(Also known as: Al-Nusra Front; Al-Nusrah Front; Al-Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant; Jabhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham Min Mujahideen al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad; Jabhat al-Nusrah; Jabhet al-Nusra; Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, Support Front for the People of Syria from the Mujahideen of Syria in the Places of Jihad; The Victory Front)
This statement is based on publicly available information about Jabhat al-Nusra. To the Australian Government’s knowledge, this information is accurate, reliable and has been corroborated by classified information.
Note—Change of name
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham
On 28 July 2016, the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, announced in a publicly released video that
Jabhat al-Nusra's name had changed to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (Al Jazeera, 29 July 2016). ASIO is satisfied that the video is authentic.
Basis for listing a terrorist organisation
Division 102 of the Criminal Code provides that for an organisation to be listed as a terrorist organisation, the Attorney-General must be satisfied on reasonable grounds that the organisation:
- is directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, or assisting in or fostering the doing of a terrorist act (whether or not a terrorist act has occurred or will occur); or
- advocates the doing of a terrorist act (whether or not a terrorist act has occurred or will occur).
Background to this listing
The Australian Government first proscribed Jabhat al Nusra as a terrorist organisation under the Criminal Code with effect from 29 June 2013.
Terrorist activity of the organisation
As part of al-Qa’ida’s global network, Jabhat al-Nusra adheres to a violent jihadist ideology that is strongly anti Western and encourages violence as a key element of pursuing its goals. Although the group currently enjoys cooperative relationships with some like-minded Syrian opposition groups, in the long term it seeks to unify the global Salafi-jihadi movement under the al-Qa’ida umbrella. It uses violence against the moderate Syrian opposition and rival groups, employs Islamic terminology in attempt to appeal to Muslim audiences—and opportunistically uses other jihadist groups to advance its goals.
Jabhat al-Nusra’s stated objectives are to remove the Syrian al-Assad government and create a Salafist oriented Sunni Islamist state in Syria, which it plans to expand into an Islamist caliphate under its own rule throughout the Levant. Jabhat al-Nusra believes the fight against the Syrian regime is supported by religious texts, and its fighters hope to fulfil ‘God’s wish’ for an ‘Islamic caliphate’. In areas it controls, Jabhat al Nusra enforces its interpretation of Islamic law—including violent punishments and executions.
Jabhat al-Nusra attempts to portray itself as less extreme and brutal than Islamic State, and promotes its activities as legitimate opposition to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It avoids the media attention that Islamic State actively courts, and conducts public outreach activities in an attempt to build local support. Prior to April 2013, it sought to hide its extremist ideology and conceal its links to Islamic State and al Qa’ida to avoid alienating the Syrian population.
However, its ultimate aim is to transform Syria into an Islamic Caliphate that is ideologically opposed to the West, and it uses violence and brutality to achieve these goals. It has not disavowed violence against the West, and remains part of the al Qa’ida terrorist network.
In pursuing its ultimate aim of transforming Syria into an Islamic Caliphate, the group also aims to be the preeminent power in Syria. In addition to fighting against rival opposition and jihadist groups, including Islamic State, it aims to influence and control other groups by offering assistance and alliances.
The group also attempts to bolster its recruitment, support and standing within Syria through social outreach and by providing humanitarian supplies to Syrian citizens. As it has cemented its presence in some areas of Syria, it has also set up more formal governance structures such as formal Islamic institutes and agencies that provide services such as electricity, water and infrastructure repair.
Jabhat al-Nusra intends to expel or forcibly convert the minority Alawite and Christian communities in Syria. This is substantiated by statements made by the group, including ‘The blessed operations will continue until the land of Syria is purified from the filth of the nusayris (Alawites) and the Sunnis are relieved of their oppression’.
To achieve these objectives, Jabhat al-Nusra undertakes a range of militant activities and terrorist attacks, using improvised explosive devices, suicide attacks, snipers and small-arms attacks, as well as kidnapping and executions throughout Syria. Jabhat al Nusra also attacks individuals and groups it perceives are supporting the Assad regime and has targeted urban areas, resulting in indiscriminate civilian deaths. The group releases videos of its attacks and operations through its media network al Manara al Bayda (the White Minaret).
Jabhat al-Nusra has undertaken the following to advance its ideology and achieve its objectives:
Directly or indirectly engaged in preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts
Jabhat al-Nusra has claimed responsibility for numerous recent terrorist attacks. In many cases, there is limited information on the specific targets and casualties from Jabhat al-Nusra attacks. However, attacks are conducted primarily in urban areas with no regard for indiscriminate harm. The group also conducted executions of civilians in areas under its control and of soldiers captured during military operations. Some of its operations have been filmed or photographed and released through its media centre, although it has been careful in the past to shape its public image in an attempt to avoid attracting the international backlash currently facing other terrorist groups like Islamic State.
Significant attacks either claimed by, or reliably attributed to, Jabhat al-Nusra include the following:
- 3 February 2016: Jabhat al-Nusra released a video of the execution of seven Syrian soldiers captured during an attack on Abu al-Duhur Military Airbase in Idlib Province, Syria.
- 8 December 2015: Jabhat al-Nusra claimed responsibility for a suicide operation and other attacks in the villages of Khalasa and al-Humayra, Aleppo Province, Syria.
- 24 November 2015: Jabhat al-Nusra’s media outlet, the White Minaret, released a video of the September 2015 capture of Abu al-Duhur Military Airbase in Idlib Province. The video featured the execution of 42 Syrian soldiers who had been taken prisoner.
- 31 July 2015: Jabhat al-Nusra kidnapped several members of D30, a Syrian rebel group whose stated intention was to fight Islamic State, not Jabhat al Nusra.
- 11 April 2015: After taking over cities in Idlib Province, Jabhat al-Nusra destroyed churches and religious items and threatened to kill Christians unless they paid fees.
- 21 January 2015: Jabhat al-Nusra published a photo report of the group bombing the Shia town of al Fu’ah in Idlib Province with missiles.
- 13 January 2015: A video was posted on the internet of Jabhat al-Nusra publicly executing a woman for adultery in the city of Ma’arat al-Nu’man, Syria. In the video, a person claiming to be a member of Jabhat al-Nusra declares the woman had been sentenced to death by an Islamic court.
- 1 December 2014: Jabhat al-Nusra posted pictures of an attack on two Shia towns in Aleppo Province.
- 28 August 2014: Jabhat al-Nusra kidnapped 40 Fijian personnel from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force. The hostages were released on 11 September 2014.
- 31 July 2014: Jabhat al-Nusra kidnapped two Italian aid workers, holding them hostage until January 2015 when, according to media reporting, a ransom was paid.
- 22 February 2014: A car bomb attack on an army checkpoint in the Lebanese town of Hermel killed two soldiers and a civilian. Jabhat al-Nusra claimed responsibility for the attack.
Reliable information indicates the following attacks, while not officially sanctioned by Jabhat al-Nusra, were undertaken by trained and resourced members of the group.
- 10 June 2015: Members of Jabhat al-Nusra killed 20 Druze civilians in the village of Qalb Lawzah.
- 5 November 2013: A group of Jabhat al-Nusra fighters killed 22 civilians in the Syrian Alawite village of Maksar al-Hesan. The victims included women, children and elderly men.
Advocating the doing of terrorist acts
Jabhat al-Nusra has its own media outlet, al-Manara al-Bayda (the White Minaret), which it uses to make documentary-style propaganda videos, often featuring car bombs and interviews with suicide bombers.
Jabhat al-Nusra has issued more than 200 media statements, primarily through the White Minaret. While most of these statements have been in the form of claims of responsibility for attacks, some address the rationale for the group’s actions. The group also publishes an English-language magazine, al-Risalah, which advocates violence in Syria and against the West.
- 12 October 2015: Jabhat al-Nusra released an audio statement in which its leader, Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani, called for attacks on Syria’s Alawites. In the statement, al-Jawlani stated ‘there is no choice but to escalate the battle and to target Alawite towns and villages in Latakia and I call on all factions to ... hit their villages daily with hundreds of missiles.’ The same statement called for attacks in Russia in response to Russia’s support for the Syrian Government.
- 24 January 2012: Jabhat al-Nusra leader Abu Muhammad al-Jawlani announced in a video that Jabhat al-Nusra would ‘avenge the honour and the spilled blood of those who have been wronged [by the government]’ and that jihad was ‘the only way that we can end the cloud of oppression and injustice’.
- 27 February 2012: Al-Jawlani stated in a video claiming responsibility for a suicide bombing, ‘know what has befallen your comrades in the past will befall you ... For every town or district that is attacked we will conduct an explosive attack against the state security apparatus’.
Details of the organisation
Jabhat al-Nusra is a Syria-based Sunni Islamist extremist group that adheres to the global jihadist ideology of al Qa’ida. In late 2011, al-Qa’ida in Iraq (AQI)—the organisation now known as Islamic State —sent operatives to Syria for the purpose of establishing Jabhat al Nusra to fight the regime of President Bashar al Assad. The group publicly announced its presence in Syria in a January 2012 video statement, and pledged allegiance to al-Qa’ida leader Ayman al Zawahiri in April 2013 after severing its ties to Islamic State. On 9 June 2013, al Zawahiri released a letter publicly announcing Jabhat al-Nusra as the official al Qa’ida affiliate group in Syria.
Jabhat al-Nusra is led by Abu-Muhammad al-Jawlani (an alias). Regional leaders are responsible for controlling their respective cells throughout Syria. Its strongest presence is in Syria’s northwest, particularly in Idlib Province. Jabhat al-Nusra has received direct endorsement from prominent online extremist forums aligned with al Qa’ida and leading Islamist extremist figures.
Although the exact number of Jabhat al-Nusra members cannot be confirmed, the group probably has a fighting force of between 3,000 and 5,000 fighters, along with further members in support roles. It runs at least 19 training camps in north-western Syria. Most of its members are Syrian, but around 30 per cent of its forces are foreign fighters from a wide range of countries—including Australians.
Recruitment and funding
Jabhat al-Nusra has strict recruitment procedures and requires new recruits to pledge allegiance to the group. Potential recruits are required to fight on the front-line and must be vouched for by Jabhat al Nusra commanders before they are accepted. It maintains smuggling networks to enable foreign fighters to enter Syria and join the group, mostly by travelling through Turkey.
Jabhat al-Nusra is well-funded from a range of international donors and local sources. Its Syria-based fundraising activities include extensive kidnapping, including of Westerners, to raise ransom payments. It also receives resources and expertise through its connection to the al-Qa’ida network.
Links to other terrorist organisations
In early April 2013, Jabhat al-Nusra released a video statement in which leader Abu Muhammad al Jawlani, on behalf of Jabhat al-Nusra, pledged allegiance to al Qa’ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. In this same statement, al-Jawlani confirmed that Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi provided Jabhat al Nusra with funding and operatives to conduct operations in Syria.
Over the course of 2013, tensions reportedly increased between Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra, and in 2014 battles between the groups began, resulting in 3,000 casualties by March 2014. More recently, in June 2015, Jabhat al-Nusra leader al Jawlani reportedly rejected idea an emerging alliance with Islamic State, including stating that there is ‘nothing but fighting between us’.
Jabhat al-Nusra remains al-Qa’ida’s official branch in Syria.
Links to Australia
Over 100 Australians have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join jihadist groups engaged in conflict. Some have joined Jabhat al-Nusra.
- October 2015: The second edition of Jabhat al-Nusra’s al-Risalah magazine featured an interview with a man claiming to be a former Australian solider who is currently working as a special forces trainer for Jabhar al-Nusra in Syria. The same magazine featured a letter claiming to have been written by an Australian Jabhat al-Nusra member prior to his death during a firefight in Syria. The letter is addressed to the man’s unborn son, and encourages him to die as a ‘martyr’ while engaging in jihad.
- January 2014: Two Australians were killed in Syria after travelling to join Jabhat al-Nusra.
- One Australian is a high-ranking official in Jabhat al-Nusra.
Threats to Australian interests
Jabhat al-Nusra adheres to an anti-Western ideology that includes rhetoric against Western interests in general.
- 26 June 2015: Jabhat al-Nusra released a video entitled ‘The Heirs of Glory’ featuring anti-Western rhetoric and glorifying al Qa’ida’s 11 September 2001 attacks against the US.
Listed by the United Nations or like-minded countries
Jabhat al-Nusra has been listed as a terrorist organisation by Canada, France, Iran, New Zealand, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the UK and the US.
On 14 May 2014, the United Nations Security Council ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qa’ida Sanctions Committee listed Jabhat al-Nusra for targeted financial sanctions and an arms embargo on the basis the group ‘brings Syrian and foreign al-Qa’ida in Iraq [aka Islamic State] and Asbat al-Ansat [associated with al-Qa’ida in Iraq] fighters, along with other foreign al-Qa’ida operatives, to join local elements in Syria and carry out terrorist and guerrilla operations there’.
Engagement in peace or mediation processes
Jabhat al-Nusra is not engaged in any peace or mediation process, and opposes any negotiated settlement to the Syrian conflict.
On the basis of the above information, the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation assesses Jabhat al-Nusra continues to be directly or indirectly engaged in, preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of terrorist acts or advocates the doing of terrorist acts, involving threats to human life and serious damage to property.
In the course of pursuing its objectives, Jabhat al-Nusra is known to have committed or threatened actions that:
- cause, or could cause, death, serious harm to persons, serious damage to property, endangered life (other than the life of the person taking the action), or create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public;
- are intended to have those effects;
- are done with the intention of advancing Jabhat al-Nusra’s political, religious or ideological causes;
- are done with the intention of intimidating, the government of one or more foreign countries; and
- are done with the intention of intimidating the public or sections of the public.