Who are Syria's al-Nusra Front jihadists?

Screen capture of a video posted on YouTube showing a suicide attack, according to the al-Nusra Front. Written on the black flag are the words: “There is no other divinity than God and Mohamed is his prophet”, as well as the group’s name.
 
 
The United States has blacklisted the al-Nusra Front (Jabhat Al-Nosra), which is fighting against the Syrian army, as a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda. The Front has taken part in numerous recent assaults against government troops, including suicide attacks. Though the Front has used questionable military techniques, it collaborates with the Free Syrian Army, the rebel army largely supported by the international community.
 
The Front began making itself known on the Internet in January 2012, when it uploaded images of attacks in Idlib, near the Turkish border. In these videos, the voice of a member of the Front announced the group’s formation and called for jihad (Islamic holy war).
 
Al-Nusra Front propaganda video
 
The Front’s spokesman, Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani, never appears in videos; he prefers to communicate through audio tracks. Our Observers in Syria confirmed that the Front’s members deliberately avoid contact with the media for strategic reasons: they want to give the enemy as little information as possible.
 
Also in January, al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, called on Muslims from outside Syria to join the fight against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. This sparked suspicions, notably in the United States, that al-Qaeda-supported jihadist groups, including the al-Nusra Front, were fighting on the ground in Syria.
 
On March 17, a car bomb exploded in the capital Damascus. It left 27 dead, including civilians. Shortly after, the al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility. The group has since claimed responsibility for a string of attacks that are occurring with increasing frequency in Syria.
 
The country’s largest city, Aleppo, became a key battleground between rebels and government troops in summer 2012. The al-Nusra Front also concentrated its efforts on the city, making its presence well-known on the ground. In early December, the group claimed a key prize: it took control of the army base ‘Sheikh Souleiman’ near Aleppo.
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"We're ready to work with whichever group takes up arms against al-Assad"

Bachir Al Hajji is a section chief of the brigade ‘Union in Islam’ (Liwa’ Attawhid). The brigade brings together armed groups fighting for the Free Syrian Army in Aleppo.
 
The al-Nusra Front emerged in the Aleppo region about four months ago, when we were fighting in the city itself. Because they called themselves jihadists, at the start we avoided contact with them. We didn’t want our cause mixed up with theirs.
 
But after having waited, in vain, for support from the Arab and international communities, we became ready to work with whichever group took up arms against al-Assad.
 
"Some say they’re foreigners, but most of them are Syrians who belong to an Islamist movement"
 
Since then, we’ve collaborated regularly with these fighters against al-Assad’s army to free the city of Aleppo. [Editor’s note: This appears to have been the case in the recent operation to take control of the army base Sheikh Suleiman, near Aleppo. According to a local activist, al-Nusra Front fighters launched the attack against army troops, supported by fighters from the Free Syrian Army, who provided anti-aircraft cover].
 
Many people say they’re all foreign jihadists. I myself have fought with them recently and it’s true there are Iraqis and Kuwaitis amongst them. There was even a German who’d converted to Islam. But most of them are Syrians who belong to an Islamist movement.
 
The al-Nusra Front is an independent group; it’s not under the command of the Free Syrian Army. There isn’t a common command, there’s simply coordination between the al-Nusra Front and most Free Syrian Army brigades in Aleppo.
 
Video showing armed rebels celebrated their victory after the capture of the base ‘Sheikh Souleiman’.
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