Al-Qaeda In Syria: New Leader at the Helm

A silhouette of an soldier at the entrance on Ein al-Helweh camp in Sidon. (Photo: Hassan Bahsoun)

By: Radwan Mortada

Published Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Radical Islamist groups are evolving in Syria. An audio recording has been released by Saudi Majed al-Majed, emir of al-Qaeda's Abdullah Azzam Brigades, who left Ain al-Helweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon over a month ago.

The latest statement from the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, which was released as an audio recording, does not resemble the organization's other statements in terms of tone, form, or content.

The introductory section declared allegiance to Saudi Majed Muhammad al-Majed (b. 1973) as the emir of the organization in the Levant.

Al-Majed, who is one of the most wanted men in Lebanon, left Ain el-Helweh refugee camp last month, heading for the battlefields of Syria.

Declaring a Saudi from the Arabian Peninsula as the emir of the Levant is an unusual move for al-Qaeda, which is known to pick leaders according to their respective nationalities.

In other words, it was assumed that the Levant's emir would have been Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian, or Jordanian.

In terms of the message’s content, it was clear that the new emir is drawing up the general framework for the organization's methods and approach.

The recording, titled "Levant Spring," was released during a large-scale military campaign by the Syrian forces across the country, especially in the towns and villages around Damascus and Homs.

The statement’s release also coincided with information obtained by Al-Akhbar from Syrian jihadist sources about the changing dynamics within the opposition.

The sources said that al-Nusra, which has recently carried out major bombings in Syrian cities, has been dealt painful blows by the Syrian intelligence agencies, reducing the strength and influence of the organization. In its place the Abdullah Azzam Brigades are growing.

Al-Akhbar has learned that the Syrian intelligence services managed to infiltrate al-Nusra Front after the bombing of the intelligence headquarters in Deir Ezzor on 19 May 2012.

The infiltrator helped the security forces to uncover several al-Nusra cells and identify a number of suicide attackers.

Syrian state television recently aired a documentary on the bombings of al-Qassaa and al-Qazzaz, in which the family and friends of the suicide attackers who carried out the two bombings were interviewed.

A further blow to al-Nusra came when Walid al-Ayesh, also known as Yasser, was killed.

There is talk within the narrow Salafi corridors about a raging competition between al-Nusra and Abdullah Azzam Brigades.

Sources familiar with jihadist movements active in Syria say that the timing of the Abdullah Azzam Brigades' recorded message is a tactical move to take over the helm from the faltering al-Nusra.

It is said that al-Qaeda elements that left Ain al-Helweh refugee camp last month split up in Syria. Jund al-Sham and Fatah al-Islam elements joined al-Nusra, while Muhammad al-Arefi and Ziad Abul Naaj joined the Abdullah Azzam Brigades. Abul Naaj is a co-founder of the Lebanese branch of the Brigades, known as the Ziad al-Jarrah Battalions.

The Abdullah Azzam Brigades' audio statement attempts to polish its image and distinguish itself from al-Nusra by calling on anti-regime Syrian fighters to avoid car bombings and explosive belts inside cities.

These methods were employed by al-Nusra, which claimed responsibility for recent suicide attacks.

The "Levant Spring" recording, posted on jihadist websites a few days ago, was delivered by the new emir, who carries various undercover names, such as Abdul Rahman, Talha, and Abu Yahya.

Al-Majed is one of the most wanted men by the Saudi intelligence agencies in what is known as the "List of 85," which comprises Saudi Arabia's most dangerous fugitives.

The content of al-Majed's speech focused on the "Syrian revolution" as the starting point through which a new order will emerge. Al-Majed said that the "Syrian revolution will have an impact on the entire world for the liberation of the Islamic nation."

The 22-minute recording held several messages, as the rising organization revealed its vision, saying, "real change comes from uprooting the regime altogether."

Al-Majed also talked about funding, where he thanked "the philanthropists and Muslim merchants," and urged them — especially the people of the Gulf — to give more.

The recording referred to Lebanon only once in a sentenced alluding to Hezbollah, saying that "the world saw" the Syrian regime receiving support from "Iran's criminals and the turbans of the Shia party in Lebanon, who spare no expense in supporting their brother in deviance and their partner in crime."

He also called for supporting and cooperating with the Syrian army defectors: "As for those who did not enter into the battle alongside the regime, they must be left alone and encouraged, including the Christians, Druze, and others who remained neutral or supported the revolution.”

In what seemed to be a critical review of al-Qaeda groups in Iraq and elsewhere, al-Majed warned against "detonating car bombs and explosive belts inside cities, even if the targets are important, because maintaining the popularity of the revolution is more important."

Notably, al-Majed also advised fighters to avoid “any action that the regime could exploit to sow division in the ranks of the rebels…and avoid what would scare away the people from demonstrating."

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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