Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi
20 Middle East Review of International Affairs, Vol. 17, No. 3 (Fall 2013) jihadi news outlet--the Himam News Agency--
regularly puts out videos of JN’s provision of
public services in towns such as Binnish in Idlib, where JN fighters run garbage collection and disposal.
In terms of JN’s overall position in Syria,
while it was clear that the group had a presence in operations throughout the country from Dar
in the far southwest to Hasakah in the far northeast, the evidence suggested that the group was best established in the Aleppo and Deir al-Zor governorates. However, it by no means follows from this assessment that JN somehow controlled a substantial amount of territory in either of these provinces. Moreover, JN had faced a degree of resentment and backlash from locals, as occurred in the town of Mayadin in the Deir al-Zor governorate--though such demonstrations of opposition could easily be met with counter-rallies by JN supporters.
In March 2013, JN along with the Salafi battalion Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya played a key role in the takeover of the provincial capital of the Raqqa Governorate in the north. April 2013 then saw the unexpected development of the announcement by ISI leader Baghdadi of a merger between ISI and JN to form ISIS. In the speech released on April 8, 2013,
by ISI’s official outlet
al-Furqan Media, Baghdadi described Jawlani as
“one of our soldiers” and
stated that Jawlani had
established his organization “from our sons.”
Baghdadi went on to explain that while there had been no explicit statement of the links between ISI and JN, the time had now come to declare that JN was simply an
“extension” of ISI “and a part of it.”
Baghdadi announced the “
cancellation of the name Islamic State of Iraq and the cancellation of the name Jabhat al-Nusra, and the joining of the two under one name:
Islamic State of Iraq and al-
, therefore, confirmed long-standing suspicions among Western intelligence officials that JN had been established as the Syrian arm of the ISI, something that was also corroborated in a
prompt response released by JN’s official
media wing al-Manara al-Bayda
(“The White Minaret”
) on 10 April.
In his response, Jawlani denied that either he or anyone in JN had been consulted on or had sought the
announcement of Baghdadi’
s merger, while admitting that the beginnings of JN lay in ISI,
as indicated by the following remark: “We
accompanied the jihad in Iraq as military escorts from its beginning until our return [to Syria] after the Syrian revolution
Jawlani further stated,
e learnt lessons from our experience there [in Iraq] concerning what is the secret of the hearts of the believers in the land of al-Sham under the banner of Jabhat al-Nusra
I did not want to leave Iraq before seeing the banners of Islam flying on high over the land of the two rivers but the speed of events in ash-Sham interfered
between us and what we wanted.”
also spoke of “our brothers in jihad in Iraq”
and respectfully addressed
ISI’s leader as “Sheikh Baghdadi, may God protect him.”
He then concluded
by reaffirming JN’s pledge of
allegiance to al-Qa
’ida’s central leader
awahiri, affirming that the “banner of
Nusra will remain.”
The controversy over whether ISI and JN should be merged remained unaddressed until June 2013
. During that time, both JN and ISI’s
media arms stopped releasing official content. In addition, tracking the activities of JN and those going by the name of ISIS required reliance on unofficial media, most notably YouTube videos.
Zawahiri then issued a letter in early June 2013 urging for the separation of ISI and JN, while stressing that the two organizations should cooperate.
Yet Baghdadi rejected the ruling of separation in a
speech entitled “Remaining [Steadfast] in Iraq
” wherein he insisted
awahiri’s letter had problems of legitimacy
and methodology, hinting at a cast of doubt of authenticity on the letter.
Then another audio recording was released by al-Furqan Media, featuring a speech by Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Adnani al-Shami, a Syrian jihadi believed to be from Idlib
and identified by al-Furqan Media as the official spokesman for ISIS.
Baghdadi’s rejection of
awahiri’s ruling in more forceful terms, insisting on “one front,