Jabhat al-Nusra is still trying to pick up the pieces of its defeat to the Islamic State (IS, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS) in the northern region. This defeat resulted in the fleeing of its leaders; its groups fell into division and confusion. As a result, the general command of al-Qaeda stretched out a helping hand to its branch in al-Sham. Meanwhile, it has been noticed that the influx of foreign fighters to Syria has increased since the declaration of the Islamic caliphate.
Moreover, there have been strange movements inside Aleppo and Idlib for Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, with their withdrawal from some places and coming together in other places.
While it was believed that these movements stem from Jabhat al-Nusra’s quest to reunite its elements and enhance its presence in certain regions close to the Turkish border, instead of deploying over wide stretches which would further weaken it, media sources close to IS did not hide their belief that Jabhat al-Nusra’s leader, Abu Mohammad Joulani, is perhaps planning to declare his own emirate in north Aleppo. This emirate would be based in Aazaz, which explains why he is mobilizing his forces near the border.
With the inability to prove whether the plans for establishing an emirate are true, it is noteworthy that a report was issued by the Jaish Mohammad of al-Sham [jihadist group] led by Abu Obeida al-Masri — an ally of Jabhat al-Nusra. ... In the report, Masri expressed his intention to start applying Islamic Sharia and establishing borders in all regions under his grip. The news was “like a shining light in the darkness.”
It is worthy of mention that Jabhat al-Nusra’s rhetoric states that there should be no borders during war. This puts into question the sudden change of heart of one of its main allies. Moreover, Jaish Mohammad controls parts of the Aazaz border city and the Islamic State mentioned that Jabhat al-Nusra plans to make Aazaz the capital of its future emirate.
Meanwhile, media sources close to Afghanistan’s Taliban denied news that Mullah Omar had delegated Joulani to establish an emirate in al-Sham. What’s more, Joulani is considered affiliated with Mullah Omar since al-Qaeda notes that the emir of its branch in al-Sham pledged his allegiance to the Afghanistan emirate and works under its supervision and direction. This increased doubts regarding the truthfulness of the news, which spoke about Joulani’s intention to establish an emirate. But, it seems that his step was not blessed by his direct emirs such as [al-Qaeda leader] Ayman al-Zawahri and Mullah Omar.
On another note, it seems that Jabhat al-Nusra’s critical situation, after its defeat in Deir ez-Zor, pushed al-Qaeda’s general command to send some forces to contribute to restructuring the military and religious body of its decrepit entity. They were trying to save it from the division and confusion that have overwhelmed it after the spread of conflicting news about the fate of its main emirs and leaders.
Perhaps the arrival of Saudi Sheikh Majed al-Rashed (Abu Sayyaf) to Syria comes in this context since he is known for his strong ties with al-Qaeda. He fought alongside the organization in the days of Abdullah al-Azzam and Osama bin Laden before getting arrested in Riyadh and being held for 17 years. He is known for his big enmity with IS. Perhaps this is the main attribute that contributed to sending him to Syria under these circumstances.
As soon as he arrived, Rashed wrote on Twitter, “This is the land of al-Sham. It is the epic land. It is the holy land of Fustat [the previous capital of Egypt built by Amr Bin al-As] for Muslims.”
He apologized to his parents and sons because he couldn’t tell them he was going, for security reasons, and he promised his followers to start tweeting after the Eid.
Hijra [emigration] to al-Sham does not only include Jabhat al-Nusra’s fighters or the cadres sent by the general command of al-Qaeda to back it, since we can say that hijra has remarkably picked up since the declaration of the caliphate at the beginning of Ramadan. This is what we can deduce at least from the social media pages close to the jihadist factions, which talk almost daily about the arrival of foreign militants.
A page close to IS published photos of a celebration on the occasion of receiving 70 immigrants who arrived in Syria yesterday, while sources close to IS leaked that the number who had arrived at the caliphate since its declaration has reached around 370 immigrants.
Saudi Sheikh Obeid al-Shoumri had arrived in Syria few days before the declaration of the caliphate, knowing that he was pursued by the intelligence [services] in his country. Significantly, the jihadist media affiliated with IS launched a campaign yesterday at noon under the title “The hijra week to the caliphate state.” This indicates that we might witness the arrival of more foreign militants to Syria in the coming months.
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