On multiple occasions I have written about the activities of Jama'at Ansar al-Islam, which is a jihadist group of Iraqi origin but primarily active today in northwest Syria. I had made the group's media wing aware of my translations of the group's statements and requested an interview with the group. The request was granted though I only received the answers today. Not only does it take time for the responses to be written and reviewed with research into old files, but there were also the tensions that occurred this summer in the field and contributed to the delays. For my part, I promised- as I do with other interviewees- to publish the interview as it is. Publishing raw interviews rather than excerpt snippets is the best way to be credible. However, I have put in a couple of explanatory notes beneath the interview text: not part of the interview but only to explain some Arabic terms that may be unfamiliar to readers.
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Praise be to God and prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of God and whoso is loyal to him.
Q: Could you talk about the history of Jama'at Ansar al-Islam in Bilad al-Sham since the beginning of the revolution until now? Can we say that the rise of the 'Islamic State' group was a catastrophe for Jama'at Ansar al-Islam in Bilad al-Sham?
A: Regarding this question the answer to it is of two parts. So the first part about the history of the group in Bilad al-Sham:
To begin with, we consider Bilad al-Sham to be in the rank of the homeland and we do not believe in the artificial borders placed between the land of the muslims and since our jihad in the mountains of Kurdistan then our entry into the depth of Iraq we were not cut off from benefiting from Bilad al-Sham to support the Iraqi jihad in what is required, from Damascus, Lebanon and other places. And with the beginning of the movement of the jihad in al-Sham that is an extension for the prior jihadist movements that were established to be rid of the hegemony of the disbelievers and their trustees over the land of the Muslims, we mobilised in what serves the Muslims in al-Sham to support their jihad in so far as we can support the oppressed and contribute to our shared cause. And since the beginnings we had a great role in planning and management in Damascus, its country and its environs, for the brothers in the group opened courses in all the fields of jihadist work for many of the groups that were formed at that time. And because of that activity there were arrested among us cadre brothers and they were killed- may God accept them- and what we published days ago about the life of our brother Abu Anas al-Iraqi- may God accept him- is an exemplar of those splendid exemplars we did not mention out of regard for the circumstances of their families. Afterwards the activities of the brothers became distributed over the regions of Aleppo, al-Hasakah, al-Raqqa and other places, ending with Idlib countryside and the Sahel today. We ask God for steadfastness, integrity, acceptance and granting of success.
As for the second part, with regards to the announcement of the so-called 'Islamic State' or 'Dawa'esh' their negative impacts on the jihad affected the Ummah in general and not only Jama'at Ansar al-Islam before the announcement of the Dawla and after it even if in different proportions, but by the grace of God and His preservation of His religion, the Ummah spat them out because of that by which they separated from the Ummah and contravened the people of Islam.
And thus is the habit of the people of innovations and immorality of old, and the stance of the people of Islam regarding them is not new and praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds.
Q: What are the most important battles in which Jama'at Ansar al-Islam in Bilad al-Sham has participated and what is the number of martyrs?
A: God blessed us that we participated in many battles among them battles in Damascus the capital and its countryside areas and the battle to liberate al-Raqqa and the battles of al-Hasakah and the battles of Aleppo countryside and the battle to liberate Mennagh airport and the siege of Aleppo central prison and the liberation of the city of Idlib and Jisr al-Shughur and its environs, and the two expeditions of breaking the siege of Aleppo city and the battles of Hama countryside and the Sahel. And all that goes back to the grace of God and His granting of success, and our participations were according to the capability and power and the extent of what God brought us from power and force and capabilities. We ask God for acceptance and lasting.
As for the number of martyrs, God has ennobled us that we have offered hundreds of martyrs and wounded and there has been no time in which there did not depart martyrs from us or in which there were no wounded among us. We publish about some of them and we are silent about others for the privacy reasons of the brothers and their families. And despite this, we are wholly keen for the safety of our mujahideen soldiers, who are the capital of our Sunni jihad, and taking up the causes for that without that turning into a reason for impeding the jihad, and indeed the choice of God Almighty and His adopting some of our brothers as martyrs- as we reckon them- are indeed the grace of God and His bounty for which every true Muslim hopes.
Q: Why is the group suffering from deficiency in wealth and capabilities today?
A: It is of the Sunna of God the Exalted that He tests His servants with something from defieicny in wealth, lives and fruits, and it is of the nature of jihad that in it is testing for the souls, and the Prophet (SAWS) swore that he does not fear poverty for his companions but rather he fears for them the fitna of wealth. And because of the fact the Jews and the Christians have been imposed on the land of the Muslims and from behind them the agents from the apostate rulers and their hypocrite followers, thus the security grip prevents the people of Islam from spending in the path of God in what helps the jihad and strengthens it, for they are in a war against Islam under the slogan of waging war against terrorism and drying out its springs.
So if the aspect of the spending of the people of Islam has been weakened as they have become subject to the procedures of the enemies of Islam, and some of them have been miserly and stint about granting God an interest-free loan in order for God to multiply the returns for them by many times, that has impacted negatively without doubt on the situation of the mujahideen and the extent of their activities. And conversely what the group has chosen for itself and been steadfast upon by the grace of God is complete independence and not pawning its decisions to the states and suspect sides from the supporters in order that the course of the group and its banner and jihad should not deviate, and in order that they should remain pure and devoted to God and the desire to raise His words to be supreme. And we have been and are still eager to make sure that what is haram or suspect does not enter upon us because God is good and only accepts good. And through experience as well it has been proven in our view the lack of benefit of business projects in what accrues to the jihad because of the security pursuits and the difficulty of tracking and accounting and with the limited nature of the war spoils as a financial revenue for the jihad, these matters and other things have impacted the group's economic situation.
And despite all these things, we have not submitted- thank God- and we have not abandoned or been negligent. And we ask God to grant us more of His grace and that we should continue in our jihad as we began, until God should make ready for the Ummah a true Sunni entity upon which the people of justice gather from the people of knowledge and the mujahideen, and we will be a part of it by God's permission without conditions or bonds when we have guaranteed and ensured that the matter is upon the satisfaction of God and supported by lordly 'ulama.
Q: What is your assessment of the general situation in the field of al-Sham today? Some say that the jihad has been impeded because of the international agreements over the Idlib area. What is your opinion on this talk?
A: The jihad continues until the Day of Judgement and the lines of evidence of that in the law are not hidden, and the reality supports that, and indeed the ascent of the manner of the jihad or its contrary is a natural thing, for indeed the war is competition and the loss of a battle or withdrawal from a geographic area does not mean the end of the jihad. And indeed the spark of the jihad that has been lit in the blessed land of al-Sham will not be extinguished by the mouthes of the disbelievers and their blowing on the light of God. And the international agreements upon the matters of jihad in general and al-Sham in particular are evidence of the feeling of danger regarding the activity of the Ummah and its jihad, for they are conspiring against the people of Islam and spending their wealth to cause diversion from the path of God, so they will spend then it will be a grief upon them, then they will be overcome by God's permission. For they are too weak to try to contend with God and His just allies of the people of jihad.
And their will shall not precede the will of God (Almighty and Exalted is He) and had God willed He would have overcome them but it is of the Almighty's wisdom that He trials and tests the people of Islam so that the evil should be distinguished from the good. And it is of His wisdom to test the people of faith before obliterating the disbelievers. So the happy person and one granted success are those who are of this convoy without ifrat or tafrit.  And the one deceived and the one abandoned are those who have held back without true Shari'i excuse.
Q: Recently you formed an operations room with four factions. Why do you not merge with the al-Fatah al-Mubin operations room in order to unit the ranks?
A: We do not respond. We refrain from answering.
Q: In the end what do you want to achieve on the ground exactly? I mean for example do you hope that the strategy of continuing in raids and guerrilla warfare will lead to the collapse of the Syrian regime? Could you clarify the aims for the long term?
A: We adopt provisional tactics because of what every stage requires. So the obligation on the Muslim servant is to expend what he can in pure devotion to God Almighty and make ready what he can. And if the people of jihad are honest with god and take up the necessary and possible causes, so in the end the results will follow upon that by God's permission.
But the delay of victory and its achievement sooner or later, this is in the knowledge of the unseen even as human souls desire it, and it is connected with the wall of God. He gives victory to whomsoever He wills, and whenever He wills. So the obligation on the servant is to undertake the obligation of servitude and response to the call of jihad and take up the causes without ittikal or tawakul,  for God the Exalted grants sovereignty to whomsoever He wills and removes it from whomsoever He wills, and He is capable over everything.
Q: Finally why is it incumbent upon the Muslims to support your efforts and the jihad in Bilad al-Sham in general? It is said for example that Jama'at Ansar al-Islam today is an embodiment of dozens of personnel only from Iraqi Kurdistan. Is this true?
A: All the Muslims must realise that the mujahideen today constitute the first defence line for the Ummah in defending its existence and holy sites and breaking the conspiracies of the enemies and in light of this the obligation on every capable able Muslim is to undertake the jihad with his life and wealth. And we find in many verses that spending in the path of God and jihad in wealth are preferred over jihad in life. So whoso is miserly in his wealth to offer it in the path of God has been too miserly upon himself to expend it in the path of God, and he may be afflicted with the contrary and spend it in something besides that which pleases God. And there is no granting of success for these ideal places except for the one between whom and his Lord there is from pure devotion and honesty what grants him success for these high ranks and elevated places. And we do not say that the obligation on the Ummah is support the group in particular only but the obligation on the people of Islam in general is be loyal to each other and to support the religion of God- Almighty and Exalted is He- and not to forsake the people of jihad as far as they can.
As for the second part of the question, the reality establishes something besides that, for the soldiers of the group are much more numerous than this and they are not only from Iraqi Kurdistan but also in addition tot he Kurdish brothers, the group includes mujahideen from multiple states, regions and nationalities: among them many from the people of al-Sham. And the lesson is in honesty, integrity, exertion and expending what the servant can and in what impact he leaves on the ground of the reality.
[NB: explanatory notes]
- Ifrat and tafrit: excess beyond the limits for a particular thing and too little of that same thing respectively. In other words, two extremities contrary to the middle path of Islam.
- Ittikal and tawakul: i.e. putting your reliance in God for something without taking up the causes of that thing: an example would be if you were to say you put your reliance in God for success in an examination, without properly studying for it.