Jamaat Ansar al-Islam's (JAI) surviving Syria branch has unsurprisingly issued a statement denouncing its long-standing rival the Islamic State (IS) for its latest offensive in north Aleppo countryside on rebel-held towns and villages pushing towards the town of Azaz near the Bab al-Salama border crossing. JAI is primarily based in Aleppo and Idlib provinces, participating in the recent rebel offensives in the latter province that culminated in the capture of Idlib city, Jisr al-Shughur and al-Ariha. The new IS offensive on north Aleppo countryside can only be seen as a distraction from rebel efforts to replicate the successes of Idlib in Aleppo province.
Jamaat Ansar al-Islam claims to find Masonic symbols on Alawite homes in the village of Ishtabraq near Jisr al-Shughur in Idlib
The wider context to what IS is doing is that since August 2014, when IS seized Dabiq, Akhtarin and other north Aleppo countryside towns, the frontline between IS and the rebels remained largely static with no more than the occasional exchange of gunfire and mortar rounds as IS focused its military efforts elsewhere, such as on the Kobani front. In its calculations IS knew that the rebels maintaining these north Aleppo countryside frontlines (e.g. the Sawran-Ahtimilat frontline manned by Northern Storm) were relatively poorly armed and unable to launch offensives to retake territory from IS, indeed vulnerable to a serious IS offensive. This partly explains why so many rebel reinforcements have had to be called up in a bid to repel the latest offensive, including Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and Faylaq al-Sham.
The new IS offensive has also forced some Aleppo-based groups that had been officially neutral towards IS to take a stance as the IS push now threatens their holdings. The most notable case-in-point is the jihadi group Harakat Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiya, which is part of the 'third-way' jihadi coalition Jabhat Ansar al-Din. This group, which acknowledges its prior "positive/affirmative stance of neutrality," has released a new statement denouncing IS on the grounds of its takfiri approach of 'whoever is not with us, is against us,' besides deriding it as a supposed combination of "the Ba'athist deep state in leadership and administration" and Islamic slogans tainted with extremism. Further, the group attacks IS' alleged hypocrisy on accusations it makes against other groups, even going so far as to give credence to conspiracy theories claiming Edward Snowden had exposed how IS is a creation of the West/Israel.
In practice, members of Harakat Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiya did not like IS anyway, but official neutrality policy of Jabhat Ansar al-Din has prevented until now open expression of this dislike. For comparison, a Jabhat Ansar al-Din media office member I knew put it this way with regards to IS when I interviewed him (NB: he was a member of Harakat Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiya): "We don't fight them and they don't fight us." After leaving behind Jabhat Ansar al-Din and Harakat Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiya (eventually leaving for Adana in Turkey), he became openly critical of 'Da3esh'. It is notable that so far Jabhat Ansar al-Din has not advertised the statement denouncing IS on its Twitter feed, and it will be interesting to see if this remains the case: could it signal dissension within Jabhat Ansar al-Din? If not, then it will represent the first official denunciation by Jabhat Ansar al-Din of IS, breaking with the prior anti-fitna stance which has in reality always been incoherent.
In any case, here is the more predictable Jamaat Ansar al-Islam statement denouncing IS:
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Statement on the stance of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam with regards to the recent events in north Aleppo countryside
Statement 456 from the central media administration.
Praise be to God who has blessed the Ahl al-Sunna with the region by which they are distinguished from the rest of the paths, false attribution and the people of arbitrary whims, and prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of God who aroused the ambitions of his companions in the misfortunes just as God commanded him, so that the truth-teller may be distinguished from the non-truth-teller for it was of the trial of God that He should elevate certain peoples and place others in one stance. As for what follows:
The Almighty has said: "Whoever opposes the Messenger after guidance has been made clear to him and follows a path besides that of the believers, We will turn to him what he has turned to and send him to Hellfire, and evil it is as a fate."- Nisa [Qur'an 4:
The Messenger of God (PBUH) said: "By the One in whose hand my soul is, you should command what is right, forbid what is wrong, seize upon the hands of the wrong-doer, and turn him towards truth, or God should strike you with each other's hearts and curse you just as He cursed those before you."
And on the authority of Abdullah ibn Mas'ud, he said: "The Messenger of God [PBUH] said: "...And by the One in whose hand my soul is, you should command what is right, forbid what is wrong and seize upon the hand of the impudent, or He will curse you as He cursed them."
At the time in which the Ummah has not been able to fulfill its joy with the recent victories over the enemies of God [in Idlib etc.], there occurred what was expected and not new from Baghdadi's group, according to their false and corrupt interpretations, from their betrayal and striking at the expense of the mujahideen in north Aleppo countryside.
And the misfortune of the Ummah is that there is a custom of due reckoning that has become forgotten among them, and they do not give the issues what they deserve until after their fire touches them and this is part of the weakness of the loyalty of faith, awareness of God and lack of insight, and contrary to the requirements of the one body, and thus we remind the Ummah in general and the people of al-Sham in particular that they must take the stance that God the Exalted loves in supporting the one who has been aggressed upon and one must push back against the aggressor.
Thus we of Jamaat Ansar al-Islam: our stance is as we have stated previously in all conflicts: it is the stance of the Ummah of Islam (the Ahl al-Sunna) and above all those considered its Ahl al-'Ilm.
And we say that the majority of the affliction in this sort of mishaps and conflicts etc. is due to excess and disregard for the limits of God- Almighty and Exalted is He- as well as pursuing arbitrary whim. And between justice and moderation lies the true principle.
Thus we say that this latest movement and maneuver by Baghdadi's group, if it continues without a determined and true stance to resist their aggression, it is the beginning of the end whose outcome cannot be lauded unless God wills it in His good nature, and the truth is that the best form of defense is offense and to bomb them in kind with the cinders of Shari'a and military righteousness.
May God's peace and blessings be upon Our Prophet Muhammad and on all his family and compansions.
Jamaat Ansar al-Islam
Central Media Administration
14 Sha'aban 1436 AH
1 June 2015
Update (June 4): According to Northern Storm's spokesman, internal disputes have arisen in Jabhat Ansar al-Din in Hureitan and Kafr Hamra about fighting IS, provoked by the Harakat Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiya statement denouncing IS. The paragraph in Jamaat Ansar al-Islam's statement beginning "And the misfortune of the Ummah..." likely references the problem among independent jihadis of desire to maintain neutrality vis-a-vis fighting IS. In contrast, Jamaat Ansar al-Islam, whatever the past coordination with IS in Iraq or Syria, wishes to have a clear stance against IS.