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The Multiple Faces of Jabhat al-Nusra/Jabhat Fath al-Sham in Syria’s Civil War

Jabhat al-Nusra has long been one of the most militarily effective armed actors against the Syrian Ba’thist regime and it continues to play a central role in the country’s civil war. With a leadership that mixes the transnational jihadi ideology of al-Qaeda with Syria-specific interests, the group is also at the forefront of battling the Islamic State in Syria. In the midst of its battlefield offensives, Jabhat al-Nusra is also busy building governing structures to control territory in different parts of the country including Idlib, Latakia, Hama, Homs, Damascus, and Aleppo governorates.

The Multiple Faces of Jabhat al-Nusra Jabhat Fath al-Sham in
Fighters from Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Al-Nusra Front drive in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo flying Islamist flags as they head to a frontline, on May 26, 2015. Once Syria’s economic powerhouse, Aleppo has been divided between government control i
 

Since its public emergence in January 2012, Jabhat al-Nusra has proven itself to be both a military asset and a complex political problem for the Syrian political opposition and other rebel groups fighting the Syrian Ba’th Party-run government of Bashar al-Assad. Organized originally by a group of Islamic State of Iraq (ISI, now the Islamic State/ISIS) members returned from Iraq together with veteran Syrian jihadis with experience in the country’s Fighting Vanguard movement that fought the Syrian regime during the early 1980s and al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan, Jabhat al-Nusra quickly developed significant military capabilities on the ground inside Syria after laying the groundwork for its expansion during 2011 leading up to its public announcement of its existence in January 2012. Led by its amir, Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, one of the Syrian ISI members dispatched back home, the group coalesced around a collective of jihadi veterans, such as the group’s spokesman Abu Firas al-Suri, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in April 2016, and ideologues such as shari’a council members Sami al-Uraydi and Abu Abdullah al-Shami, bringing together both military experience and creedal puritanism. 

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