Jabhat Al Nusra, now a U.S.-designated terrorist group believed to have links with Al Qaeda, still wins fans in Syria for its disciplined, ferocious fighters. It is considered the most effective fighting force against the Assad regime, and its latest film highlighting attacks in and around Aleppo seeks to bolster that reputation.
In an hour-long video first posted to the Internet through a password-protected archive file (it was later uploaded to YouTube and is embedded below), Jabhat al Nusra takes us behind the scenes of its suicide bombings and attacks on military bases, demonstrating its craft and explaining the reasons behind what it describes as jihad against the Assad regime.
“Aleppo: the Battle for Honor” frames the conflict in Syria as a sectarian struggle against a Shiite regime in which Muslims (Sunnis) can hardly defend their lives, let alone their religion. Against a background of Islamic chants, with highly charged language, the narrator often refers to the Assad regime and Syrian army as Nusairi, Rafidi and Murtad, which are derogatory labels for Alawites and Shiites.
The production quality is highly professional. Images are clear and in high definition. The cameras are steady, dark rooms are lit, and night vision devices are used during infiltration and battles. A summary of the film, which was produced by Al Nusra’s media wing Almanara Albaydaa, is below.
Minute 3 – 8: Alhayat Hospital: The narrator says this hospital has become a makeshift base for Syrian officers. Nusra cameras were set up prior to the attack for a reconnaissance mission. Then the suicide bomber reads a statement to explain the logic behind his decision. Explosives were arranged in a truck, which was then driven to the hospital, where the detonation was captured from a camera located a few blocks away. Syrian TV broadcast this footage after the attack.
Minute 13 – 24: Four car bombs rocked central Aleppo on the morning of Oct. 3, 2012, in one of Nusra’s deadliest attacks in the city. The targets – the officer’s club and Siyahi Hotel in Saadallah Jabri square, Aleppo’s City Hall, and Emir Palace Hotel – were all said to house regime soldiers and officers. Security was tight around the square, a central space with deep historical symbolism that peaceful protesters hand long dreamed of occupying. A Jabhat al Nusra camera infiltrates to show the fortifications in place.
Nusra fighters planned the attack, selecting two suicide bombers for the Saadallah Jabri mission and three men who would storm the location, dressed as Syrian army soldiers, after the explosions to take out more troops and ultimately detonate their belts before they were killed or captured.
Fixed cameras record the explosion. One appears to be based in Masharka or Bustan Al Qasr, neighborhoods that are under rebel control just south of City Hall, a 30-storey structure that’s the tallest tower in Aleppo. The other camera seems to be closer to the square. The firefight with the infiltrators lasted for two hours, the narrator said. Amid the confusion, a car bomb was detonated at City Hall, less than a mile away. When things quieted down the final car bomb was set off at the Emir Hotel.
Vignettes depicting the stories of dead Jabhat al Nusra fighters are interspersed between the battles. Sheikh Ammar, also known as Abu Mohammed, was the Sharia ruler of Aleppo, the narrator said. He was jailed six years before the revolution by the Assad regime for assisting jihadis in Iraq and was one of the first to support Nusra Front. No other details about his release from prison were mentioned.
Another fighter, Abu Khaled, also known as Mouawieh Haj Ahmad, was from rural Idleb. He memorized the Quran and spent three years in prison before the revolution. The narrator said Abu Khaled joined Nusra early on and died in the Salah Addin neighborhood in Aleppo.
Minute 27 – 36: Nusra receives a tip that a rockets battalion near Al Bab was only guarded by 50 soldiers. The fighters capture the base. The soldiers’ and officers’ quarters were bare and dirty. There were posters of Bashar and Hafez Al Assad on the walls and empty liquor bottles on the floor. Jabhat al Nusra fighters calmly comb the location and show off seized ammunition and machine guns with enthusiasm.
A handwritten note, allegedly a military telegram, says that all units should be alert because terrorists are planning strikes that day, and that soldiers should aim for targets carefully and depend on themselves as providing support will be difficult.
Fighters burned radars, vehicles, barracks and other structures that rendered the base unusable. Ahmad Zaidan, the veteran Al Jazeera war correspondent, appeared to file a quick report about the capture of the base before rushing off to avoid helicopter strikes. Then the radars and rockets were destroyed through a remote detonation, causing the unintended launch of one rocket.
Minute 37 – 42: An attack on Hanano military base in Aleppo. More ammunition, handguns and grenades were captured, including other military gear such as knives and magazines.
Minute 43: Nusra fighters use a captured armored personnel carrier, a Russian BMP light tank, in an attack on a military base.
The final ten minutes are scenes from the battle of Aleppo. We see large anti-aircraft guns mounted on truck beds as they duck in and out of alleys to fire at planes. Mortars rounds are fired from a deserted school playground near the Suleiman Halabi district in Aleppo. And in minute 53, an alleged Assad regime sniper is neutralized with a rocket propelled grenade as he tried to make a whole for his rifle through the ubiquitous stone walls of Aleppo.
The film ends with a call to jihad. Citing the atrocities committed by the Assad regime, one fighter says they need help and that Muslims have a duty to fight to protect fellow Muslims. The narrator concludes with a threat to the Assad regime. In clearly sectarian terms, he says there are more attacks in the works and that al Nusra fighters are preparing new recruits for battle, that the sons of Islam will no longer be oppressed.