MMP: Jund al-Aqsa

jund al aqsa

Jund al-Aqsa

Jund al-Aqsa was an Islamist militant organization active in the Idlib and Hama governorates of Syria.

Key Statistics

2013 First Recorded Activity
2014 First Attack
2019 Last Updated

Profile Contents

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Overview

Narrative of the Organization's History

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Organization

Leadership, Name Changes, Size Estimates, Resources, Geographic Locations

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Strategy

Ideology, Aims, Political Activities, Targets, and Tactics

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Major Attacks

First Attacks, Largest Attacks, Notable Attacks

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Interactions

Foreign Designations and Listings, Community Relations, Relations with Other Groups, State Sponsors and External Influences

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Maps

Mapping relationships with other militant groups over time

Contact MMP

Send a message to the Mapping Militants team

Download Full Profile as PDF

Last updated July 2019

How to Cite

Mapping Militant Organizations. “July 2019.” Stanford University. Last modified July 2019. mappingmilitants.cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/profiles/jund-al-aqsa
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Organizational Overview

Formed: September 2013

Disbanded: January 2017

First Attack: February 2014: Jund al-Aqsa attacked civilians and Syrian army soldiers in Maan, a predominantly Alawite village in the Hama governorate. The U.S. State Department referred to this attack as a civilian massacre in a statement designating Jund al-Aqsa as a foreign terrorist organization (60+ killed, unknown wounded).[1]

Last Attack: September 2016-January 2017: Jund al-Aqsa repeatedly fought with Ahrar al-Sham and other rebel groups. At the end of this conflict, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham disavowed Jund al-Aqsa, breaking it apart (unknown killed, unknown wounded) .[2]

 

Executive Summary

Jund al-Aqsa was initially led by Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Qatari as a faction within Al Qaeda’s (AQ) Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra). Jund al-Aqsa splintered from Al-Nusra in September 2013 in response to tension between Al-Nusra and the Islamic State (IS). Although the group left Al-Nusra in 2013, Jund al-Aqsa continued to affirm its allegiance to Al-Nusra and AQ central command. In addition to direct cooperation with Al-Nusra, Jund al-Aqsa coordinated attacks with the group as part of the Jaysh al-Fatah umbrella organization until it left this collaboration over ideological differences in October 2015.  Jund al-Aqsa began coordinating attacks against the Syrian army with IS in early 2016 but still remained loyal to AQ and Al-Nusra, now known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS). In mid-2016, Jund al-Aqsa merged with JSF, though conflict soon erupted over Jund al-Aqsa’s aggression toward JSF allies, such as Ahrar al-Sham. These internal tensions effectively disbanded the organization. Some militants remained in JFS while others splintered off into other groups, including a new IS-aligned offshoot known as Liwa al-Aqsa.

Group Narrative

Jund al-Aqsa (formerly known as Sarayat al-Quds) was formed in 2012 by Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Qatari as a subunit within Al Qaeda’s (AQ) Syrian affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra).[3]  In response to tensions between Al-Nusra and the Islamic State (IS), Jund al-Aqsa splintered from Al-Nusra in September 2013 after Al Nusra began experiencing problems: unsustainable growth, rising debt, and weakened capacity from conflict with IS.[4] After the group’s split from Al-Nusra in 2013, Jund al-Aqsa continued to affirm its allegiance to AQ central command and Abu Muhammad al-Julani, leader of Al Nusra’s successor group Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JSF). Jund al-Aqsa remained active predominantly in Syria’s Idlib and Hama governorates.[5]

In early 2014, Jund al-Aqsa began to coordinate its first independent attacks since establishing itself as an autonomous organization. The most prominent of these attacks occurred in February when Jund al-Aqsa targeted Syrian army soldiers in Maan, a predominantly Alawite village in the Hama governorate.[6] Though idependent, Jund al-Aqsa still coordinated the majority of its attacks with Jabhat al-Nusra. In 2015, the two groups co-founded the Jaysh al-Fatah umbrella organization, along with Ahrar al-Sham and four other small brigades.[7] As part of Jaysh al-Fatah, Jund al-Aqsa helped seize the city of Idlib from the Assad regime for the first time in the Syrian conflict in March 2015, and it eventually expelled the Syrian government from the Idlib governorate in June 2015.[8] Despite a series of successful military campaigns with Jaysh al-Fatah, Jund al-Aqsa left the umbrella group in October 2015 due to misgivings about fighting the Islamic State and Ahrar al-Sham’s tactics.[9]

In 2016, Jund al-Aqsa began coordinating military attacks with the Islamic State, and many Jund al-Aqsa members began to support IS efforts to establish a caliphate in Syria. However, the group as a whole did not openly express support for the caliphate.[10] Despite increasing ties to IS, Jund al-Aqsa maintained a close relationship with Al Nusra. When Al Nusra ended its affiliation with Al Qaeda and became Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), Jund al-Aqsa released a statement expressing hope that JFS would establish “rule of shariah” in Syria.[11]

Like JFS, Jund al-Aqsa often coordinated its attacks with moderate Syrian opposition groups, such as the Free Syrian Army.[12] However, both Jund al-Aqsa and JFS began targeting the moderate Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) after the SRF labeled the groups as apostates and kidnapped and killed some of their foreign fighters. Jund al-Aqsa and JFS responded to these killings with a successful campaign to destroy the SRF in the Idlib governorate.[13]

In September 2016, Jund al-Aqsa attempted to assassinate a member of Ahrar al-Sham’s leaderhip in Idlib using a suicide bomb; heavy clashes between the two groups rapidly followed.[14] This fighting was brought to a momentary halt with a ceasefire that was to ostensibly be lengthened under the guidance of shariah courts, but the clashes soon resumed.[15] By early October, dozens of moderate groups had offered support to Ahrar al-Sham.[16] Meanwhile, Jund al-Aqsa turned to its own allies and pledged an oath of allegiance to JFS, which was accepted on October 9, 2016. This appeared to have no moderating effect on Jund al-Aqsa, and the group continued its conflict against Ahrar al-Sham. Criticism of JFS from the rest of the Syrian opposition mounted as violence persisted.[17] Through the end of the year, Jund al-Aqsa periodically skirmished with Ahrar and other groups.[18]

In January 2017, armed conflict between Jund al-Aqsa and Ahrar al-Sham broke out again.[19] On January 20, Ahrar al-Sham began a campaign to “annihilate” Jund al-Aqsa in reaction to alleged foul play.[20] With these latest attacks on Ahrar al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa had finally exceeded JFS’ tolerance; JFS disavowed Jund al-Aqsa’s actions and expelled the group from its ranks.[21] By late January, Jund al-Aqsa broke apart. Some militants remained loyal to JFS, while a significant number of other members joined the new IS-aligned offshoot calling itself Liwa al-Aqsa.[22] Several militants chose to remain neutral in the split and elected not to join JFS or Liwa a-Aqsa, It appears that these neutral elements of Jund al-Aqsa created a group called Ansar al-Tawhid, which then joined Hurras al-Din.[23]

 

[1] “More Syrians flee besieged Homs Old City.” BBC. 10 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 Sep. 2016. “State Department Terrorist Designation of Jund al-Aqsa.” U.S. State Department. U.S. State Department, 20 Sep. 2016. Web. 24 Sep. 2016.

[2] “Continued Clashes between Ahrar Al-Sham and Jund Al-Aqsa.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 11, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=52082. “After Failed Efforts to End the Dispute... Fierce Clash between Ahrar Al-Sham against Jund Al-Aqsa in Several Towns, Villages and Cities in the Countryside of Idlib.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 7, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51894. “Violent Clashes in Kafrsajna at the Southern Countryside of Idlib Continue between Jund Al-Aqsa and Ahrar Al-Sham.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 7, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51905. “Several Factions Announce a Military and Security Standing with the Islamic Movement of Ahrar Al-Sham against the ‘Aggressor’ Jund Al-Aqsa.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 8, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51913. “Tensions between the Major Factions in the Border between Idlib and West of Aleppo and Renewed Trooping between Jund Al-Aqsa and Ahrar Al-Sham.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), January 24, 2017, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=59708. “Fateh Al-Sham Front Mediate in a Prisoner Exchange between the Fighting Factions in Idlib and Absolves Jund Al-Aqsa after about Three and a Half Months of Their ‘Swear of Allegiance.’” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), January 24, 2017, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=59688. “Syria Situation Report: January 19 - January 26, 2017,” Syria Direct, accessed August 22, 2018, https://syriadirect.org/news/syria-situation-report-january-19-january-2....

[3] Hussein, Tam. “Why Did Jund Al-Aqsa Join Nusra Front in Taking Out ‘Moderate’ Rebels in Idlib?” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 11 Jun. 2014. Web. 23 Sep. 2016.

[4] Hussein, Tam. “Why Did Jund Al-Aqsa Join Nusra Front in Taking Out ‘Moderate’ Rebels in Idlib?” Huffington Post. 11 Jun. 2014. Web. 5 July 2019. < https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/tam-hussein/nusra-front_b_6112790.html?....

[5] Lister, Charles. “Al Qai’da Plays a Long Game in Syria.” CTC Sentinel. Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Sep. 2015. Web. 23 Sep. 2016. Lund, Aron. “The Other Syrian Peace Process.” Syria In Crisis. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 23 Sep. 2016.

[6] “More Syrians flee besieged Homs Old City.” BBC.  10 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 Sep. 2016. “State Department Terrorist Designation of Jund al-Aqsa.” U.S. State Department. 20 Sep. 2016. Web. 24 Sep. 2016.

[7] “Syria Frontlines Update.” Syria Conflict Mapping Project. The Carter center, 9 Oct. 2015. Web. 13 May. 2016.

[8] Joscelyn, Thomas. “Jihadist coalition captures checkpoints around city of Idlib.” The Long War Journal. Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 27 Mar. 2015. Web. 25 Sep. 2016. Graham-Harrison, Emma. "Blow for Assad as Islamist Militants Take Strategically Important City of Idlib." The Guardian. The Guardian, 28 Mar. 2015. Web. 9 Sept. 2015. “Syria Frontlines Update.” Syria Conflict Mapping Project. The Carter Center, 9 Oct. 2011. Web. 25 Sep. 2016.

[9] Joscelyn, Thomas. “Al Qaeda front group claims success in key Syrian town.” The Long War Journal. Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, 5 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Sep. 2016.

[10] Joscelyn, Thomas. “State Department adds al Qaeda front group in Syria to terror designation list.” The Long War Journal. Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 20 Sep. 2016. Web. 26 Sep. 2016.

[11] Al-Tamimi, Aymenn. “Al Qai’da Uncoupling: Jabhat Al-Nusra’s Rebranding as Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham. CTC Sentinel. Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 22 Aug. 2016. Web. 26 Sep. 2016.

[12] Fadel, Leith. “ISIS, rebels attack the Syrian Army together in Southeast Aleppo.” Al-Masdar News. Al-Masdar News, 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Sep. 2016.

[13] Hussein, Tam. “Why Did Jund Al-Aqsa Join Nusra Front in Taking Out ‘Moderate’ Rebels in Idlib?” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 11 Jun. 2014. Web. 23 Sep. 2016.

[14] “Syria Situation Report: September 2 - September 8, 2016,” Syria Direct, accessed August 27, 2018, https://syriadirect.org/news/syria-situation-report-september-2-septembe....

[15] “Jund Al-Aqsa and Ahrar Al-Sham Reach an Agreement.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), September 5, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=50259. “Tension Is Taking over Idlib Countryside after Clashes between Jund Al-Aqsa and Ahrar Al-Sham.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 7, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51891. “After Failed Efforts to End the Dispute... Fierce Clash between Ahrar Al-Sham against Jund Al-Aqsa in Several Towns, Villages and Cities in the Countryside of Idlib.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 7, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51894. “Casualties for Ahrar Al-Sham during the Control of Jund Al-Aqsa on a Village in the Countryside of Idlib.” The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights (blog), October 8, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51940.

[16] “Several Factions Announce a Military and Security Standing with the Islamic Movement of Ahrar Al-Sham against the ‘Aggressor’ Jund Al-Aqsa.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 8, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51913.

[17] Evan says, “Amid Infighting, Jund Al Aqsa Swears Allegiance to Al Qaeda’s Rebranded Branch | FDD’s Long War Journal,” accessed August 22, 2018, //www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/10/amid-infighting-jund-al-aqsa-swe.... “Jund Al-Aqsa: The Disappearance of a ‘Third-Way’ Faction in Syria’s Conflict,” Jamestown, accessed August 22, 2018, https://jamestown.org/program/jund-al-aqsa-disappearance-third-way-facti.... “Syria Rebels Outraged as Fateh Al-Sham Sides with ‘IS Front Group,’” Middle East Eye, accessed August 22, 2018, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/nusra-jund-al-aqsa-merger-838041746.

[18] “Tension in Khan Shaykhun City between an Islamic Movement and Jund Al-Aqsa after Clashes between Both Parties.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), December 29, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=58021. “Tension Return between Jund Al-Aqsa and Ahrar Al-Sham in the Countryside of Idlib and Shooting in Al-Suwaidaa.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 22, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=52997.

[19] “Friction Deepens among Al Qaeda Factions in Syria,” The National, accessed August 22, 2018, https://www.thenational.ae/opinion/friction-deepens-among-al-qaeda-facti.... “Syria Situation Report: January 19 - January 26, 2017,” Syria Direct, accessed August 22, 2018, https://syriadirect.org/news/syria-situation-report-january-19-january-2....

[20] “Syria Situation Report: January 19 - January 26, 2017,” Syria Direct, accessed August 22, 2018, https://syriadirect.org/news/syria-situation-report-january-19-january-2.... “Analysis: Why Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham Is Lashing Out at Syrian Rebels,” Syria, accessed August 27, 2018, https://www.newsdeeply.com/syria/articles/2017/01/27/analysis-why-jabhat.... “Syrian Rebel Alliances Shatter as Former Al-Qaeda Group Attacks FSA,” Middle East Eye, accessed August 27, 2018, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/former-al-qaeda-militants-launch-assa.... “Syrian Rebels Threaten to ‘annihilate’ Rivals as Idlib Infighting Rages,” Middle East Eye, accessed August 27, 2018, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/rebel-fighting-idlib-increases-tensio....

[21] Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, “Jabhat Fatah Al-Sham Removes Jund Al-Aqsa from its Ranks: Jihad Intel,” accessed August 22, 2018, http://jihadintel.meforum.org/205/jabhat-fatah-al-sham-removes-jund-al-a.... Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, “The Formation of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and Wider Tensions in Syria’s Insurgency,” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, accessed August 6, 2018, http://www.aymennjawad.org/19690/the-formation-of-hayat-tahrir-al-sham-a....

[22] Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, “The Formation of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and Wider Tensions in Syria’s Insurgency,” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, accessed August 6, 2018, http://www.aymennjawad.org/19690/the-formation-of-hayat-tahrir-al-sham-a....

[23] “Details on ‘Ansar Al-Tawhid’, a Recently Established Military Faction in Idlib Province,” Aleppo24 English (blog), May 1, 2018, http://en.aleppo24.com/details-on-ansar-al-tawhid-a-recently-established.... Joško Barić, “Syrian War Daily – 26th of April 2018,” Syrian War Daily (blog), April 26, 2018, https://syrianwardaily.com/2018/04/26/syrian-war-daily-26th-of-april-2018/.

Organizational Structure

Leadership, Name Changes, Size Estimates, Resources, Geographic Locations
    Leadership
  • Leadership
  • Name Changes
  • Size Estimates
  • Resources
  • Geographic Locations

Leadership

Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Qatari (2012-2014): Qatari, also known as Mohammed Yusaf al-Athama, founded Jund al-Aqsa and served as the group’s emir until his death in late 2014. Before he became active in the Syrian conflict, Qatari allegedly fought for Al Qaeda (AQ) in Afghanistan and had close ties to Osama bin Laden and current AQ leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Following his disappearance earlier in the year, Qatari was found dead in late 2014. He was allegedly killed by members of the Syrian Martyrs Brigade, which is part for the Syrian Revolutionaries Front.[1]

Said Arif (Unknown-May 2015): Arif served as Jund al-Aqsa’s military leader. The former Algerian army officer was on the U.S. State Department’s list of “Specially Designated Global Terrorists.” Arif had trained with AQ in the 1990s before he was convicted in 2006 as a member of the Chechen Network, a group that attempted to coordinate multiple terrorist attacks in France. In October 2013, Arif fled house arrest in France and initially joined Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria before defecting to Jund al-Aqsa. He was killed by a U.S. airstrike on May 20, 2015.[2]

Abu Dhar Najdi (Unknown-January 2017): Abu Dhar Najdi was Jund al-Aqsa’s emir in 2016. Little information was known about him.[3]

 

[1] Joscelyn, Thomas. “Jund al Aqsa leaders join Al Nusrah Front.” The Long War Journal. Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 13 Sep. 2016. Lister, Charles. “Al Qai’da Plays a Long Game in Syria.” CTC Sentinel. Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Sep. 2015. Web. 23 Sep. 2016. Ballout, Mohammad. “In Syria, US sides with local jihadists to defeat global ones.” Al Monitor. Al Monitor, 7 Jan. 2014. Web. 4 Oct. 2016.

[2] “Terrorist Designation of Said Airf.” United States State Department, 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 23 Sep. 2016. Lister, Charles. “An internal struggle: Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate is grappling with its identity.” Brookings Institution. Brookings Institution, 31 may. 2015. Web. 23 Sep. 2016.

[3] Ali, Abdullah Sulieman. “Jabhat al-Nusra competes with IS to attract new allies.” Al Monitor. Al Monitor, 10 Feb. 2016. Web. 23 Sep. 2016.

Name Changes

Sarayat al-Quds changed its name to Jund al-Aqsa at an unknown time following its formation.[1]

 

[1] Hussein, Tam. “Why Did Jund Al-Aqsa Join Nusra Front in Taking Out ‘Moderate’ Rebels in Idlib?” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 11 Jun. 2014. Web. 23 Sep. 2016. 

Size Estimates

  • 2014: 1,000 (Huffington Post)[1]
 

[1] Hussein, Tam. “Why Did Jund Al-Aqsa Join Nusra Front in Taking Out ‘Moderate’ Rebels in Idlib?” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 11 Jun. 2014. Web. 23 Sep. 2016.

Resources

Jund al-Aqsa allegedly received funding from wealthy financiers from the Gulf states who did not want to fund groups engaged in infighting among the Sunni opposition.[1]

 

[1] Hussein, Tam. “Why Did Jund Al-Aqsa Join Nusra Front in Taking Out ‘Moderate’ Rebels in Idlib?” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 11 Jun. 2014. Web. 23 Sep. 2016.

Geographic Locations

Disclaimer: This is a partial list of where the militant organization has bases and where it operates. This does not include information on where the group conducts major attacks or has external influences.

Jund al-Aqsa was primarily active in the Idlib and Hama governorates.[1] In addition, it has coordinated attacks with the Islamic State in the Aleppo governorate.[2]

 

[1] Lund, Aron. “The Other Syrian Peace Process.” Syria In Crisis. The Carnegie Endowment For International Peace, 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 23 Sep. 2016.

[2] Fadel, Leith. “ISIS, rebels attack the Syrian Army together in Southeast Aleppo.” Al-Masdar News. Al-Masdar News, 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Sep. 2016.

Strategy

Ideology, Aims, Political Activities, Targets and Tactics
    Ideology and Goals
  • Ideology and Goals
  • Political Activities
  • Targets and Tactics

Ideology and Goals

  • Salafi
  • Islamist
  • Jihadist

 

Jund al-Aqsa sought to overthrow the Assad regime and establish a state based on Islamic law. The Salafi-Jihadist group was in contact with prominent religious scholars, such as Sheikh Maqdisi and Sheikh Suleiman Ulwan.[1]

 

[1] Hussein, Tam. “Why Did Jund Al-Aqsa Join Nusra Front in Taking Out ‘Moderate’ Rebels in Idlib?” Huffington Post. 11 Jun. 2014. Web. 23 Sep. 2016.

Political Activities

Jund al-Aqsa, along with Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, refused to accept a national ceasefire that began on September 12, 2016.[1]

 

[1] “Weekly Conflict Summary: September 8-14, 2016.” The Carter Center. The Carter Center, 14 Sep. 2016. Web. 24 Sep. 2016.

Targets and Tactics

Jund al-Aqsa primarily targeted the Syrian army and forces allied with the Assad regime, such as Hezbollah. In addition, the group targeted Alawite civilians and moderate groups that had claimed that Jund al-Aqsa fighters were apostates.[1] In late 2016 and early 2017, Jund al-Aqsa got into many clashes with other opposition groups, such as Ahrar al-Sham. [2]

Jund al-Aqsa often relied on suicide bombers in its attacks. Unlike other opposition groups, however, Jund al-Aqsa initially did not accuse other groups of apostasy (takfir) in an effort to minimize conflict with opposition forces. As such, the group could concentrate on its primary objective of defeating the Assad regime while avoiding bloody ideological infighting among rebel groups. [3] This strategy only seems to have worked in the first years the group’s lifespan. Jund al-Aqsa started to engage in conflict with other militant groups beginning in 2016.

 

[1] “Were killed by regime forces and gunmen loyal to her the ‘Islamic State’ and other factions during the recent attack on the road to Aleppo strategic supply-Khanasser-archeological.” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 3 Mar. 2016. Web. 25 Sep. 2016. “More Syrians flee besieged Homs Old City.” BBC. BBC, 10 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 Sep. 2016. Hussein, Tam. “Why Did Jund Al-Aqsa Join Nusra Front in Taking Out ‘Moderate’ Rebels in Idlib?” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 11 Jun. 2014. Web. 23 Sep. 2016.

[2] “Tension in Khan Shaykhun City between an Islamic Movement and Jund Al-Aqsa after Clashes between Both Parties.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), December 29, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=58021. “Tension Return between Jund Al-Aqsa and Ahrar Al-Sham in the Countryside of Idlib and Shooting in Al-Suwaidaa.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 22, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=52997.

[3] Al-Khalidi, Suleiman. “Syrian rebels make gains in Northern Hama province, capture strategic town.” Reuters. Thomas Reuters, 30 Aug. 2016. Web. 25 Sep. 2016. Hussein, Tam. “Why Did Jund Al-Aqsa Join Nusra Front in Taking Out ‘Moderate’ Rebels in Idlib?” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 11 Jun. 2014. Web. 23 Sep. 2016.

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Major Attacks

Disclaimer: These are some selected major attacks in the militant organization's history. It is not a comprehensive listing but captures some of the most famous attacks or turning points during the campaign.

February 2014: Jund al-Aqsa attacked civilians and Syrian army soldiers in Maan, a predominantly Alawite village in the Hama governorate. The U.S. State Department referred to this attack as a civilian massacre in a statement designating Jund al-Aqsa as a foreign terrorist organization (60+ killed, unknown wounded).[1]

December 15, 2014: Jund al-Aqsa coordinated with Al-Nusra and the Free Syrian Army to capture a Syrian army base at Wadi al-Deif in the Idlib Governorate. The opposition groups took 15 Syrian army soldiers prisoner (43 killed, unknown wounded).[2]

March 2015: Jund al-Aqsa coordinated with Al-Nusra and the Jaysh al-Fatah umbrella organization to seize the city of Idlib from the Assad regime. It was the first time that opposition groups controlled the city of Idlib since the outbreak of the civil war. The battle was part of a successful Jaysh al-Fatah campaign to push the Assad regime out of the Idlib governorate by June 2015 (unknown casualties).[3]

February 22, 2016: Jund al-Aqsa coordinated with the Islamic State and the Free Syrian Army to capture the Rasm al-Nafal, a village on the Khanasser-Aleppo road. The Syrian army had controlled the village, and seizing it would cut off the Assad regime’s only supply line to the Aleppo governorate. The Syrian army coordinated with Hezbollah and other pro-regime forces to successfully recapture Rasm al-Nafal and other opposition-held areas during the seven-day Khanasser offensive (237 killed, unknown wounded).[4]

August 30, 2016: Jund al-Aqsa coordinated with the Free Syrian Army to push the Syrian army out of Halfaya, a town in the northern part of the Hama governorate. The attack began after Jund al-Aqsa suicide bombers stormed Syrian army outposts. The Assad regime responded with a series of airstrikes against opposition outposts (20+ killed, unknown wounded).[5]

September 2016-January 2017: Jund al-Aqsa repeatedly fought against Ahrar al-Sham and other rebel groups. At the end of this conflict, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham disavowed Jund al-Aqsa, breaking it apart (unknown killed, unknown wounded).[6]

 

[1] “More Syrians flee besieged Homs Old City.” BBC. BBC, 10 Feb. 2016. Web. 24 Sep. 2016. “State Department Terrorist Designation of Jund al-Aqsa.” U.S. State Department. U.S. State Department, 20 Sep. 2016. Web. 24 Sep. 2016.

[2] “Syria conflict: Rebels capture key Idlib army bases.” BBC News. BBC, 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 25 Sep. 2016.

[3] Joscelyn, Thomas. “Jihadist coalition captures checkpoints around city of Idlib.” The Long War Journal. Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 27 Mar. 2015. Web. 25 Sep. 2016. Graham-Harrison, Emma. "Blow for Assad as Islamist Militants Take Strategically Important City of Idlib." The Guardian. The Guardian, 28 Mar. 2015. Web. 9 Sept. 2015. “Syria Frontlines Update.” Syria Conflict Mapping Project. The Carter Center, 9 Oct. 2011. Web. 25 Sep. 2016.

[4] Fadel, Leith. “ISIS, rebels attack the Syrian Army together in Southeast Aleppo.” Al-Masdar News. Al-Masdar News, 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Sep. 2016. “Were killed by regime forces and gunmen loyal to her the ‘Islamic State’ and other factions during the recent attack on the road to Aleppo strategic supply-Khanasser-archeological.” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 3 Mar. 2016. Web. 25 Sep. 2016. Tomson, Chris. “SouthFront: “400 ISIS fighters and 87 Syrian soldiers die in Aleppo offensive.” Al Masdar News. Al Masdar News, 3 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Sep. 2016.

[5] Al-Khalidi, Suleiman. “Syrian rebels make gains in Northern Hama province, capture strategic town.” Reuters. Thomas Reuters, 30 Aug. 2016. Web. 25 Sep. 2016.

[6] “Continued Clashes between Ahrar Al-Sham and Jund Al-Aqsa.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 11, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=52082. “After Failed Efforts to End the Dispute... Fierce Clash between Ahrar Al-Sham against Jund Al-Aqsa in Several Towns, Villages and Cities in the Countryside of Idlib.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 7, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51894. “Violent Clashes in Kafrsajna at the Southern Countryside of Idlib Continue between Jund Al-Aqsa and Ahrar Al-Sham.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 7, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51905. “Several Factions Announce a Military and Security Standing with the Islamic Movement of Ahrar Al-Sham against the ‘Aggressor’ Jund Al-Aqsa.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 8, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51913. “Tensions between the Major Factions in the Border between Idlib and West of Aleppo and Renewed Trooping between Jund Al-Aqsa and Ahrar Al-Sham.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), January 24, 2017, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=59708. “Fateh Al-Sham Front Mediate in a Prisoner Exchange between the Fighting Factions in Idlib and Absolves Jund Al-Aqsa after about Three and a Half Months of Their ‘Swear of Allegiance.’” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), January 24, 2017, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=59688. “Syria Situation Report: January 19 - January 26, 2017,” Syria Direct, accessed August 22, 2018, https://syriadirect.org/news/syria-situation-report-january-19-january-2....

Interactions

Foreign Designations and Listings, Community Relations, Relations with Other Groups, State Sponsors and External Influences
    Designated/Listed
  • Designated/Listed
  • Community Relations
  • Relationships with Other Groups
  • External Influences and State Sponsors

Designated/Listed

  • U.S. State Department: September 20, 2016-present[1]
  • United Kingdom Home Office: January 2015-present[2]
  • United Nations Security Council: July 2017-present[3]
 

[1] “State Department Terrorist Designation of Jund al-Aqsa.” U.S. Department of State. 20 Sept. 2016. Web. 4 May 2019. <https://www.state.gov/j/ct/rls/other/des/266479.htm>.

[2] “Proscribed Terrorist Organisations.” Home Office. 12 April 2019. Web. 4 May 2019. < https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploa....

[3] “Jund Al Aqsa.” United Nations Security Council. N.d. Web. 4 May 2019. <https://www.un.org/securitycouncil/sanctions/1267/aq_sanctions_list/summ....

Community Relations

The relationship between Jund al-Aqsa and the communities in which it operated is unknown.

Relationships with Other Groups

Although Jund al-Aqsa had pledged allegiance to Al Qaeda’s (AQ) central command, it was not an official AQ affiliate.[1] However, some of Jund al-Aqsa’s military leaders were members of the Khorosan group, an experienced cell of approximately two-dozen AQ jihadists who were sent to Syria by central AQ leadership in order to develop international terror plots.[2]

Jund al-Aqsa was initially a faction within Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Al-Nusra members left the group in September 2013 due to its unsustainable growth, rising debt, and weakened capacity from conflict with IS.[3] Despite leaving the group in 2013, Jund al-Aqsa continued to pledge allegiance to Al-Nusra’s leader Abu Muhammad al-Julani and continued to coordinate attacks with Al-Nusra.[4] Jund al-Aqsa also coordinated attacks with Al-Nusra as part of the Jaysh al-Fatah umbrella group until October 2015, when Jund al-Aqsa left the umbrella organization due to misgivings about fighting the Islamic State and Ahrar al-Sham’s tactics.[5] Through late 2015 and early 2016, Jund al-Aqsa remained close to Al-Nusra. Several of its senior members joined Al-Nusra after tension arose amongst Jund al-Aqsa’s leadership.[6] When Al-Nusra ended its affiliation with AQ and renamed itself as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), Jund al-Aqsa released a statement expressing hope that Fatah al-Sham would establish “rule of shariah” in Syria.[7] In October 2016, JFS accepted Jund al-Aqsa’s oath of allegiance; this move was roundly criticized by the rest of the opposition.[8] In January 2017, after a series of clashes between Jund al-Aqsa and Ahrar al-Sham, JFS expelled Jund al-Aqsa. Former Jund al-Aqsa members split up, some choosing to remain with JFS and others heading to splinter groups. [9]  This ultimately led to the organization’s dissolution.

Unlike JFS, Jund al-Aqsa has coordinated attacks with the Islamic State (IS). In March 2015, the group cited misgivings about targeting IS as a reason for leaving the Jaysh al-Fatah umbrella organization.[10] In addition to military cooperation, many Jund al-Aqsa members supported IS efforts to establish a caliphate in Syria. However, the group as a whole did not openly expressed support for the caliphate.[11] After the group’s dissolution in January 2017, many hardline former members joined an IS-offshoot called Liwa al-Aqsa. This group later joined IS after it was forced to evacuate into Hama by HTS. [12]

Like Fatah al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa often coordinated its attacks with moderate Syrian opposition groups, such as the Free Syrian Army.[13] However, both Jund al-Aqsa and Fatah al-Sham began targeting the moderate Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) after the SRF labeled the groups as apostates and kidnapped and killed some of their foreign fighters. Jund al-Aqsa and Fatah al-Sham responded to these killings by beginning a successful campaign to destroy the SRF in the Idlib governorate.[14]

Jund al-Aqsa has also coordinated attacks with Ahrar al-Sham, a prominent Sunni-Salafi opposition group. However, tensions and subsequent violence between the two groups largely defined their relationship. In October 2015, conflict first when Jund al-Aqsa cited Ahrar al-Sham’s military tactics as a reason for leaving the Jaysh al-Fatah umbrella organization.[15] Tensions flared again on September 4, 2016 when heavy fighting broke out between the two groups after Jund al-Aqsa allegedly carried out suicide bombings at Ahrar al-Sham’s headquarters in Idlib.[16] This antipathy escalated into open conflict. Jund al-Aqsa repeatedly fought with Ahrar al-Sham until January 2017, when JFS disavowed Jund al-Aqsa in large part due to the group’s aggression against Ahrar al-Sham and other groups. [17]  

After JFS disavowed Jund al-Aqsa, a significant quantity of their former fighters joined the new ISIS-aligned offshoot calling itself Liwa al-Aqsa (Liwa).[18] It appears that former elements of Jund al-Aqsa who had remained neutral created a group called Ansar al-Tawhid, which then joined Hurras al-Din. [19]

 

[1] Lister, Charles. “Al Qai’da Plays a Long Game in Syria.” CTC Sentinel. Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Sep. 2015. Web. 23 Sep. 2016.

[2] Lund, Aron. "What Is the “Khorasan Group” and Why Is the U.S. Bombing It in Syria?" Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. N.p., 23 Sep. 2014. Web. 25 Sept. 2014. Joscelyn, Thomas. “An al Qaeda front group in Syria. The Long War Journal. Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 2 May. 2015. Web. 25 Sep. 2016.

[3] Hussein, Tam. “Why Did Jund Al-Aqsa Join Nusra Front in Taking Out ‘Moderate’ Rebels in Idlib?” Huffington Post. 11 Jun. 2014. Web. 5 July 2019. < https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/tam-hussein/nusra-front_b_6112790.html?....

[4] Lister, Charles. “Al Qai’da Plays a Long Game in Syria.” CTC Sentinel. Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Sep. 2015. Web. 23 Sep. 2016. “Syria conflict: Rebels capture key Idlib army bases.” BBC News. BBC, 15 Dec. 2014. Web. 25 Sep. 2016.

[5] Joscelyn, Thomas. “Al Qaeda front group claims success in key Syrian town.” The Long War Journal. Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, 5 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Sep. 2016.

[6] Joscelyn, Thomas. “Jund al Aqsa leaders join Al Nusrah Front.” Long War Journal. Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 26 Sep. 2016.

[7] Al-Tamimi, Aymenn. “Al Qai’da Uncoupling: Jabhat Al-Nusra’s Rebranding as Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham. CTC Sentinel. Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, 22 Aug. 2016. Web. 26 Sep. 2016.

[8] Evan says, “Amid Infighting, Jund Al Aqsa Swears Allegiance to Al Qaeda’s Rebranded Branch | FDD’s Long War Journal,” accessed August 22, 2018, //www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2016/10/amid-infighting-jund-al-aqsa-swe.... “Jund Al-Aqsa: The Disappearance of a ‘Third-Way’ Faction in Syria’s Conflict,” Jamestown, accessed August 22, 2018, https://jamestown.org/program/jund-al-aqsa-disappearance-third-way-facti.... “Syria Rebels Outraged as Fateh Al-Sham Sides with ‘IS Front Group,’” Middle East Eye, accessed August 22, 2018, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/nusra-jund-al-aqsa-merger-838041746.

[9] Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, “The Formation of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and Wider Tensions in Syria’s Insurgency,” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, accessed August 6, 2018, http://www.aymennjawad.org/19690/the-formation-of-hayat-tahrir-al-sham-a.... “Continued Clashes between Ahrar Al-Sham and Jund Al-Aqsa.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 11, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=52082. “After Failed Efforts to End the Dispute... Fierce Clash between Ahrar Al-Sham against Jund Al-Aqsa in Several Towns, Villages and Cities in the Countryside of Idlib.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 7, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51894. “Violent Clashes in Kafrsajna at the Southern Countryside of Idlib Continue between Jund Al-Aqsa and Ahrar Al-Sham.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 7, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51905. “Several Factions Announce a Military and Security Standing with the Islamic Movement of Ahrar Al-Sham against the ‘Aggressor’ Jund Al-Aqsa.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 8, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51913. “Tensions between the Major Factions in the Border between Idlib and West of Aleppo and Renewed Trooping between Jund Al-Aqsa and Ahrar Al-Sham.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), January 24, 2017, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=59708. “Fateh Al-Sham Front Mediate in a Prisoner Exchange between the Fighting Factions in Idlib and Absolves Jund Al-Aqsa after about Three and a Half Months of Their ‘Swear of Allegiance.’” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), January 24, 2017, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=59688. “Syria Situation Report: September 2 - September 8, 2016,” Syria Direct, accessed August 27, 2018, https://syriadirect.org/news/syria-situation-report-september-2-septembe....

[10] Fadel, Leith. “ISIS, rebels attack the Syrian Army together in Southeast Aleppo.” Al-Masdar News. Al-Masdar News, 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Sep. 2016. Joscelyn, Thomas. “Al Qaeda front group claims success in key Syrian town.” The Long War Journal. Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, 5 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Sep. 2016.

[11] Joscelyn, Thomas. “State Department adds al Qaeda front group in Syria to terror designation list.” The Long War Journal. Foundation for Defense of Democracies, 20 Sep. 2016. Web. 26 Sep. 2016.

[12] Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, “The Formation of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and Wider Tensions in Syria’s Insurgency,” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, accessed August 6, 2018, http://www.aymennjawad.org/19690/the-formation-of-hayat-tahrir-al-sham-a.... “Jund Al-Aqsa Militants Leave into IS Controlled Areas of Hama Countrysides.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), February 21, 2017, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=61291. “Syria Situation Report: February 16 - February 24, 2017,” Syria Direct, accessed August 22, 2018, https://syriadirect.org/news/syria-situation-report-february-16-february....

[13] Fadel, Leith. “ISIS, rebels attack the Syrian Army together in Southeast Aleppo.” Al-Masdar News. Al-Masdar News, 22 Feb. 2016. Web. 25 Sep. 2016.

[14] Hussein, Tam. “Why Did Jund Al-Aqsa Join Nusra Front in Taking Out ‘Moderate’ Rebels in Idlib?” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 11 Jun. 2014. Web. 23 Sep. 2016.

[15] Joscelyn, Thomas. “Al Qaeda front group claims success in key Syrian town.” The Long War Journal. Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, 5 Nov. 2015. Web. 25 Sep. 2016.

[16] “Syria Situation Report: September 2 - September 8, 2016,” Syria Direct, accessed August 27, 2018, https://syriadirect.org/news/syria-situation-report-september-2-septembe....

[17] “Continued Clashes between Ahrar Al-Sham and Jund Al-Aqsa.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 11, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=52082. “After Failed Efforts to End the Dispute... Fierce Clash between Ahrar Al-Sham against Jund Al-Aqsa in Several Towns, Villages and Cities in the Countryside of Idlib.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 7, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51894. “Violent Clashes in Kafrsajna at the Southern Countryside of Idlib Continue between Jund Al-Aqsa and Ahrar Al-Sham.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 7, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51905. “Several Factions Announce a Military and Security Standing with the Islamic Movement of Ahrar Al-Sham against the ‘Aggressor’ Jund Al-Aqsa.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), October 8, 2016, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=51913. “Tensions between the Major Factions in the Border between Idlib and West of Aleppo and Renewed Trooping between Jund Al-Aqsa and Ahrar Al-Sham.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), January 24, 2017, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=59708. “Fateh Al-Sham Front Mediate in a Prisoner Exchange between the Fighting Factions in Idlib and Absolves Jund Al-Aqsa after about Three and a Half Months of Their ‘Swear of Allegiance.’” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (blog), January 24, 2017, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=59688. “Syria Situation Report: September 2 - September 8, 2016,” Syria Direct, accessed August 27, 2018, https://syriadirect.org/news/syria-situation-report-september-2-septembe....

[18] Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, “The Formation of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham and Wider Tensions in Syria’s Insurgency,” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, accessed August 6, 2018, http://www.aymennjawad.org/19690/the-formation-of-hayat-tahrir-al-sham-a....

[19] “Details on ‘Ansar Al-Tawhid’, a Recently Established Military Faction in Idlib Province,” Aleppo24 English (blog), May 1, 2018, http://en.aleppo24.com/details-on-ansar-al-tawhid-a-recently-established.... Joško Barić, “Syrian War Daily – 26th of April 2018,” Syrian War Daily (blog), April 26, 2018, https://syrianwardaily.com/2018/04/26/syrian-war-daily-26th-of-april-2018/.

External Influences and State Sponsors

There is no publicly available information regarding the external influences of this group.

Maps

The project develops a series of interactive diagrams that “map” relationships among groups and show how those relationships change over time. The user can change map settings to display different features (e.g., leadership changes), adjust the time scale, and trace individual groups.