Long way from Home: Iranian national Sunni Jihadists in Syria
One of the bloodiest battles for the Syrian Arab Army ( SAA ) and it’s allies was the battle for Jabal Al-Akrad mountain which is based in the north of Latakia province. The topography have been a big challenge for Syrian Army to fight back the Sunni Jihadists who are operating
in the area. Since 2015 when Russian Armed Forces entered Syrian civil war to back the Syrian Forces and their allies, one of the main goals for the offensive operations have become recapturing the Northern Section of Latakia province in addition to maintain a secured area
to defend the Alawi populated areas in the western coast of the country and strategic air base of khmeimim from Jihadists, which is the main operating base of Russian Air Force. During Operations which took place between October 2015 till January 2016 , most of the sections in
Northern Latakia like Jab Al-Ahmar, Salma , Dowayrke , Nakhshaba, Kansaba and Rabie was heavily bombered by Russians and recaptured by SAA and their allies. In the first place , the main objective of the operation was taking back the strategic city of Jisr Al-Shughur which is the
entering point for the Idlib Province , Al-Shughur was lost due to a battle back in April 2015 which Syrian Arab Forces leaded by Soheil Hassan suffered a defeat and had to withdraw.
The Operation in the first three months faced success but the process was so slow that ended in the recapture city of Salma but their success was halt in the area of Kobani settlement heights. As mentioned earlier the topography and mountain roads couldn’t let the government
forces to use tank support and air support became less effective because of the placements and bunkers which was built by jihadists. In an effort by the government forces to execute offenses with tanks and making a path by armored bulldozers
was failed after force was destroyed by Jihadists. Lack of a trained mountain warfare force and a group of well trained Jihadists from organizations such as Hayat Al-Tahrir Al Sham and Islamic Party of Turkistan have made the progress impossible for SAA and their allies.
One of the defender Jihadist groups in Syrian Civil War they are operating independently and supported by Hayat Al-Tahrir Al Sham are Iranian Sunni nationals which call themselves “ Iranian Sunni Emigrants Movement “.
Members of the Iranian Sunni Emigrants Movement are specifically active in regions between the cities of Jisr Al-Shughur and Jabal Kobani but also they have participated through campaigns in the provinces of Idlib and Hama
Syrian Civil War in the recent years have become a perfect attraction site for foreign Jihadists and fundamental Islamic movements. Tens of thousands of fundamental Muslims from different nationalities moved to Syria to join different Jihadists movements such as /
Islamic State ( IS ) , Hayat Al-Tahrir Al Sham and other groups. Iran also played as a hub for recruiting such people and thousands of the country’s Sunnis under the influence of Al Qaeda and IS propaganda have moved to Syria to join the Jihad.
The Iranian Sunni Emigrants Movement is considered as the most well organized Iranian Sunni Jihadist movement in Syria and started its official activity from 2016.
The starting point for Iranian Jihadists started in the mid 2000s when US and their allies started the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Meanwhile main leadership of Al Qaeda started to send representatives to multiple Islamic Countries to establish new groups and
recruit from the young Sunni youth. These representatives in Iran founded followers in the Sunni majority provinces of the country such As Sistan and Baluchestan and Kurdish majority Kurdistan and Western Azerbaijan.
One of these individuals which was directly in contact with Al Qaeda operatives , “ Mulla Abdolrahman FatTahi “ a Sunni cleric from the city of Mahabad.
He was active in the 2000s, and in the Friday prayers not only in his hometown but in most of the Kurdish cities in the province of Kurdistan he gave speeches about Jihad and Salafism. He took the same pattern which was recruiting from the youth that was taken by
another Sunni extremist group called “ Ansar Al Islam “ which was leaded by “ Najm Al-Din Ahmad Faraj “ aka ” Mulla Kerikar “. The group was active in the Kurdish areas of Northern Iraq and his goal was toppling down the Kurdish self-govern and establish an Islamic state.
Fattahi and his followers for years gave speeches about Jihadism and Salafism without any security concerns in the western parts of Iran and had they recruited individuals from rest of Sunni population of the country in the provinces of Hormozgan and Sistan Baluchestan.
Most of the new recruits travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan to train with Al Qaeda operatives and gain experience. In 2010 Iranian officials arrested Fatahi and some of his followers and they were convicted with representing Jihad and Salafism and they were send to jail
Soon during the times of Syrian Civil War they were released from prison and moved out to Syria to join their partners from other parts of the world. Fatahi joined Jabhata Al-Nusra ( current Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham ) but most of his followers joined Islamic State.
On the 3rd of June 2016 Mulla Abdul Rahman Fatahi and some of his men officially joined Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham jihadist group and after getting regrouped joined the fronts in the Syrian Civil War. Main commanding center for the Iranian national Sunni jihadists are in the cities of
idlib province.and estimates shows hundreds of Iranian Sunni Nationals have joined the group in the past years. Many of the Jihadi emigrants were arrested while tried to travel through the North of Iraq from the Kurdish parts of the country so another path was selected and /
they started to enter the country from Turkish borders. Those people who tried to enter from Turkey tried to enter a deal with a local Kurdish human trafficker which used to work with PKK but he became disloyal to the deal and they moved out to a refugee camp in the /
Turkish-Syrian border. These people were leaded by Abu Mohammad Emami aka Abu Mava. Soon After Iranian Jihadist group finally finds it’s way to Idlib , first contact were made to the Islamic State representative in the city
and due to a plan they among some other foreign fighters would use the Khanaser road ( only road that connects Aleppo to the central Syria and Damascus ) to reach IS controlled territory. Mostly these Jihadists could easily pass the road and join their fellow fighters.
but Iranian Group didn’t have such a luck and they all got captured by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham. Due to the conflicts between Jihadists groups , the commanders of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham decided to execute all the members of the Iranian Group ...
but the process was haulted by a Sharia Judge called Abu Abdullah Al-Shami and all were send to prison to have a second chance to join the cause of the group or suffer an execution.
Weeks after with direct talks by Mulla Abdulrahman Fattahi to the Iranian captives and early start of his own group , Abu Mohammad Emami and rest of the captives joined the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham. Abu Mohammad Emami was active as the field commander of the group/
but was killed later by Russian air strikes against positions of Jihadists groups near the city of Abudali in the fall of 2017.
Fattahi and rest of his fellow men join the Jihad cause late due to the heavy Russian armed forces activity to support the Syrian Arab Army and
their Iranian allies against jihadists. But during the early times of the formation of Iranian Sunni Jihadist group, one of the biggest battle of Syrian Civil War was coming toward them, the battle known as Malhama Halab Al-Kubra ( The Great Epic Of Aleppo )
Iranian and it’s Shia insurgents operation called “ Operation Moharram “ which was executed in two phases , Phase Nasr 1 and Nasr 2 in the North and South of Aleppo province ended in success and it was acted as a backbone to surrounding the Sunni Rebels in the east of the city.
In the mid July-August 2016 , SAA Tiger Force unit commandeered by Soheil Hassan in collaboration with Palestinian Quds Brigade captured Handarat refugee camp , Mallah Farms and Castillo road and city of Aleppo was completely surrounded in the northern section
up to 10,000 to 15,000 rebels were trapped in the city. Majority of the rebel groups considered Aleppo as a fallen city and they didn’t organize any offensive against government and their allies.
Most of groups under the command of Free Syrian Army such as Nour Al-Din Zinaki Movenment joined the Turkish Army through the Euphrates Shield Campaign to combat Kurdish SDF units and remaining Islamic States fighters.
Through this situation Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham left alone in a fight for survive and defend the city of Aleppo. This was the first full combat experience for Iranian Sunni Jihadists.
The Operation started from south and south east of Aleppo , from sections such as School of Artillery and School of Syrian military. After days of intensive fighting , jihadists managed to open a narrow path through east of the heart of Aleppo /
but it was retaken by SAA with heavily artillery and air support.
Wrongful tactics taken by “ Abu Mohammad Jolani “ the leader of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham to overcome the defensive lines of the government forces made his men pay the price, which hundreds of jihadists were killed and
injured by heavy bombardment of government forces and Russian Air Force. During the clashes over Ramoose road which took almost three months, 9 members of the Iranian Sunni Jihadi group were killed . from those casualties , eight were from western Kurdish parts of Iran and /
other was from Baluchestan. In the winter of 2016 after the Rebels agreed on a ceasefire with Syrian Government and it’s allies , most of the members of Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham which were estimated over 50 thousand people were evacuated with their family members /
from the city of Aleppo and they moved to western Aleppo or Idlib.
Getting defeated in the biggest battle of Syrian Civil War made the Jihadist groups wick and they were forced to sign an ceasefire agreement with the help of Turkey but some groups such as Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham /
were not considered in the ceasefire deal because they were considered as Terrorist Organization by United Nations.
Jolani and his men after the defeat of “ Jaisho Al-Fatah “ Alliance tried to get recovered by starting another campaign which was considered as a huge gamble which if they could succeed they could bring his name and his group back to the table.
To gain their strength , Jihadists need to plan another offense to overcome government and their axis allies. To gain credit , they needed to adopt a precise and deceive strike and the failed tactic of Syrian Army gave the opportunity to the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham.
Syrian Army when ever they conquer a position and retake it from the insurgents , they would deploy less trained and equipped National Defense force to those areas to give some time to the main battle force to get back to combat readiness.
This weakness gave the opportunity to the insurgents to plan an offense to capture the center of Hama city. In a Council meeting between the major clerics and commanders of that time , Moslih Al-Alyani , Abdollah Al-Muhaysini ,Abdol-Razaq Mehdi /
started to gave fatwas and asked all jihadists in the region to join their cause. The council named the operation “ #و_قل_اعملوا “ which started with a limited collaboration with rebels from the groups such as Jaysh Al-Nasr and Jaysh Al-Izza.
During the meetings between the same clerics and Iranian Sunni movement , they promised their superiors to participate actively during the offense. During the February-March 2017 , the massive offense was started to the northern Hama which in a result dozens of towns
and villages were fallen into the hands of jihadists such as Soran, Kokab, Tayebe Al-Emam, , Ma-an and Halfaya. Jihadists used VBIEDs as a line breacher so many of VBIEDs were launched against the lines of Syrian Army and their allies.
Soon the Jihadist forces reached the hardened defense lines of SAA and axis forces in the Qomhane valley and highlands of Zein Al-Abedin which SAA have positioned multiple artillery units in a strong fort in Hama.
Due to the military tactics instead of facing this strategic position ahead , Jihadists should move toward it from the east but instead Jolani decided to move ahead which his forces were crushed in Qomhane valley by artillery fire and air strikes by Russian Air Force.
Jihadists suffered hundred of casualties in Qomhane Valley which made the path for the Iranian Sunni Jihadist movement to make their way in through the battle but it become not effective when SAA and their Axis allies started an counter attack and
took back all the areas which was captured by jihadists earlier. Second campaign results were so low for the Iranian Sunni jihadists which as a result three members of them were killed.
so Fattahi and his men decided to obtain a defense strategy instead of starting another campaign.
The Aim for the Iranian Sunni Jihadists was not to find a place in a Future Syria with a group consist of 400 to 500 but their goal was achieving experience and
start a jihad back home ( Iran ). They start receiving weapons training with crew served weapons such as SPG-9 recoilless gun, ATGM firing tactics, Mortar launchers and developing of VBIEDs ( Vehicle Based Improvised Explosive Device )
). Iranian Sunni Jihadists as we mentioned along with the experienced members of Turkistan Islamic Party and Chechen Ajnad Al-Kavkaz insurgents have been resisted months against the offensives by SAA and their allies in the mountain areas of Jabal Al-Akrad /
which they destroyed dozens of tanks and armored bulldozers with ATGM and RPG fire. The newest Syrian Arab Army operation to capture M-5 highway and surroundings and lack of support for Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham made this terrorist organization to closer to an end.
. If Syrian Arab Army and it’s allies would plan and execute the final operation to recapture the Idlib province , Syrian nationals would face mercy from the government but situation would be different for foreign jihadists.
For Iranian national Sunni Jihadists, these people would plan to come back which have an experience of fighting for more than 4 years and can cause a greater threat back home .
a threat which would be more lethal and dangerous than the current Kurdish or Balouchi insuregency. Same Threat currently would go toward the rest of the world specially European countries.
The End
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