Al Qaeda’s entire organization in Iraq, from commander Abu Bakr al- Baghdadi down to rank-and-file terrorists, has migrated lock stock and barrel to Syria, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's exclusive counterterrorism sources report.
This counts as the biggest transfer of a complete al Qaeda branch from one country or war zone to another in recent years. The 2,000-strong Iraq contingent linked up at once with the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra spearheading the rebel forces in Syria. It completed the merger earlier announced by Baghdadi, as DEBKA-Net-Weekly 583 first revealed on April 9, when he dubbed the Nusra Front “Al Qaeda in Syria.”
At the time, many Western intelligence experts questioned the credibility of that announcement, asserting that the Jabhat al Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Gonai would not accept a merger, for fear it compromised the organization’s fight to overthrow the Assad regime and discouraged would-be Muslim volunteers from joining.
Our counterterrorism sources stuck to their guns, certain that the merger was not a local Iraqi initiative but originated in superior al Qaeda ranks, possibly even from top leader, Ayman al Zawahiri. This week,t he merger turned out to have gone through and laid the groundwork for the consolidation of the Iraqi and Syrian branches in one place.
Al Qaeda snatches its first oil field
It also turned out that the jihadist organization’s agenda for Syria is altogether separate from the objectives of all the other parties involved in the civil war, including the US, Russia, Iran and Hizballah.
We have learned that Iraqi Al Qaeda operatives moved out of the Anbar region of western Iraq and marched along the banks of the Euphrates River up to the Deir al-Zor region in eastern Syria.
This region, where the Syrian border intersects with Iraq and Jordan, is almost completely under Jabhat al Nusra’s thumb.
It is there that the Islamists have installed weak local government and taken over the regional economy to generate sources of revenue. Indeed, Syrian al Qaeda has amazingly seized control of the eastern oil fields of Syria and is preparing to open the taps and start sending Syrian oil to market by means of Iraqi traders.
Nowhere in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world, does an al Qaeda branch command a producing oil field.
The ramifications reach into five aspects of the Syrian war and its overspill into Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Iraq.
Poised for terror and a counterweight for Hizballah
1. Jabhat al Nusra, already the most effective and best-armed fighting force of Syria’s rebel movement, has been massively reinforced by the influx of Iraqi al Qaeda bearing heaps of weapons and cash.
2. The concentration of fresh fighting strength in eastern Syria will make that region a platform for launching jihadist terrorist attacks on Israel and Jordan.
3. Experienced in the most violent multiple terrorist operations, the Iraqi Islamists are expected to step up major attacks on Syrian cities controlled by Assad’s army, as well as activating clandestine al Qaeda cells in Jordanian towns.
4. Al Qaeda shook the dust of Iraq from its boots after accomplishing its long-held mission of fomenting a Shiite-Sunni civil war in that country. Now that the Shiite-led government in Baghdad and the Sunni minorities of central and Western Iraq are at each other’s throats and sectarian violence increases day by day, al Qaeda strategists have decided it is time to turn to another front.
5. The entry of Iraqi Al Qaeda forces into Syria should counterbalance the insertion of Shiite Hizballah brigades from Lebanon into the Syrian conflict – both in terms of numbers and operational capabilities.