorasan?,” CBS News, September 18, 2014, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/khorasan-al-qaeda-al-nusra-external-operations-wing-in-syria/. with Khorasan’s attacks directed internationally. Documents at the scene of a U.S. airstrike in Syria indicate that the Khorasan group, if extant, may be a special unit fully embedded within The Nusra Front called “the Wolf Unit of Jabhat al-Nusra.”Max Fischer, “Is Khorasan’s Real Name ‘The Wolf Unit of Jabhat al-Nusra’?” Vox, September 30, 2014, http://www.vox.com/2014/9/30/6875671/is-khorasans-real-name-the-wolf-unit-of-jabhat-al-nusra. The precise extent to which the Khorasan group is integrated within the Nusra Front remains unclear, but U.S. officials maintain that the two groups are interconnected. On September 29, 2014, the U.S. State Department released a statement saying “The ‘Khorasan Group’ is a term sometimes used to refer to a network of al-Nusrah Front and al-Qai’da core violent extremists.”“‘One and the Same’? Officials Give Conflicting Statements on Al Qaeda Ties to ‘Khorasan,’” Fox News, September 30, 2014, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/09/30/one-and-same-officials-give-conflicting-statements-on-al-qaeda-ties-to-khorasan/.
ISIS
The Nusra Front was allegedly formed as an extension of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI, now ISIS), and received a monthly salary from AQI leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The relationship between the groups deteriorated in April 2013, when al-Baghdadi unilaterally announced a merger between the two groups. The two have since engaged in violent clashes, vying for control over rebel-held territory. Nonetheless, they have continued to cooperate on certain military campaigns against the Assad regime.“UK bans Syria's Al-Qaida-Linked Nusra Front,” Associated Press, July 19, 2013, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/uk-bans-syrias-al-qaida-linked-nusra-front; “Proscribed Terrorist Organisations,” Britain’s Home Office, last modified January 23, 2015, https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/380939/ProscribedOrganisations.pdf.
Al-Qaeda

The Nusra Front has a long and proven history of serving as al-Qaeda’s loyal affiliate in Syria. In July 2016, however, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri released an audio statement giving the Nusra Front formal permission to break ties with al-Qaeda if the link was “conflicting with [the Nusra Front’s] unity and working as one body.”Reuters, “Al Qaeda tells Syrian branch Nusra Front it can drop links,” Thomas Reuters Foundation News, July 28, 2016, http://news.trust.org/item/20160728110801-ogl17. Hours later, Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammad al-Golani formally severed ties with al-Qaeda’s central command.Orient News, “Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed Joulani commander officially announced the disengagement from al-Qaeda and the establishment of a new entity,” YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oossAtDYbrs; Dania Akkad, “Nusra confirms split with al-Qaeda ‘to protect the Syrian revolution,’” Middle East Eye, July 28, 2016, http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/nusra-front-announces-official-split-al-qaeda-520293064. Analysts have long surmised that a formal, or at least artificial, break from al-Qaeda could allow the Nusra Front the opportunity to attract more funding from Gulf states, consolidate local support, and present itself as a legitimate insurgent group in Syria.Bassem Mroue, “AP EXPLAINS: Why Syria’s al-Qaida may be considering a split,” Associated Press, July 27, 2016, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/d10d759d35824b70b47501d85f0ff8c3/ap-explains-why-syrias-al-qaida-may-be-considering-split; Reuters, “Al Qaeda tells Syrian branch Nusra Front it can drop links,” Thomas Reuters Foundation News, July 28, 2016, http://news.trust.org/item/20160728110801-ogl17. Even as the Nusra Front formally declared its independence from al-Qaeda, the group thanked al-Qaeda’s leadership for giving “priority to the interests of the people of Al-Sham, their Jihad, [and] their revolution.”Orient News, “Nusra Front, Abu Mohammed Joulani commander officially announced the disengagement from al-Qaeda and the establishment of a new entity,” YouTube video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oossAtDYbrs.

For years before the announcement, the Nusra Front had reaffirmed its allegiance to al-Zawahiri, even in the face of competing claims to its leadership. In April 2013, after al-Baghdadi unilaterally claimed that the Nusra Front answered to his al-Qaeda in Iraq group (now ISIS), Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammad al-Golani broke ties with ISIS and affirmed its allegiance to al-Qaeda central.“Syria Crisis: Al-Nusra Pledges Allegiance to Al-Qaeda,” BBC News, April 10, 2013, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22095099.

 

Media Coverage

Rhetoric

View All

Abu Sulayman, May 8, 2015

“Jihad is not in need of us, we are in dire need of jihad.”Mark Schliebs, “Top Aussie terrorist warns of ‘perpetual war’ on Twitter,” Australian (Surry Hills), May 14, 2015, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/in-depth/terror/top-aussie-terrorist-warns-of-perpetual-war-on-twitter/story-fnpdbcmu-1227354039977.

Abu Sulayman, May 2015

“I do believe that our affiliation with a global jihad (al-Qa’ida) is more positive than negative.”Mark Schliebs, “Top Aussie terrorist warns of ‘perpetual war’ on Twitter,” Australian (Surry Hills), May 14, 2015, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/in-depth/terror/top-aussie-terrorist-warns-of-perpetual-war-on-twitter/story-fnpdbcmu-1227354039977.

Abu Ahmed, December 2012

“Our faith is very strong and we're not afraid of death, of becoming martyrs. This is what drives us, what makes us brave. We will not stop until the regime falls. And I advise all my people to be good Muslims to help win this war.” Balint Szlanko, “Jabhat Al Nusra's new Syria,” National [UAE], December 15, 2012, http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/jabhat-al-nusras-new-syria#ixzz2F8FanNW5.

Abu Ahmed, On al-Qaeda, December 2012

“I like them because they are mujaheddin who want to apply Sharia.” Balint Szlanko, “Jabhat Al Nusra's new Syria,” National [UAE], December 15, 2012, http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/jabhat-al-nusras-new-syria#ixzz2F8FanNW5.

Abu Ahmed, December 2012

“We are underdeveloped now because we left the path of Allah. Perhaps this is why this war is so cruel: as a punishment for our sins." Balint Szlanko, “Jabhat Al Nusra's new Syria,” National [UAE], December 15, 2012, http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/jabhat-al-nusras-new-syria#ixzz2F8FanNW5.

Abu Ahmed, December 2012

“Our first goal is to get rid of Assad. Then we want a state where the Quran is the only source of law. Sharia is the right path for all humanity - all other laws make people unhappy.” Balint Szlanko, “Jabhat Al Nusra's new Syria,” National [UAE], December 15, 2012, http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/jabhat-al-nusras-new-syria#ixzz2F8FanNW5.

Abu Ahmed, December 2012

“We don't want to leave modernity behind. We will not get out of our cars and ride donkeys from now on. We simply want our judges to apply Sharia [law] and not the civil code.” Balint Szlanko, “Jabhat Al Nusra's new Syria,” National [UAE], December 15, 2012, http://www.thenational.ae/news/world/middle-east/jabhat-al-nusras-new-syria#ixzz2F8FanNW5.

The Nusra Front Media Wing, January 2015

“As a result of the deterioration of security in Lebanon, you will hear about surprises regarding the fate of the prisoners with us.”“Lebanese soldiers after prison raid: Twitter account,” Reuters, January 12, 2015, http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/01/12/us-mideast-crisis-lebanon-nusra-idUSKBN0KL0LJ20150112.

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