March 28, 2015

The Kobani Precedent

U.S. Service members stand by a Patriot missile battery in Gaziantep, Turkey, Feb. 4, 2013, during a visit from U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton B. Carter, not shown. U.S. and NATO Patriot missile batteries and personnel deployed to Turkey in support of NATO's commitment to defending Turkey's security during a period of regional instability. (DoD Photo By Glenn Fawcet)

Recently,  I attempted to undertake a reporting trip into the Kurdish Kobani enclave in northern Syria.  It would not have been my first visit, neither to Syria nor to Kobani.  For the first time, however, I found myself unable to enter.  Instead, I spent a frustrating but, as it turns out, instructive four days waiting in the border town of Suruc in south-east Turkey before running out of time and going home. The episode was instructive because of what it indicated regarding the extent … [Read more...]

Archive of Jabhat al-Nusra Billboards and Murals

On right: quotation of Qur'an 28:83. On left, partial quotation from Qur'an 2:197: "And take provisions, but the best provision is fear of God."

The Islamic State [IS] has become well known for its elaborate murals and billboards in keeping with its state building project (e.g. see my posts here and here). However, Jabhat al-Nusra, which has been increasingly building up its own proto-Islamic emirate project in northwestern Syria partly to rival IS, has also been putting up plenty of billboards and murals to advertise its presence. Reflecting that phenomenon are the photos below, most of which date from the last 4 months or so, by … [Read more...]

Hamas Condemns Islamic State Tunisia Terror Attack

Hamas mural in West Bank

From Voice of al-Aqsa (Arabic): "The Hamas movement condemned on Thursday the incident of the attack on tourists in the Bardo museum in Tunis that killed more than 20 people and wounded around 50 of the innocent, describing it as a 'criminal' deed. The movement said in a summary statement: 'This criminal deed against civilians is a crime against human values, against glorious Tunisia in its people and leadership who have outlined a shining example of democratic operation, peaceful … [Read more...]

The Administration of the Local Council in Azaz

Outside the Azaz Media Center: in solidarity with the people of Raqqa living under Islamic State rule. The image alludes to "Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently."

Readers of my report on my visit to the north Aleppo town of Azaz near the border with Turkey will recall that authority in Azaz is divided between two bodies: the local council and the Shari'a committee. Broadly speaking, the local council covers the realm of public services, while the Shari'a committee, working with the Northern Storm Brigade as the police force, is responsible for criminal law and order, family and public morality. Both bodies are officially 'civil' (madani) and … [Read more...]

Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, Iraq’s Insurgency and the Islamic State [IS]: Testimony of Abu Omar al-Falastini

Iraqi insurgents

Readers of my blog will be familiar by now with the story of the jihadist group Jamaat Ansar al-Islam. Originally based in Iraq and primarily operating in Ninawa and Kirkuk governorates, the group expanded into Syria in 2011 and spread across the north of the country. However, the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) meant that the group's branch in Syria lost contiguous connection with its original Iraqi parent branch, losing out to ISIS in both Raqqa and Hasakah provinces … [Read more...]

The Return of Iraqi Shi’i Militias to Syria

Syrian President Bashar al-Asad.

It has long been known that the Assad regime, facing a shortage of manpower in its regular army, has had to rely on irregular paramilitaries in its bid to reverse rebel advances. This became particularly apparent in 2013, when Hezbollah openly declared its participation in the capture of Qusayr, a town in Homs Province on the border with Lebanon. Since then, the presence inside Syria of Iraqi Shi'i militias, most of them proxies of Iran, has been extensively documented. When the militias first … [Read more...]

“Spread the Good Tidings to All”- Islamic State Nasheeds & External Relations Dynamics

Boko Haram flag across from Bosso border post. (Copyright: EC/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie)

Recently news came out of the official pledge of allegiance from Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram (Jamaat Ahl al-Sunna lil-Da'wah wa al-Jihad) to the Islamic State. For those who had been following Boko Haram's recently set up media wing al-Urwah al-Wuthqa, this development was hardly surprising. On the very surface, Boko Haram was employing high quality photo productions that suggested co-optation by the Islamic State's media wings. A more striking data point was noted by my friend Aaron … [Read more...]

Four Rival Factions Pick Over Syria’s Bones

Harakat Hazm flag 
(Adapted from: Source SVG image Flag of Jihad.svg (by Lexicon))

In the latest blow to supporters of the “moderate” elements among the Syrian rebels, the Harakat Hazm “Movement of Determination” this week announced that it was disbanding. Hazm was never a large group. It never possessed more than around 5,000 fighters and was active only in northwest Syria. But for a period of time, it was held up by those who supported arming the Sunni Arab rebels as the kind of militia that the U.S. and the West could get behind. It had ties neither to the Salafi … [Read more...]

Heartbreaking Times

Syrian refugee center on the Turkish border 50 miles from Aleppo, Syria (August 2012).

Kobani refugees faced a bitter winter on the Turkish-Syrian border, yet there was one bright spot: The fight to rid the Kurdish Syrian town of Islamic State jihadists was officially declared over on January 27. The Kurdish YPG militia, with the vital assistance of the US Air Force’s 9th Expeditionary Bomb Squadron and additional coalition air power, drove the last of the jihadists out and planted the Kurdish flag once more over Kobani. They have kept up the momentum; more than 160 additional … [Read more...]

Archive of Jabhat al-Nusra Dar al-Qada Documents

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

Over the past several months, the contrast traditionally drawn between the Islamic State's (IS) hardline stance against power-sharing with rivals and Jabhat al-Nusra's (JN) more conciliatory approach has become blurred as JN has sought to build up its 'proto-emirate' project after losing out to IS in eastern Syria. One of the most notable developments in this regard has been the establishment of the Dar al-Qada designed to assert JN judicial monopolies in areas where the group has presence, … [Read more...]