NJOHSP assesses al-Qa’ida is attempting to reform its operations in Syria following a split with its affiliate, the Nusrah Front. Since 2012, al-Qa’ida has maintained an active presence in Syria, taking advantage of the multi-faceted conflict; however, in 2016, the Nusrah Front broke with al-Qa’ida and is focusing its efforts on the Syrian conflict.
- As of late May, al-Qa’ida is reportedly attempting to establish a new affiliate in Syria composed of defectors from the Nusrah Front, including Iyad al-Tubasi, a former adviser to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—the founder of ISIS—and Sami al-Oraydi, a Syrian-based cleric, according to press reporting.
- On April 23, al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri issued a statement calling for the various al-Qa’ida factions in Syria to exercise patience and rely on guerrilla tactics to sustain the “long battle with the Crusaders and their allies the Shi’ites.” Zawahiri’s statement primarily focused on the Nusrah Front, admonishing the group’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and its attempts to form local alliances.
- Since the start of the Syrian civil war, al-Qa’ida has attempted to establish capabilities in the region. Zawahiri initially dispatched an elite group of senior al-Qa’ida fighters to Syria, referred to as the Khorasan Group—most of whom are deceased due to coalition airstrikes—that served as a liaison to the group and maintained influence over the Nusrah Front until its split in mid-2016.