Nusrah Front: Mounting Tension with al-Qa'ida
Since last fall, disputes between al-Qa’ida and Nusrah Front—al-Qa’ida’s former affiliate in Syria—highlight the growing strain between the two groups.
- On October 15, a senior al-Qa’ida official in Syria released a series of testimonies criticizing a leading figure in Nusrah Front for abandoning its allegiance to al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Later that month, an internal Nusrah Front memo criticized Zawahiri’s recent speech on al-Qa’ida’s binding policy of allegiance, stating there were doubts among the fighters of Zawahiri’s intentions in Syria.
- In November, Nusrah Front members arrested a number of clerics loyal to al-Qa’ida, stating, “Some frantic people—may Allah guide them and forgive them—with their limited sight and narrow vision were against this course from the beginning.” Nusrah Front later released the clerics after several military commanders claimed they would abandon Nusrah Front if the detainees were not released.
- In late December, several HTS commanders announced they will “cease [their] work” with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and will instead remain loyal to Zawahiri and fight for al-Qa’ida in Syria. Meanwhile, in its latest bulletin posted on January 1, al-Qa’ida continues to promote unification amid differences; however, HTS and al-Qa’ida factions on the ground remain unreceptive.
Nusrah Front: Persistent Threat in Syria
Over the next year, Nusrah Front will likely leverage its merger with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) to become Syria’s most dominant insurgent group, while also maintaining key strongholds, building community relations, and attracting new recruits—particularly from ISIS. Since 2012, Nusrah Front’s primary objective has been to overthrow Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, while also building relationships with rebel factions throughout the country.
- Over the last year, Nusrah Front—as a member of HTS—has grown to an estimated 31,000 members, according to press reporting. Additionally, as a faction within HTS, Nusrah Front has consolidated control of Idlib province, including along the Syria-Turkey border, which serves as an entry point for humanitarian aid in northern Syria.
- Last year, HTS established a police force as part of the Syrian Salvation Government, which strengthened its credibility among community members.
- In December, HTS released a statement calling on capable men in the region to “rise” and join the fight against the Assad regime and ISIS in Syria. Additionally, after ISIS lost its self-declared capital of Raqqa, some ISIS fighters are joining the ranks of HTS, according to open source reporting.