January 28, 2021

Jabhat al-Nusra and the Druze of Idlib Province

While most analysis of the Druze in Syria focuses on their positions in Suwayda province- where they constitute the majority of the population- as well as Jabal al-Sheikh in Damascus/Quneitra provinces, it should be remembered that there is also a Druze community in the Jabal al-Samaq area of Idlib province, more widely known as Jabal al-Zawiya. This community consists of numerous villages, whose names can be found here. Unlike their co-religionists in the south, these Druze have no capacity … [Read more...]

Game Not Over: The Quneitra Attack in Context

In analyzing the significance and hence likely fallout from the  Israeli killing of a number of senior Hizballah and IRGC personnel close to the Golan border this week, a number of things should be borne in mind: Firstly, the killings were a response to a clear attempt by the Iranians/Hizballah to violate the very fragile status quo that pertains between these elements and Israel in Lebanon and Syria. Hizballah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in his interview to the al-Mayadeen network … [Read more...]

The Twitter Wars Between Jamaat Ansar al-Islam Syria’s factions

As I documented in my previous post, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam's Syria branch, whose parent Iraqi branch came to an end in August 2014 after most of its members gave allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) with the remainder quitting the field, appears to have had a two-way split reflected in a war between Twitter accounts. The Syria branch's previous official Twitter account- @ansarulsham- is claiming the dissolution of the group and allegiance to IS following the real example of Iraq, while … [Read more...]

The History of Jaysh Muhammad in the Azaz Area: Updated Note

In my report on Azaz, I had originally put the date of the fitna between Ahmad Obayd, who established the original Liwa Amru ibn al-Aas and Jaysh Muhammad in collaboration with Egyptian foreign fighter Abu Obayda al-Masri (AKA: Abu Obayda al-Muhajir), in November 2013. This now appears to have been a simple confusion in testimony. With similar brand names, the extent of localization etc., a degree of confusion on the ground over the facts is understandable. It actually makes much more sense to … [Read more...]

How are Things in Kobani?

The battle for the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani just entered its fourth month. It is now a fight for a heap of ruins. Four months of intense ground combat, involving tanks, mortars and RPGs as well as small arms, has reduced the city to rubble. Nevertheless, Kobani matters. It is where the Syrian Kurds showed that with the right support, local fighters are capable of turning back the forces of the Islamic State. Kobani also matters because as a result of the stand of the Kurdish YPG … [Read more...]

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

As outlined previously on this site and elsewhere in my writings, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam (JAI) is a jihadi group that originated in Iraq and expanded into Syria in 2011 thanks at least in part to the efforts of one Abu Muhammad al-Muhajir (an Iraqi himself who was later killed near Mosul while returning from Syria to Iraq). A rival of the Islamic State (IS) because it did not accept the statehood claims of IS or its previous incarnations, JAI tried to ride the initial rapid wave of … [Read more...]

Sample Concepts of a Christian-Shi’a Alliance in Iraq

With the fragmentation of Iraq and Syria primarily along sectarian fault-lines- principally that of the Shi’a vs. Sunni dynamic- third way ethno-religious groups such as the Christians find themselves caught in the middle. Lacking organizational coherence, unity and strength to form their own separatist projects, Christians in Iraq and Syria generally find themselves forming alliances with one major player or another in the respective conflicts. In Syria, two choices exist: the regime and … [Read more...]

Islamic State Forces Approach Israel-Syria Border

Golan ceasefire line crossing, 2012.

Islamic State has suffered severe losses as a result of coalition air strikes in the last months. Over 1,000 of its fighters have been killed, and Kurdish peshmerga forces have driven the jihadists back on a wide front between the cities of Erbil and Mosul. The terror movement has also failed to conquer the symbolic town of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab) close to the Syrian-Turkish border (further south, Islamic State losses have been more modest and at least partially reversed). Yet despite these … [Read more...]

Jamaat Jund al-Qawqaz: A Caucasus Emirate Group in Latakia

Relatively little news comes out these days from northeast Latakia province, which remains outside of regime control despite the recapture of the Armenian town of Kassab in June. However, it is important to observers of jihadi groups as what I would call 'the muhajireen's hangout'. For example, the Moroccan group Harakat Sham al-Islam- now a part of the independent jihadi coalition Jabhat Ansar al-Din- engages in da'wah outreach to locals in the area. It is also where the group Jaysh Muhammad … [Read more...]

The Factions of Kobani (Ayn al-Arab)

Media attention has somewhat focused away from the city of Kobani as the intense wave of coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS) first helped to slow down the group's advance into Kobani. That said, the Democratic Union Party (PYD)'s project of an autonomous canton centred Kobani has been destroyed, and IS, in spite of the setbacks, still remains within the southern and eastern parts of the city (specifically in the latter, the industrial quarter), which IS has renamed Ayn al-Islam. … [Read more...]