The Counter Extremism Project (CEP), which is a not-for-profit, non-partisan, international policy organization formed to combat the growing threat from extremist ideologies, gives the detailed information about Nusra front:
Name: Nusra Front (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham)
Type of Organization: Insurgent non-state actor terrorist transnational violent.
Ideologies and Affiliations: Al-Qaeda affiliated group Islamist jihadist Qutbist Salafist Sunni.
Place of Origin: Syria and Iraq
Year of Origin: Formed 2011, declared January 2012
Founder(s): Abu Mohammad al-Golani, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Places of Operation: Syria and Lebanon
Overview Also Known As:
- Al-Nusrah Front
- Al-Nusra Front to Protect the Levant
- Al Nusrah Front for the People of Levant
- Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant
- Al-Nusrah Front in Lebanon
- Ansar al-Mujahideen Network
- Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham
- Jabhat al-Nusrah
- Jabhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham
- Jabhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham Min Mujahedin al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad
- Jabhat al-Nusra li-Ahl al-Sham Min Mujahideen al-Sham fi Sahat al-Jihad
- Jabhet al-Nusra
- Jabhet al-Nusrah
- Jabhat Fath al-Sham
- Levantine Conquest Front
- Levantine Mujahideen on the Battlefields of Jihad
- Support Front for the People of the Levant
- The Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant
- The Defense Front19
- The Front for the Defence of the Syrian People20
- The Front for the Defense of the Syrian People21
- The Support Front for the People of Syria from the Mujahideen of Syria in the Places of Jihad22
- The Victory Front
The Nusra Front—also known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (“the Levantine Conquest Front”)—is an internationally sanctioned terrorist group, the second-strongest insurgent group in Syria after ISIS, and a formerly open al-Qaeda affiliate that seeks to replace the Assad regime with an Islamic state. Operating as a part of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham coalition since January 2017, the Nusra Front stands accused of serving as a base for global al-Qaeda operations. In the years since its formation in 2011, the Nusra Front has gradually amassed and sustained territory throughout Syria. As of early 2017, the Nusra Front controls territory in northern, western, and southern Syria, including large portions of Syria’s Idlib province.
For years before the announced split, however, Golani had reaffirmed his group’s allegiance to al-Qaeda. The Nusra Front’s founder, current ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, claims to have dispatched Golani and others—then al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) fighters—into Syria in 2011 in order to take advantage of the power vacuum stemming from the civil war. In April 2013, after Baghdadi unilaterally claimed to subsume the Nusra Front into AQI, now known as ISIS, Golani broke ties with Baghdadi and reaffirmed his allegiance to al-Qaeda central.
Originally al-Qaeda’s formal affiliate in Syria, the Nusra Front has since claimed to have dissociated entirely from the international terrorist organization, despite the Nusra Front’s long and proven history of serving as its loyal affiliate. On July 28, 2016, al-Qaeda released an audio statement giving the Nusra Front formal permission to break ties if the link was “conflicting with [the Nusra Front’s] unity and working as one body.” Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammad al-Golani declared a formal split from al-Qaeda after thanking “our brothers, the commanders of al-Qa’eda,” and announcing the group’s name change from Jabhat al-Nusra (“the Victory Front”) to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (“the Levantine Conquest Front”). Analysts had long surmised that a break from al-Qaeda, however artificial, could enable the Nusra Front to attract more funding from Gulf States like Qatar, consolidate local support, and present itself as a legitimate insurgent group in Syria. The Nusra Front continued to pursue this strategy when, on January 28, 2017, it announced that it was dissolving its organization to be subsumed under a larger Syrian Islamist merger, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (“Assembly for the Liberation of the Levant” or HTS), led by Hashim al-Sheikh, the former leader of fellow Islamist faction Ahrar al-Sham. HTS, a coalition that combines five major Islamist factions – the Nusra Front, Harakat Nur al Din al Zenki, Liwa al Haqq, Ansar al Din, and Jaysh al Sunna – along with dozens of smaller Islamist and secular Free Syrian Army groups under one central leadership, with Golani heading its militant branch.
In Syria, the group continues to profess its goal of toppling the Assad regime and establishing an Islamic state in its place, albeit incrementally. In its effort to consolidate local support, the Nusra Front has adopted military and outreach strategies from al-Qaeda-linked jihadist Abu Musab al-Suri: participating in numerous Syrian-based coalitions and collaborating with other Islamist, and occasionally secular, rebel groups to carry out joint attacks against Assad forces. The Nusra Front, and now HTS, also operates a civil administrative wing called the “Public Services Administration” which provides basic administrative needs and security and governs several rebel-controlled towns under various forms of Islamic law.
Since its founding, the Nusra Front has conducted formal military campaigns, assassinations, hostage takings, and ‘lone wolf’ operations, including al-Qaeda’s trademark suicide bombings. By June 2013, the Nusra Front had claimed responsibility for 57 out of 70 suicide attacks conducted during Syria’s civil war. The group has since continued to carry out its signature suicide bombings in Syria and expanded its operations into neighboring Lebanon after Hezbollah joined the war in mid-2013. In Lebanon, the Nusra Front works to stoke sectarian divisions, conducting and attempting suicide bombings against civilian centers like Beirut and Hezbollah strongholds like Hermel, along Lebanon’s north-eastern border with Syria.
As of mid-2016, the Nusra Front’s paramilitary force remains one of the strongest rebel forces in Syria, reportedly comprised of around 5,000 to 10,000 fighters, including an estimated 7,000 fighters in Idlib province alone. The terrorist group has attracted the largest contingency of foreign fighters to Syria after ISIS.
The Nusra Front adheres to a Salafist, jihadist ideology with the professed aim of establishing Islamic governance in all areas under its control. In the group’s January 2012 inaugural video, a masked representative outlined its regional objectives. He introduced the Nusra Front as “Syrian mujahedeen” who have come “back from various jihad fronts to restore God’s rule on the Earth [Islamic law] and avenge the Syrians’ violated honour and spilled blood.”
Years later, when Golani announced the Nusra Front’s dissociation from al-Qaeda, he reaffirmed the group’s core objectives, saying that despite separating from al-Qaeda, the group would not be “compromising or sacrificing our solid beliefs or laxity in the necessity of the continuity of the Jihad of Al-Sham [Syria].” Golani reaffirmed that his group sought to use “Islamically legitimate means” to unify jihadists in Syria and the “masses of people in Al-Sham [Syria]” in order to replace the Assad government with one based on shari’ah (Islamic law).
The Nusra Front is both hierarchical and regionalized. Historically, each region has been equipped with an overall leader, a military commander, and a religious leader. The group as a whole has been directed by a small consultative council called Majlis-ash-Shura, and headed by its emir(“commander” or “prince”), Abu Muhammad al-Golani. For years, Golani has carefully avoided showing his face in public, releasing audio statements and providing in-person interviews to news outlets with his face blurred out. In July 2016, however, Golani appeared in a video to announce his group’s formal split from al-Qaeda. In early 2017, Golani claimed to have stepped aside from his role as the leader of the Nusra Front to defer to Hashim al-Sheikh, leader of the HTS coalition, while Golani became the military commander of the group. Nonetheless, Golani is believed to retain his authority as the leader of the Nusra Front, despite his nominal deference to Sheikh.
The Nusra Front has been well-funded since its inception in 2011. By August 2016, the group received streams of funding through a variety of means, including taxation, tariffs, fines, ransoms, international donations, oil sales, looting, and smuggling.
The most stable source of income for the Nusra Front is believed to have come from taxes, tariffs, and fines that the group imposes on locals within its territory. Among the taxes levied by the group are income, business, services and utility taxes, including taxes on access to electricity and water. The Nusra Front also reportedly receives funding by leasing out homes, and is even reported to have levied a tax on internally displaced persons within Idlib province. In addition to taxes, the group has seized assets from religious minority groups and receives funding through an arms and weaponry tariff on other rebel groups. In this way, the Nusra Front is believed to receive roughly half of the ammunition and weapons sent to the Free Syrian Army in northern Syria.
Sources of funding for the group also reportedly include private donations from wealthy individuals in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Kuwait, who are believed to launder the funds through small money transfers, or by dispatching the money with individuals who cross state borders into Nusra-held territory. Indeed, the Nusra Front’s decision in July 2016 to dissociate from al-Qaeda is widely believed to have been motivated in large part to enable Qatari-based donors to continue sending money to the Nusra Front without being accused of providing financial support to al-Qaeda.
In addition to foreign donations, the Nusra Front has also secured revenue from oil sales and smuggling, as well as through cigarette smuggling and extortion. Although governments typically deny payment for the release of hostages, the Nusra Front is believed to have racked up millions of dollars through hostage exchanges negotiated by the Qatari government. In one such exchange, the group reportedly received $4 million when it released four Greek Orthodox nuns in March 2014. In another exchange, the Nusra Front reportedly received $25 million when it released 45 U.N. peacekeepers.
In order to join the Nusra Front, the group has historically required its recruits to procure tazkiyya (a voucher on behalf of the recruit) from two commanders on the front lines. Once the recruit was accepted, he would swear bay’ah (an oath of allegiance) to the group, thereby cementing his religious commitment.
The Nusra Front has also recruited its members online and in private messaging applications through its former media branches, al-Minara al-Bayda and Fursan al-Sham media.
Under HTS, a new media outlet has been created, Ebaa Agency, which produces high-quality videos, infographics, and media statements similar to those of Amaq, ISIS’s media wing.
In addition to recruiting guerilla fighters through online and in-person efforts, the Nusra Front stands accused of recruiting child soldiers. The U.N. Human Rights Council’s Independent Commission on Syria has issued reports on the Nusra Front’s successful recruitment of child soldiers continuing into 2017.
Association with ISIS
The Nusra Front was allegedly formed as an extension of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI, now ISIS), and received a monthly salary from AQI leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The relationship between the groups deteriorated in April 2013, when Baghdadi unilaterally announced a merger between the two groups. The two have since engaged in violent clashes, vying for control over rebel-held territory.
The Department of State designates the Nusra Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on December 10, 2012.
European Union— listed the Nusra Front as a sanctioned group of persons, groups, and entities on May 28, 2014.
France—listed the Nusra Front as a terrorist entity on May 30, 2013.
Australia— listed the Nusra Front as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on June 23, 2013.
Canada—listed the Nusra Front as a terrorist entity on November 7, 2013.
United Kingdom—listed the Nusra Front as a foreign terrorist group on July 19, 2013.
Russia—listed the Nusra Front as a terrorist group on December 29, 2014.
Saudi Arabia—listed the Nusra Front as a terrorist group on March 7, 2014.
Turkey—listed the Nusra Front as a terrorist organization on June 13, 2014.
United Arab Emirates—listed the Nusra Front as a terrorist organization on November 15, 2014.
 CEP – Counter Extremist Project – Nusra Front (Jabhat Fateh al-Sham), available at: https://www.counterextremism.com/threat/nusra-front-jabhat-fateh-al-sham (accessed on 27 December 2017)