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Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda affiliates share ideology and strategy, researchers say
Analysts speak about links among Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen and al-Qaeda in Iraq.
By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi
SANAA – Al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Sharia in Yemen and al-Qaeda in Iraq share ideological and organisational roots and tactics with Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, researchers told Central Asia Online.
In Yemen, Ansar al-Sharia was particularly active from the fall of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh's regime in 2011 until June 2012, when the army and popular committees dealt it a crushing blow.
In Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra's formation was announced in January 2012 by its leader, Abu Mohammed al-Joulani, less than a year into the popular uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime. Last spring, the group began claiming responsibility for bombing attacks against security headquarters and for dozens of suicide attacks, similar to those conducted by al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Meanwhile, Syrian opposition members said that jihadist groups operating in Syria bear no relation to the opposition and work toward goals that are inconsistent with the revolution.
"Syrian society does not accept those extremist ideas and has historically rejected them as alien to its fabric, and it will oppose them in the future as it does now," said Abdulbaset Sieda, member of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces.
Similarities with Ansar al-Sharia
Saeed al-Jamhi, head of Yemen's al-Jamhi Centre for Studies and Research, described similarities between Ansar al-Sharia and Jabhat al-Nusra.
"Ansar al-Sharia exploited conditions in Yemen to seize control of some areas, then started providing services to citizens in Jaar in Abyan province and Azzan in Shabwa province, and used that as propaganda through its media in an attempt to blur al-Qaeda's true history and the impression it left on the community," he said.
"However, al-Qaeda and Ansar al-Sharia are two sides of the same coin, or more accurately, Ansar al-Sharia is a branch of the global organisation," he said.
The proof, al-Jamhi said, is that the community rose up against Ansar al-Sharia after its members "committed terrorist crimes and implemented hadd punishments, such as cutting off hands and conducting random trials, stirring panic and indignation in the community".
The community then fought alongside the army to expel Ansar al-Sharia from Yemen's Abyan and Shabwa provinces, he said.
"Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria is similarly providing services in Deir Ezzor and other areas and using that as propaganda, just as Ansar al-Sharia used to do through its Madad News Agency," al-Jamhi said.
A link to al-Qaeda has been found in Iraq. In a January 2013 report, the Quilliam Foundation, a counter-extremism think tank, said: "The short-term strategy of Jabhat al-Nusra is primarily military focused, although preparations are being made for long-term sustainability of the group, including the organisation of a humanitarian support group and the procurement of heavy weaponry."
The report also noted "a number of similarities between Jabhat al-Nusra and al-Qaeda in Iraq, which serves as evidence of their shared history beginning in the early 2000s."
On September 18, 2012, Iraqi border guards arrested a gunman in the Rabia area near the Syrian border, according to Brig. Gen. Hussein al-Musawi, commander of the Iraqi interior ministry's rapid intervention forces.
The gunman confessed that al-Qaeda elements in Iraq were planning operations in Syria, al-Musawi said, and had letters containing "information confirming that Jabhat al-Nusra is attempting to recruit Syrian children and teenagers".
Al-Jamhi said al-Qaeda will not let the events in Syria pass without attempting to establish a foothold in the country. "The organisation is benefiting from what is happening in Syria," he told Al-Shorfa.
"[Al-Qaeda's] ideological and organisational background and that of Jabhat al-Nusra are one and the same, and the coming days will reveal the evidence and verification of their association," Al-Jamhi said.