Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar's Allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra
30 October 2015
By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar was arguably the largest contingent of the
'third way' Jabhat Ansar al-Din jihadi coalition of northern Syria, having
absorbed a component of the coalition- the Green Battalion- last year. Linked
to the Caucasus Emirate through its amir Salah ad-Din al-Shishani, Jaysh al-Muhajireen
wa al-Ansar had been reluctant to advocate openly denouncing and confronting
the Islamic State [IS] on account of an anti-fitna stance, even though such a
position is not tenable in the face of IS' demands for allegiance. The other
members of Jabhat Ansar al-Din- Harakat Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiya and Harakat
Sham al-Islam- lambasted IS at length in separate statements (see here and
here) following its renewed offensive on rebel-held areas of north Aleppo
countryside beginning at the end of May 2015. Harakat Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiya
had acknowledged the prior stance of neutrality regarding IS.
Jabhat Ansar al-Din as a coalition- likely deferring to Jaysh al-Muhajireen
wa al-Ansar's insistence on an anti-fitna stance- initially did not promote
these criticisms of IS, but it eventually acknowledged IS as a hostile
problem comparable to the "Nusayri regime", PKK and the U.S.-led coalition in
a fatwa on Turkish plans for intervention in northern Syria in August 2015,
also mentioning IS' "extremism, criminality and corruption." In short, the
fatwa, which is quite elaborate, disapproves of the planned Turkish
intervention but accepts that others who are 'sadiqeen' ('truthful/honest')
In any case, prior to that fatwa, Salah ad-Din al-Shishani had already been
removed from his position as head of Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar in June
2015, going on to found his own Caucasus Emirate-aligned group in Syria. I
agree with the line of analysis that this development seems to have helped
pave the way for Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar to join Jabhat al-Nusra,
Syria's al-Qaeda affiliate. Indeed, at this stage, as Joanna Paraszczuk
highlights, Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar is in fact mostly Arab in
composition and led by a Saudi (Mu'atassim al-Madani), who replaced the Tajik
amir who had taken over after Salah ad-Din al-Shishani's removal.
What next for Jabhat Ansar al-Din then? At present, there is no sign it will
follow Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar's lead in joining Jabhat al-Nusra. Ali
Saber, a Jabhat Ansar al-Din media office activist linked to Harakat Fajr
al-Sham al-Islamiya, tweeted on 22 September (below): "Jabhat Ansar al-Din
will continue its jihadi activity and now comprises Harakat Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiya
and Harakat Sham al-Islam," while wishing Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar all
the best in its pledge of allegiance.
Similarly, the leader of Harakat Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiya told me via direct
message on Twitter (below): "No, we don't have a plan/project to join Nusra."
This is so despite the fact that Harakat Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiya has
previously held a joint da'wa campaign with Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo
denouncing democracy as the "religion of the West" and asserting that rule
belongs to God alone.
Perhaps the other components of Jabhat Ansar al-Din may eventually come
around and merge, but it is unlikely to strengthen the rebel efforts against
IS in north Aleppo countryside, seeing as how most Jabhat al-Nusra fighters
have already pulled out in anticipation of a U.S.-Turkish safe zone, such
that only Jabhat al-Nusra members who are local to the north Aleppo
countryside remain on the frontlines as a minor portion of the rebel forces
resisting IS. Indeed, it is notable in this context that the Jaysh al-Muhajireen
wa al-Ansar allegiance statement makes no reference at all to the IS problem
as a reason to unite with Jabhat al-Nusra, but instead keeps with its
traditional anti-fitna stance in focusing on non-Muslim enemies: the Assad
regime and its Shi'a and Russian allies as well as the 'Crusader' West. No
local evidence suggests any meaningful participation of Jaysh al-Muhajireen
wa al-Ansar in fighting against IS in north Aleppo.
Below is the allegiance statement of Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar
translated by me:
"In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds and the most preferred prayers and
most fulfilled approval be upon the one sent as a mercy to the Worlds- our
Prophet Muhammad- and all his family and companions. As for what follows:
The one who follows the arena of al-Sham sees the size and ferocity of the
war on our people- the noble people of al-Sham- and the gathering of ranks of
the people of kufr [disbelief] for their war, comprising Nusayris [Alawites],
Rafidites [Shi'a], Russians and Crusaders. So this scenario pushes us to
unity, holding together and closing ranks in answer to the Almighty's words-
"And cling fast to God's rope entirely and do not separate" [Qur'an 3:103]-
as well as the Almighty's words: "Indeed God loves those who fight in His
path in a row as though they were an edifice brought together" [Qur'an 61:4].
From this premise, we in Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar announce our
allegiance to Jabhat al-Nusra, uniting for discourse, closing ranks,
strengthening the power of the mujahideen, and vexing the enemies of the
In this context we laud the rest of our brothers from the components of
Jabhat Ansar al-Din with whom we gathered in unity of creed and project, and
we ask God to bless them in their jihadi path and to grant them and the rest
of the honest groups success to be a brick in building the Islamic project on
the land of al-Sham.
And we ask God for success and what is right.
Jaysh al-Muhajireen wa al-Ansar
9 Dhu al-Hijja 1436 AH: 23 September 2015."