Readers of my blog will be familiar by now with the story of the jihadist group Jamaat Ansar al-Islam. Originally based in Iraq and primarily operating in Ninawa and Kirkuk governorates, the group expanded into Syria in 2011 and spread across the north of the country. However, the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) meant that the group's branch in Syria lost contiguous connection with its original Iraqi parent branch, losing out to ISIS in both Raqqa and Hasakah provinces and thus mainly confined to Aleppo and Idlib provinces in the west of Syria.
Though the parent branch tried to ride the wave of ISIS-spearheaded insurgent gains against government forces in Iraq beginning with the fall of Mosul in June 2014, arrests and killings by ISIS as well as co-optation through defections to ISIS (subsequently IS after the Caliphate declaration on 29 June 2014) meant that most of Iraq's Jamaat Ansar al-Islam had given allegiance to IS by the end of August 2014, with a statement put out by those defectors in the name of the whole group, declaring the dissolution of the organization. Though this was rejected by those who controlled the official Twitter account, subsequent lack of activity within Iraq confirms the de facto dissolution of the Iraqi parent branch. In Syria, IS attempted a similar tactic in January 2015 in having defectors- including those who controlled the Syrian branch's official Twitter account- declare the dissolution of the Syrian branch. Yet as my vindicated analysis showed at the time, the case here was much less solid, and the Syrian branch survives to this day.
Below is my translation of some testimony from a prominent defector from ISIS/IS and a current Twitter personality for Jabhat al-Nusra- Abu Omar al-Falastini. The tweets are entitled "Recollections with the traitors." This series of tweets concerns defections to IS, particularly from Jamaat Ansar al-Islam. Also of interest is what Abu Omar al-Falastini has to say about other Iraqi insurgent groups like the Salafi nationalist Jaysh al-Mujahideen and the Ba'athist Naqshbandi Army [JRTN]. Comments will be provided where appropriate in the form of notes.
(Intro): In recollections- some of which I write here- regarding people I knew who then pledged allegiance to the khawarij [IS] and relapsed, then declared us to be kuffar [disbelievers] and fought the mujahideen.
1. I recall among these people Abu Obeida of Mosul,* the Shari'a official of Mosul in Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, also known here on Twitter as 'The Jihadi Experience'.
2. This man used to recount to me stories about Da3esh [IS] pertaining to the takfir of Da3esh and he is the one who would declare them to be kuffar and when I said to him: "Why don't you unite with al-Qa'ida?"
3. He would reply: "We are striving for something greater than this and the aim is to find a replacement for the Da3esh guys." Despite the meaning of his words it did not take long for him to pledge allegiance to Da3esh.
4. I do not want to speak much about him because he did not remain under allegiance to the Da3esh guys- rather only for a short time- and then they killed him in his home.
5. And one of the perfidious ones from one of the groups subjected to Da3esh mentioned to me that Obeida was not forced to pledge allegiance but he was not very satisfied with the pledge of allegiance but nonetheless he pledged allegiance.
6. Now I will speak about Abu Muhammad al-Muhajir** or Abd al-Muhaymin, a military official of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam in Mosul, and he was in al-Hasakah in al-Sham.
7. This man would recount to me stories on which he would swear of the link between Da3esh and the Ba'ath and he told me that the Da3esh amirs would praise the Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia [JRTN] in front of him.***
8. But every day we- myself, he, Obeida, Sheikh Abu Mariya**** and many brothers from those who had lived with the situation in Iraq- were talking and keeping in contact on finding a replacement for Da3esh in [Iraq].
9. But the brothers in Jaysh al-Mujahideen did not trust Ansar al-Islam because of their fluctuation and flattering of al-Shafi'i***** [...].
10. And what happened, happened, as the Ansar gave power to Da3esh in Kirkuk...after appeals for allegiance from Mosul from those who gave allegiance.******
23. From the connection I've wanted to make is that you should not trust all who call to fight the khawarij but rather among those I have mentioned are those strongest in enmity to us.
24. Indeed Abu Muhammad al-Muhajir was calling for permission to pledge allegiance to Da3esh even after he saw their kufr [disbelief].
*- What Abu Omar al-Falastini says about Abu Obeida of Mosul's online presence is correct. His defection to ISIS helped spark the first wave of ISIS advertised defections from Jamaat Ansar al-Islam in Ninawa province at the end of June 2014. The second advertised wave was at the end of August 2014, to emphasize the de facto dissolution of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam by that point.
**- This is the same Abu Muhammad al-Muhajir who helped expand Jamaat Ansar al-Islam into Syria in the first place, with the setting up of the al-Qaa'qaa' training camp in al-Hewel in Hasakah province on the border with Iraq. Regardless of whether he had leanings to pledge allegiance to ISIS, he was killed before he could pledge allegiance.
***- The supposed alliance between JRTN & ISIS/IS is a common trope of pro-AQ jihadi discourse- a line also employed by @wikibaghdady, for example- to delegitimize ISIS/IS as a Ba'athist movement in the guise of jihadism. While there has undoubtedly been cooperation between JRTN and ISIS in the past, it does not exist anymore, as IS has asserted power at JRTN's expense. Further, IS' system of administration is far removed from any ideals of JRTN- that is, no concessions are made to JRTN sensibilities on the basis of a claimed 'alliance of convenience.'
****- Abu Mariya al-Qahtani, the most prominent Iraqi within Jabhat al-Nusra. He refused to give allegiance to ISIS and is one of its most vocal critics.
*****- Abu Abdullah al-Shafi'i, the former leader of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam arrested in 2010. Jamaat Ansar al-Islam continued to honour his legacy, naming a training camp after him in Ninawa province (photo below). Jaysh al-Mujahideen's reservations about this likely have to do with al-Shafi'i's perceived ties to ISIS' predecessor- Islamic State of Iraq. For more on Jaysh al-Mujahideen and relations with ISIS, see this post.
******- Considering that Mosul fell out of government control before parts of Kirkuk governorate, the chronology here makes sense. According to Abu Bakr al-Iraqi- of the remnant of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam that did not pledge allegiance to IS and currently based in Kirkuk city- Jamaat Ansar al-Islam's Kirkuk contingent was concentrated in the al-Rashad area, but they all gave allegiance to IS.