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:
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.”