The al Qaeda-linked Al Nusrah Front released a statement noting that it conducted a joint operation with the supposedly secular Free Syrian Army. From the Al Nusrah statement, which was translated by the SITE Intelligence Group:
In obedience to the command of Allah, and in support of His religion and to protect the oppressed in the Levant [Syria], the soldiers of the Al Nusrah Front for the People of the Levant, in cooperation with the Battalion of the Mujahideen of the Companions [Al Sahaba Battalion], carried out an attack on the police station of Jadida Artouz in the countryside of Damascus, killing all the elements, taking their weapons, and completely destroying the building. That was on the morning of Thursday, 19-7-2012.
The Al Sahaba Battalion is a well-known Free Syrian Army formation which operates in the Syrian capital of Damascus.
The Al Nusrah Front clearly has been poaching from al Qaeda in Iraq, given the sophistication and intensity of its attacks [see Threat Matrix report, Al Qaeda fighters moving from Iraq to Syria]. Now, the lines between the Free Syrian Army and the plethora of jihadist groups have begun to fade, according to The Guardian, which reported at the end of July that al Qaeda has integrated its operations with the Free Syrian Army:
As they stood outside the commandeered government building in the town of Mohassen, it was hard to distinguish Abu Khuder’s men from any other brigade in the Syrian civil war, in their combat fatigues, T-shirts and beards.But these were not average members of the Free Syrian Army. Abu Khuder and his men fight for al-Qaida. They call themselves the ghuraba’a, or “strangers”, after a famous jihadi poem celebrating Osama bin Laden’s time with his followers in the Afghan mountains, and they are one of a number of jihadi organisations establishing a foothold in the east of the country now that the conflict in Syria has stretched well into its second bloody year.
They try to hide their presence. “Some people are worried about carrying the [black] flags,” said Abu Khuder. “They fear America will come and fight us. So we fight in secret. Why give Bashar and the west a pretext?” But their existence is common knowledge in Mohassen. Even passers-by joke with the men about car bombs and IEDs.
According to Abu Khuder, his men are working closely with the military council that commands the Free Syrian Army brigades in the region. “We meet almost every day,” he said. “We have clear instructions from our [al-Qaida] leadership that if the FSA need our help we should give it. We help them with IEDs and car bombs. Our main talent is in the bombing operations.” Abu Khuder’s men had a lot of experience in bomb-making from Iraq and elsewhere, he added.
Abu Khuder then explains how al Qaeda is far better organized and disciplined, possesses the expertise to effectively strike at the Syrian military, and has an appealing ideology.