Interview with Official of Jabhat Al-Nusra, Syria’s Islamist Militia Group http://ti.me/RR7CnW via
5:14 PM - 26 Dec 12 · Details
Abu Adnan smirked from behind his black balaclava, his auburn whiskers peeking through the fabric as the corners of his mouth rose. A religious scholar and Shari‘a law official in Jabhat al-Nusra’s leadership in the Aleppo area, the 35-year-old had a ready answer for what he thought of the U.S. designating his Islamist group a terrorist organization: “It’s not a problem,” he said. “We know the West and its oppressive ways. We know the oppression of the [U.N.] Security Council, the lies of the international community. It’s not news. This means nothing to us.”
The designation, officially announced on Dec.11, lists Jabhat al-Nusra as an alias of al-Qaeda in Iraq and says that since November 2011 the group has claimed responsibility for “nearly 600 terrorist attacks, killing and wounding hundreds of Syrians.” The group was unknown until late January 2012, when it announced its formation, although Abu Adnan admits that it was active for months before then. In the months since then, it has become one of the most effective fighting forces against President Bashar Assad, undertaking some of the most audacious attacks against the regime.
Little is known about the religiously conservative, secretive group except for a mysterious leader and the fact that it now wants to establish an Islamic state. But Jabhat al-Nusra’s vaunted discipline and reputation on the battlefield among other fighters (even secular-minded ones) is growing in line with the boldness of its attacks, and many young men are seeking to join it. Jabhat al-Nusra does not differ ideologically from other Syrian Salafi Islamist groups like Ahrar al-Sham and Liwa al-Tawhid. “We are all Sunni Muslims,” says Abu Adnan, “so there is no difference.” The difference, he suggested, was in the type of fighter Jabhat al-Nusra was prepared to accept into its ranks: “We pay a great deal of attention to the individual fighter, we are concerned with quality, not quantity.” Smokers need not apply. A potential recruit must undertake a 10-day religious-training course “to ascertain his understanding of religion, his morals, his reputation.” A 15-to-20-day military-training program follows.
That the U.S. has now made an overt enemy of this group only makes it seem more attractive to many who have long viewed U.S. intentions in the region with suspicion. War can make strange bedfellows, but Washington has clearly calculated that this group is too dangerous to court. The trouble is, many in the Syrian opposition, think otherwise.
It took weeks to set up an interview with Abu Adnan, whose role in the organization was independently confirmed by several Syrian jihadi sources. An earlier meeting was canceled for security reasons after a vehicle he was traveling in was targeted by a warplane. The air strike narrowly missed the car. He and his colleagues viewed it as an assassination attempt, believing their location was pinpointed by an electronic tagger attached to their vehicle — although nobody actually saw the alleged device.
The interview took place in a town in northern Syria, in the countryside outside Aleppo. I was not blindfolded nor subjected to a physical security check. I was picked up at a northern Syria border post, driven for about 15 minutes inside the country before the vehicle stopped in front of a black pickup truck waiting in the middle of an otherwise empty stretch of road. There were three men in the vehicle, including Abu Adnan, who silently approached the car I was in, and sat in the backseat. He did not introduce himself until I asked who he was later.
We drove to a small cold concrete room with a tiny window that barely let in any light from an already overcast sky. We sat among boxes of long-life milk and bags of blankets and winter clothes waiting to be distributed. Our host, the driver, tried to start a portable gas heater, but there was no gas.
“America has called us terrorists because it says that some of our tactics bear the fingerprints of al-Qaeda in Iraq, like our explosives and the car bombs,” Abu Adnan said, his breath condensing as he spoke. “We are not like al-Qaeda in Iraq, we are not of them.”
Jabhat al-Nusra does count Syrian veterans of the Iraq war among its numbers, men who bring expertise — especially the manufacture of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — to the front in Syria. Still, Jabhat al-Nusra is not the only rebel outfit to use IEDs and other groups — some so-called moderates operating under the loose umbrella of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) have also allegedly used suicide bombers who were either willing or unwilling (i.e prisoners). Like Jabhat al-Nusra, a number of other Islamist groups also want to install an Islamic state in Syria, while even secular rebel units increasingly speak in ugly sectarian terms that demonize minorities, particularly members of Assad’s Alawite sect. Yet only Jabhat al-Nusra’s tactics were designated as “terrorist” by a U.S. administration that admits it is still trying to understand the various armed elements in the Syrian conflict, fueling all manner of theories about why Jabhat al-Nusra was slapped with the description. Also why time the announcement just as rebels as a whole seem to have gained a renewed momentum? The key, it seems, is the alleged links to al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Read more: http://world.time.com/2012/12/25/interview-with-a-newly-designated-syrias-jabhat-al-nusra/#ixzz2GCbylevd