Jabhat Ansar al-Din: Analysis And Interview - Maintaining 'Trouble Free' Policy Of Relations
25 September 2014
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Jabhat Ansar al-Din [Supporters/Partisans of the
Religion Front] is a coalition of four groups
originally set up in July of this year, comprising
Harakat Sham al-Islam, Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar,
The Green Battalion and Harakat Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiya.
Of these groups, Harakat Sham al-Islam was set up by
Moroccan ex-Gitmo detainee Ibrahim bin Shakaran, who
died in the Latakia offensive this spring. Jaysh al-Muhajireen
wa al-Ansar (JMWA)- under Omar al-Shishani- was once
part of what was then the Islamic State State in Iraq
and ash-Sham (ISIS), but following Shishani and his
followers' break-off to join ISIS in November 2013,
the group has effectively become the Caucasus
Emirate's wing in Syria. The Green Battalion was an
independent group set up in the summer of last year by
Saudi fighters who wanted to stay out of the Jabhat
al-Nusra-ISIS dispute but has since pledged allegiance
to JMWA, while an amir, Shari'a official and some
fighters have joined ISIS' successor the Islamic State
[IS]. Finally, one should note Harakat Fajr al-Sham
al-Islamiya is a native Syrian, primarily Aleppo-based
As per the 'manifesto' of Jabhat Ansar al-Din, the
coalition defines itself as 'independent' and striving
to implement a state-building project with the rule of
Shari'a [Islamic law] in its totality, illustrating a
broader trend of jihadi groups forming their own state
enterprises as IS and the regime increasingly take up
territory. As I have mentioned before, one may ask why
the members of this coalition have not simply join
Jabhat al-Nusra (which strives for the same goal) in
line with the precedent of the one-time Saudi-led
independent jihadi group Suqur al-Izz: I submit that
this is due to power-politics tension in the sense of
not wanting to lose autonomy and be subsumed under
Jabhat al-Nusra. The case of Harakat Sham al-Islam in
particular seems to be one of an al-Qa'ida front
project under Ibrahim bin Shakaran's leadership but a
change in direction after his death.
In keeping with the general 'anti-fitna' stance of
jihadi groups (including al-Qa'ida in the Islamic
Maghreb [AQIM] and al-Qa'ida in the Arabian Peninsula
[AQAP]) when it comes to perceived
non-Muslim/'apostate' forces fighting a jihadi group
(regardless of the power-struggles), Jabhat Ansar
al-Din issued a statement denouncing the U.S.-led
coalition against IS as part of a war on Islam and
Muslims. The statement cites common grievances such as
the U.S.-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the
prisons of Begram and Guantánamo with torture therein,
"America's support and aid for the Jews in
Palestine…the Jews' occupation of the al-Aqsa mosque,"
crimes committed against Muslims in Burma and the
Central African Republic, and supposed U.S. siding
with "Arab tyrants" in Libya, Yemen, Egypt and
From these complaints, the statement affirmed that
"the target of the Zionist-Crusader-Safavid alliance
is Islam and Muslims in general and their mujahideen
vanguard in particular." Denouncing anyone who should
enter into the alliance as guilty of apostasy, Jabhat
Ansar al-Din concluded with a call for Muslim unity
against "this oppressive intervention," and asked God
to "give victory to the mujahideen in Iraq, ash-Sham
and every place."
However, it is notable that unlike AQIM and AQAP
(which admittedly tried to avoid the issue of whether
al-Qa'ida groups regard IS as a state by simply
referring to it as 'the Islamic State' rather than
'the group of the state' [jamaat ad-dawla]), Jabhat
Ansar al-Din does not even refer to IS by name in the
statement, which fits a wider pattern of non-al-Qa'ida-affiliated
jihadi groups in Syria aiming to stay out of the al-Qa'ida-IS
dispute as far as possible.
Indeed, to date, with the exception of Jamaat Ansar
al-Islam (which hasfought IS in Iraq anyway), none of
the global jihadi groups outside of Jabhat al-Nusra-
including the few remaining stand-alone ones such as
Jaysh Muhammad in Bilad al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa- is
known to have participated in actual fighting against
IS. In the case of Jaysh Muhammad in Bilad al-Sham,
the refusal to fight against IS sparked tensions with
Northern Storm in Azaz and ultimately led to the
group's departure from Azaz. Corroborating the anti-fitna
record is the fact that some of the components of
Jabhat Ansar al-Din prior to the coalition's
announcement worked with what was then ISIS in early
2014 inbesieging Kweiris airbase in Aleppo province
under the initiative 'And Don't Separate' (along with
Jaysh Muhammad in Bilad al-Sham).
Whether Jabhat Ansar al-Din can truly maintain this
ostensibly 'trouble free' policy of relations with
other jihadis in Syria- particularly IS and Jabhat al-Nusra-
remains an open question.
Below is an interview I conducted with Abo Mo'atesem
al-Shami, a Jabhat Ansar al-Din media activist based
in the Aleppo area, corroborating the points I made
Q: Does Jabhat Ansar al-Din want a Caliphate?
A: Yes. [Among] our goals are the project of an
Islamic Caliphate and the rule of God's law in the
Q: But why is Jabhat Ansar al-Din independent and
does not join Jabhat al-Nusra which also wants a
A: The problem is with them, not with us: we are
prepared to work with all upright factions whose goals
are like ours. It is not hidden from anyone that the
goals of the majority of factions are like our goals.
Q: In your opinion has Jabhat al-Nusra made
mistakes on the ground?
A: In my personal opinion indeed we all make
mistakes…and perhaps in Jabhat al-Nusra's point of
view it is not necessary to establish a Caliphate
while the gangs of Assad exist in Syria.
Q: In which areas does Jabhat Ansar al-Din operate?
A: We operate in Aleppo, Idlib, Hama, Homs and Latakia.
In Aleppo: al-Ramousa, Sheikh Said, Aziza, Air
Intelligence, Handarat, Sayfat, and in the southern
countryside: the area of Jabal 'Azzan, al-Wadihi,
Mu'amal ad-Difa'. In Idlib: the village of Wadi al-Deif,
al-Qarmeed military camp. In Hama: the countryside to
the north of the city of Hama. In Homs: the
countryside to the north of the city of Homs. In
Latakia: Jabal al-Akrad, Jabal al-Turkoman and Kassab.
Q: How are your relations with IS?
A: We have no relation with IS (original: ad-dawla).
We don't fight them and they don't fight us. But
anyone who says that Jabhat Ansar al-Din is affiliated
with IS is lying.