Abu Azzam al-Najdi: “No one has a successful plan to implement God’s law except the Islamic State.”

Below we see Jeish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA) shar’iAbu Azzam al-Najdi’s” frank rationale for leaving JMA to join the Islamic State (IS / ISIS). Jeish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar is a mostly foreign fighter battalion that has been active in Aleppo. It is best known for its Caucasian (e.g., Chechen) contingent, but it also counts Arabs among its ranks — it recently absorbed the heavily Saudi al-Katibah al-Khadra (the Green Battalion), and Abu Azzam’s nom du guerre indicates that he hails from the Najd (east Saudi Arabia). Abu Azzam had been JMA’s shar’i and, at least in Arabic media, its main fundraising point of contact. Saudi fundraiser and ideologue Abdullah al-Muheisini had recommended as late as April that any would-be foreign fighters should reach out specifically to Abu Azzam.

Abu Azzam defected to ISIS alongside a substantial chunk of al-Katibah al-Khadra, including its commander Omar Seif and at least one of its shar’is. (Seif had apparently just been detained by the Syrian Revolutionaries Front on suspicions, now vindicated, that he was linked to ISIS. Other jihadists intervened to broker his release.)

As can be seen below, there are a number of strains to Abu Azzam’s thinking, or at least what he’s willing to disclose of it. Some of it reads like picking a winner: on the one hand, an endorsement of ISIS’s success in building a functional Islamic state; on the other, disillusionment with the dysfunction of rebel-controlled areas and a clear distrust of non-jihadist rebels. The current U.S./Coalition campaign on ISIS apparently figures into his logic, too, pushing him to advocate jihadist solidarity with ISIS to better resist “the nations of disbelief.”

ISIS and pro-ISIS accounts have been crowing about successive jihadist defections to ISIS, doing everything they can to advertise ISIS’s continuing momentum. When it comes to drawing away foreign fighters, I suspect they’re right – Abu Azzam is not the first to defect to ISIS, and I doubt he’ll be the last.

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Suqour al-Sham commander: “Our land can’t bear a proxy war.”

Below is Suqour al-Sham / Islamic Front commander Abu Ammar’s response to impending U.S. intervention in Syria. Unsurprisingly, after America’s stop-and-start support for rebels and recurring rumors that Ahrar al-Sham or the entire Islamic Front would be designated as terrorists, he is not in love with the idea.

One idea worth bearing in mind when evaluating American intervention in Syria is “path dependence,” the idea that your previous action (or inaction) bounds the options currently available to you. Goodwill towards America among Syria’s rebels – while not necessarily exhausted – is a wasting asset, one that has been depleted as the war has dragged on without meaningful American support for rebels. When America was considering action in August and September 2013, the rebels most unfriendly to a U.S. role were substantially less powerful and dug into areas outside regime control. I don’t think it’s controversial to say that America is going to have a much tougher time finding partners now than it would have last year.

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Posted in Arabic, Islamism, Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria, Translation, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ahrar al-Sham’s Abu Yazan: “It’s our country and our revolution.”

Below is a translation of Ahrar al-Sham shar’i-commander “Abu Yazan’s” apparent response to Jordanian Salafi-jihadist theorist Eyad Quneibi. Quneibi has attracted sharply critical responses – particularly from prominent Ahrar leadership – for his non-specific warnings against cooperation with Syrian factions that are Western agents and are otherwise tainted. In this 3 September response, we see Abu Yazan rebuke not only (an unnamed) Quneibi, but also ideas of Salafi-jihadist purism more broadly. This is quite striking coming from a leader in Ahrar, which has itself flirted with Salafi-jihadism but now may have reverted to a more nationalist brand of (still hardline) Salafism.

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Bishara on Syria: “The people are the ones who turned out to be strong!”

The above is a selection from Azmi Bishara’s appearance on the May 20 episode of Al Jazeera’s “Fil-‘Umq” (In Depth), titled either “Challenges Facing the Syrian Revolution” or “The Syrian Revolution at a Crossroads.”

Bishara is one of the Arab world’s leading public intellectuals (and, reportedly, a key influence on Qatari foreign policy). Here he helps contextualize Syrian-American relations, both before and since the revolution.

The real nut of this should be evident from the title of this post, though. Circa 2:20, Bishara upends much of the discussion of the Syrian regime’s strength. It’s some key perspective that helps re-frame the balance of power inside Syria and  makes clear the real strength of the Syrian people and the opposition rebels.

This still doesn’t mean that the fall of the regime is somehow a foregone conclusion. It should, however, suggest why it will be so difficult for the Syrian regime to break the back of this rebellion.

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King Bashar

Here’s something I wrote earlier today. Forgive me if it’s a little too inside. The Gause-Yom piece I discuss, by the way, comes highly recommended.

(Also, I forgot to post my Foreign Policy article earlier, so please read that if you haven’t.)

King Bashar: What the Survival of the Arab Monarchs Tells Us About the Assad Regime

The staying power of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has left many perplexed. Since 2011’s wave of Arab revolution, Assad has outlasted his contemporaries among the region’s republican autocrats. President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, President Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen are all (basically) finished.

The Arab monarchs, on the other hand, have persisted. From Morocco to Saudi Arabia to Oman, the Arab world’s monarchies weathered unrest and emerged whole. Even Bahrain, which faced the monarchies’ most regime-threatening uprising, is intact.

It’s a phenomenon of survival for which Sean L. Yom and F. Gregory Gause III offer a compelling logic in their Journal of Democracy article “Resilient Royals: How Arab Monarchs Hang On.” They cast that survival in strategic terms – and, reading the article this week, I couldn’t help but think that those terms also describe the Assad regime.

It may make sense, then, to think of Syria not as one of the last Arab republics standing, but rather as one of a host of Arab monarchies that refuse to die. The framework put forward by Yom and Gause might help explain how Assad has lasted so long – and why he could last substantially longer.

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Al Jazeera Arabic: Reporter Ahmed Zeidan Tours ‘Ateiba with Jabhat al-Nusra

In the above report, originally aired March 27 on Al Jazeera Arabic, we can see an example of the mainstreaming of Jabhat al-Nusra (JAN) in regional media.

The report is titled (in Arabic) “Battles Between the Regime and Free Syrian Armies in al-Ghouta al-Sharqiya Outside Damascus.” As you can see from the video and the below translation, however, in this case Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces seem to have been subsumed by a JAN command.  The report, including Jazeera reporter Ahmed Zeidan apparently being walked through the town by JAN fighters and a brief interview with a JAN spokesman, arguably shows a normalizing of JAN’s role within the Syrian revolution in pan-Arab media – or, at the least, Al Jazeera.

On an unrelated note, you can see from the end of the report that Jazeera is putting a strong emphasis on the regime’s (as yet unconfirmed) use of chemical weapons.


Military reinforcements sent by Jabhat al-Nusra to the ’Ateiba area in al-Ghouta al-Sharqiya (East Ghouta), where the regime was able to cut off revolutionaries’ route to northern and southern areas several days ago. Al-Nusra’s fighters deployed across the front lines after they managed to expel the regime’s army from several buildings within the town, which drove Free Syrian Army forces to turn over control of the operations room to Jabhat al-Nusra.

Shells and bullets everywhere, including the destruction of a regime tank. Meanwhile, the Syrian regime’s army issues threats Jabhat al-Nusra, meanwhile, issues threats to the regime.

“Abu Hommam,” official spokesman of Jabhat al-Nusra in al-Ghouta: “Assad’s gangs approached from a number of directions in a desperate, failed attempt to occupy the town of ’Ateiba in order to impose a choking siege on the region. With the aid of God Most High, this invading force was repelled. A large quantity of equipment [lit. machines] and ‘Shelka’ vehicles Shilkas were destroyed; [the force] suffered grave losses of life among its soldiers, and, with the aid of God Most High, high-ranking officers were killed.”

Destruction is everywhere in the town of ’Ateiba, which is now entirely deserted. Here, a child’s swing near where a shell struck. Here, a kitchen abandoned by its owner amid the shelling around it. It seems from this house that its family fled in the night. Even chickens were not spared from the bombing.

This young man from ’Ateiba become a revolutionary and a fighter after his house, like others, was destroyed. “These houses, we invested in them with our blood all these years, all with the blessings of God, praise be to Him. What I’d like to say to the Arab nation, to this Arab Summit, is just that we want to stop this blood[shed] and killing that’s happening now in Syria.”

On the front lines, what worries some revolutionaries is the regime’s use of chemical weapons. In the rear, though, what worries civilians is the regime’s use of these heavy weapons – in addition to the use of chemical weapons.

Ahmed Zeidan, Al Jazeera, al-’Ateiba, al-Ghouta al-Sharqiya.

Translation Notes

First, I just don’t have time to put subtitles on this one. Sorry – hope everyone can follow along with the text.

I couldn’t find the vehicle make to which the JAN member refers. I guess it sounds like “Shellka” or “Chelka”? If someone chimes in with a correction, I’ll fix it.

Update: Woof, sorry, misheard one of the sentences above. The edit should be visible.

Update 2: So, this is the Shilka. Thanks to Mike and @ElSaltador for their help!

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Moaz al-Khatib Speech at the Arab Summit: March 26, 2013

Greetings (al-salam alaikum) to you from a brave people, a quarter of whom have become homeless; and 200,000 of whose sons have been put in prisons; and who have paid a price for their freedom close to 100,000 martyrs; and whose country (infrastructure) has been destroyed at the hands of a mad, barbaric regime.

Greetings from a people that has been butchered in full sight of the world for two years and has been bombarded with all kinds of heavy weaponry and ballistic missiles while some governments still scratch their heads, wondering what to do.

Greetings from the only people in the world whom warplanes bomb in bakeries so that they might emerge drenched in the blood of women and children. Greetings from the widows and the orphans, from the tortured and the oppressed, from the injured and crippled, from the prisoners and detainees, from the emigrants and displaced, from the mujahideen and the troops, from the martyrs whose spirits have scattered throughout this misbegotten world.

Greetings from a people who will follow the path of their freedom and possesses enough will to demolish the world’s greatest idol and enough love to fill the world with tranquility, warmth, and compassion.

We hate war and fighting … and we began a peaceful revolution. The regime, with its recklessness and barbarity, pushed that revolution to arms, violence and destruction.

I will speak now about our wounded but resilient people with the following points.

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