Jabhat al-Nusra, IS clash in Daraa

As Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State continue to openly clash in many areas of Syria, the fate of the two groups in the Western Qalamoun is uncertain. If they come to blows, Daraa and western Qalamoun risk becoming engulfed.

al-monitor Members of al-Qaeda's Jabhat al-Nusra drive in a convoy as they tour villages, which they said they have seized from Syrian rebel factions, in the southern countryside of Idlib, Dec. 2, 2014. Photo by REUTERS.

Topics covered

syrian conflict, syria, qalamoun, militias, jabhat al-nusra, islamic state, daraa

Dec 16, 2014

Jabhat al-Nusra is currently facing a very difficult position in western Qalamoun. Whether or not the warnings to swear allegiance to Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi were made and proved to be valid, developments on the ground require al-Nusra’s Emir Abu Malik Talli to take a firm decision about his relationship with IS. This is especially true following the fire of the “jihadist elimination war” which reached Jabhat al-Nusra’s geographical area in the eastern Qalamoun and spread, for the first time, to the province of Daraa.

Jabhat al-Nusra in the Western Qalamoun kept silent about last week’s leaks, whereby IS warned the Qalamoun factions about the necessity to swear allegiance to its leader, al-Baghdadi, or else they would be deemed infidels and would be fought. IS neither confirmed nor denied this news.

Some IS media spokesmen, most notably Abu Musab Hafid Baghdadi (who was the first to post pictures of the slaughter of the martyr Ali al-Sayyed on Twitter), announced on social networking sites that most of the Qalamoun factions have recently pledged allegiance to Baghdadi, but without naming these factions. It was remarkable that those media spokesmen did not tackle, either directly or indirectly, the relationship between Abi Malek Talli and Jabhat al-Nusra in the region.

As-Safir learned, from a source close to Jabhat al-Nusra, that one of the legal “princes” in IS, Abu al-Walid al-Maqdisi, came to Qalamoun about 10 days ago to meet with a number of factional leaders, including the emir of Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Malik Talli.

The source said that in addition to Maqdisi, the meeting with Talli was attended by a military commander whom the source did not name and Abu Musab Hafid al-Baghdadi, who is considered the media spokesman of IS in Qalamoun. The source said that what has been leaked about the content of the meeting was inaccurate, both in terms of the warnings given by the IS representatives about the necessity to pledge allegiance to al-Baghdadi, and in terms of Talli’s reported rejection of such a pledge, because he does not see a real succession or Khalifa that requires a pledge of allegiance.

The source said that should Abu Malek Talli find it necessary to issue a statement to explain what really happened at the meeting, he would. To prove that there is still a close relationship between Jabhat al-Nusra and IS in Qalamoun, the source confirmed that a couple of days ago, Talli organized a dinner that was attended by a number of IS leaders. Moreover, the source added, the joint “legitimate Council” between the two parties is still active and exercising its daily duties.

However, an activist in Qalamoun said the apparent friendly behavior adopted by Jabhat al-Nusra toward IS was not real and that this behavior only aimed at avoiding the same fate as Jabhat al-Nusra in the Eastern Region. The activist stressed that Talli would soon discover that his behavior would not be of any benefit to him and that IS, following its relative strength in Qalamoun and the increased number of pledges of allegiance, would eventually come into conflict with him.

Moreover, when the battles and clashes arrived in eastern Qalamoun, Daraa and the countryside of Homs, Abu Malek became the only “prince” in Jabhat al-Nusra not fighting IS. Will he be able to preserve this abnormal situation, especially in light of the clashes taking place near him in eastern Qalamoun and in light of IS’ quest to control the Bir Qasab region? Losing the Bir Qasab region would cut supply lines between western Qalamoun and Daraa province, the main stronghold of Jabhat al-Nusra.

People closely following the hidden details of the relationship between Jabhat al-Nusra and IS in Qalamoun said one of the reasons the latter wanted to control the Bir Qassab region was to indirectly place pressure on Abu Malik and push him to choose between willingly pledging allegiance or having to deal with the absolute siege during the difficult winter months.

In this context, clashes continued in the area of Bir Qassab between the factions that signed the Eastern Qalamoun Treaty, most importantly Jabhat al-Nusra in Eastern Qalamoun, which is led by Abi Amer, Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham on the one hand, and IS on the other. Clashes here are taking place amid conflicting reports about how much control the parties have over the disputed area. Bombings were obviously present but also Jaysh al-Islam said that it was able to kill an IS member wearing an explosive belt and that someone had tried to assassinate one of its leaders in the region. This comes just days after the assassination of Jaysh al-Islam leader Abu Mujahid in a car explosion in Ad Dumayr near Damascus.

Yesterday in Daraa, the first battle of its kind erupted between Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies on the one hand and between brigades affiliated to IS on the other. This confirmed what was published by As-Safir just days ago about the IS danger approaching Daraa province and the readiness of the factions, led by Jabhat al-Nusra, to fight it.

In detail, the Martyrs of Yarmouk Brigade, which is accused of having secretly pledged allegiance to IS earlier, have arrested three Jabhat al-Nusra members along with the wife and sons of one of them in the town of Jamla in Daraa. They were accused of forming a cell to assassinate IS leaders, led by Capt. Abu Ali al-Baridi, known as “the uncle.”

The Martyrs of Yarmouk Brigade showed videotaped confessions of one of the detainees it had captured, called Abu al-Abbas, in which he acknowledged the validity of the charges against him and his colleagues and that Shamel, his emir, had put him in charge of executing assassinations.

However, Jabhat al-Nusra believed that the arrest of its members, especially the arrest of the wife of a member, damaged the dignity of the “mujahedeen,” and shows the brigade’s bad behavior. This is why Jabhat al-Nusra had to begin a military campaign against the brigade under the pretext of ridding the city of corruption, the same excuse it had used in the military campaign it used to control the countryside of Idlib last month.

Jabhat al-Nusra, along with Harket al-Muthanna and the Syrian Revolutionary Front in the South, invaded the Martyrs of Yarmouk Brigade’s strongholds in Saham al-Jawlan and Tasil in Daraa’s western countryside. Deadly clashes erupted, resulting in several deaths and injuries on both sides. There are fears that these clashes will be the spark that will burn Daraa province, such as the case in Deir ez-Zor several months ago, especially in light of the information that was revealed yesterday about several new pledges of allegiance in Daraa to Baghdadi by Bayt al-Maqdis battalion and the battalion of Abu Mohammed Al-Tilawy.

It was noted that the Jabhat al-Nusra leaders who fled from the eastern region to Daraa following its defeat there, led by Abu Maria Qahtani, Abu Hassan al-Kuwaiti and Abu Osama al-Adni, were the first to accuse the Martyrs of Yarmouk Brigade of secretly pledging allegiance to IS, while many activists from the city denied the accuracy of this pledge. This raised questions about the reality of the role played by the former leaders of the eastern region, especially in light of information about Abu Maria Al-Qahtani — who apparently is only tied to Jabhat al-Nusra by name now and working alone, receiving a significant amount of money from a third party and has started buying cars and storing weapons. What increased doubt about this role was that Abu al-Abbas, whose confessions were published, was fighting against IS in Deir ez-Zor under the leadership of al-Qahtani himself.

In addition, the Lions of Islam Brigade led by Rafed Taha, one of the biggest brigades in Talbiseh in the Homs countryside, pledged allegiance to Baghdadi which forced Jabhat al-Nusra fighters to withdraw from the front of the village of Umm Hurcouh, out of fear of the brigade betraying them following its pledge of allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra’s arch foe.

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