CATF Reports Nov. 22, 2016, 3:48pm


Last week, a new report emerged over the depth of the now-disbanded jihadist group Jund al-Aqsa’s ties to the Gulf. The report by Foundation for Defense of Democracies Senior Fellow David Andrew Weinberg claims that Jund al-Aqsa’s founder and al-Qaeda veteran Abu Abdulaziz al Qatari provided material and logistic assistance to jihadists while living in Qatar. After supporting jihadist groups operating in Iraq, al-Qatari left Qatar for Syria where he is thought to have joined Ahrar al Sham before becoming a senior al-Nusra leader. Having been killed in early 2014, one of Abu Abdulaziz’s sons Abu Ahmed al-Qatari, a Qatari ID-holder and UN and U.S. sanctioned individual, is thought to have taken the reigns as Jund al-Aqsa’s primary financial official. According to the report, Abu Ahmed has been widely criticized for being directly connected to the Qatari state and Qatari and Kuwaiti businessmen.

Jund al-Aqsa, however, is no longer an independent group. After Jund al-Aqsa parted ways with the Jaish al-Fatah alliance, allegedly over a refusal to confront ISIS, clashes emerged between Jund al-Aqsa militants and the leaders of the Jaish al-Fatah alliance, Ahrar al-Sham. Reportedly overwhelmed by Ahrar al-Sham, another Islamist group with ties to Doha, Jund al-Aqsa sought to reestablish an alliance with the now-rebranded al-Nusra, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS). Days later, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham reached a deal for Jund al-Aqsa’s dissolution and subsequently incorporated into its group.

At this point, the extent of the connections of former Jund al-Aqsa leaders, such as Abu Ahmed al-Qatari, with patrons in the Gulf remains unclear. Reports of different degrees of links have tied Ahrar al-Sham, Jund al-Aqsa, and JFS with Qatari donors, but their recent reunification signals a refortified Gulf influence over the most powerful elements of the rebel strongholds in Idlib and elsewhere. As increased cooperation between former Jund al-Aqsa members and JFS arises, both of which are U.S. sanctioned terrorist groups, counterterrorism officials must be vigilant in tracking their funding to prevent the formation of new networks and financial streams.

From the Foundation for Defense of Democracies:

“However, Jund al Aqsa has finally been forced to take sides.

After several days of ill-fated clashes with Ahrar al Sham in October, Jund al Aqsa’s men fled for safety by joining up again with the relaunched Nusrah Front, which changed its name in July to Jabhat Fateh al Sham (JFS). The text of their agreement – signed in the names of Jund leader Abu Diab al-Sarmini and JFS leader Julani – proclaims that “we in Jund al-Aqsa pledge our bay’ah [allegiance] to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.”

The next day, JFS signed a separate deal with Ahrar al Sham that seems to have sealed Jund al Aqsa’s fate. The document, which was posted on the Syrian opposition website All4Syria, was again signed in Julani’s name and promised that Jund al Aqsa’s bay’ah means its “dissolution” and “complete incorporation” into JFS, thus “preventing its independent reconstitution” under any name or form.”

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