May Briefs

Publication: Militant Leadership Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 5

Al-Baghdadi’s April 8 video statement that the Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq had merged (Source Times of Israel)


Nicholas A. Heras 

Abu Muhammad al-Julani, (a.k.a. al-Fatih, “The Conqueror”), the leader of the Syrian Salafist armed opposition group Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), was reportedly wounded in the leg by Syrian artillery fire during a skirmish in Damascus’ southern suburbs (an-Nahar, [Beirut], May 9). Al-Julani is one of the best known and potentially most powerful armed opposition leaders in the Syrian civil war due to the reported commitment and ferocity of his JN fighters and the group’s relatively large size (up to 12,000 fighters). According to reports from interviews with JN members and anti-Assad internations actors, JN received significant funding from al-Qaeda sources (al-Ahram [Cairo], April 24; for more on Jabhat al-Nusra see Terrorism Monitor, November 30, 2012). Al-Julani was designated an international terrorist by the U.S. Department of State for ordering suicide attacks that led to the death of Syrian civilians (al-Arabiyya [Dubai], May 16). [1] 

Recent events, other than his wounding, may indicate a change of fortune for both JN and al-Julani. Al-Julani, whose organization is suspected of being an offshoot of the al-Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), pledged JN’s allegiance to the global al-Qaeda leadership under Ayman al-Zawahiri and openly acknowledged JN’s affiliation with the ISI led by Iraqi Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He rejected, however, al-Baghdadi’s April 8 video statement that the two organizations had merged into the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant,” which would have placed aj-Julaani and the Syrian JN under the command of al-Baghdadi and the Iraqi ISI (al-Jazeera [Doha], April 11). The JN leader’s refusal to acknowledge the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant reportedly caused al-Baghdadi to enter Syria in an effort to assert his authority. This action by al-Baghdadi is stated by JN members to be leading to a split within JN’s ranks between foreign fighters that formerly fought under al-Julani’s JN, and who now give their loyalty to al-Baghdadi, and Syrian militant Salafist fighters that support al-Julani. As a result of his wounding and the reported strife with al-Baghdadi, al-Julani is stated to be in hiding somewhere in the rural regions surrounding Damascus (Reuters, May 17, 2013).  

Relatively little is known about Abu Muhammad al-Julani. His nisbat (signifying name) al-Julani indicates that he is, or would like others to be believe he is, from the Golan region of Syria’s southwestern Quneitra governorate. Al-Julani is reported to be a very secretive person who participated in militant Salafist operations against coalition troops in Iraq and organized logistical supply lines for Salafist fighters, some aligned with Iraq, through Syria’s eastern governorates. He is believed to have remained in Iraq until 2011, returning to Syria after the beginning of the Syrian uprising (al-Thawra [Damascus], December 20, 2012). 


1. United States Department of State. "In the Matter of the Designation of Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani Also Known as al-Fatih Alo Known as Abu Muhammad al-Golani as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist Pursuant to Section 1(b) of Executive Order 13224, As Amended." May 17, Available at:


Nicholas A. Heras 

Shaykh Abu Ubayda Yusuf al-Anabi (a.k.a Mebarek Yazid), an important theologian and leader within al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), called for international jihad by militant Salafists against French interests throughout the world in a video-taped statement released on April 25 (al-Andalus, April 25). His statements came in response to the French intervention in January against militant Salafist forces attempting to create an Islamic state in northern Mali (Agence France Presse, May 6). He also invited Muslims to wage jihad in support of Malian Muslims and asserted that Muslims in Mali have a strong Muslim identity and would not be afraid of the French army, which he asserted was full of “homosexuals” (al-Andalus, April 25). 

Al-Anabi, an Algerian, is the leader of AQIM’s Council of Dignitaries and Council of Elders. These are positions which he also held in AQIM’s Algerian predecessor, the Groupe salafiste pour la prédication et le combat (GSPC), prior to its declaration of allegiance to al-Qaeda in January, 2007 (Ennahar [Algiers], July 9, 2011). Al-Anabi was almost killed in an Algerian army ambush against AQIM in the north-central Algerian city of Bouzguen in November 2009 (Ennahar [Algiers], March 8, 2010). It is believed that he is the second-in-command of AQIM, and would replace the militant group’s current leader, Abd al-Malik Droukdel, in the event of Droukdel’s death (Le Figaro [Paris], May 7). 

Droukdel and al-Anabi are reported to be rivals and to have significant disagreements over the management of AQIM—a conflict in which Droukdel has attempted to marginalize al-Anabi and AQIM’s Council of Elders. Al-Anabi’s appearance speaking for the entire AQIM group in a March 2010 recruitment video directed at the Muslim youth in the Sahara and the Sahel was interpreted as an attempt by al-Anabi to seize power and prestige from Droukdel (Ennahar [Algiers], March 8, 2010). In addition to his leadership role in AQIM, he is an outspoken advocate for both local and international jihad who has claimed that al-Qaeda was the spiritual progenitor of the Arab uprisings. [1] Al-Anabi has also called for Tunisians to establish an Islamic state (Ennahar [Algiers], July 9, 2011). 


1. al-Ansar. "Shaykh Abu ‘Ubaydah Yusuf al-‘Anabi: The War on Mali." April 25, Available at: