Local activists suspect that a new group formed Thursday in southern Damascus from defected Jabhat a-Nusra officers is closely tied to the Islamic State, Waleed al-Agha, a local journalist with the pro-opposition Revolution Spring website, tells Ammar Hamou.
Jamaat al-Ansar’s connection to IS “isn’t merely talk, or random accusations,” says al-Agha, adding that “these guys were known as having a good relationship with IS” before the brigade’s formation.
Q: The formation of a new brigade called Jamaat al-Ansar was announced in south Damascus Thursday [see the group’s announcement here]. In the aftermath of that announcement local activists reported on the group’s loyalty to the Islamic State. What do you think?
What the southern Damascus activists have reported [i.e. of a Jamaat al-Ansar-IS alliance] isn’t merely talk, or random accusations. Rather, the two groups really are close—we saw that previously when IS invaded Yarmouk Camp with the aid of these guys [Jamaat al-Ansar, who were at that time local Nusra commanders-see next question].
Q: Some activists have reported that Jamaat al-Ansar was formed from defected Nusra commanders. How are they loyal to IS and defected from Nusra, despite the fact that IS and Nusra enjoy a close relationship in southern Damascus?
About a month ago, an order came from the Nusra leadership in the north to isolate 15 leaders in southern Damascus from their positions, especially the emir of Nusra Abu Jihad, the military leader Abu Khadar, and the security official Abu Hashem al-Libi. The order came to replace these leaders with others and return them to the rank of ordinary soldiers.
These guys were known as having a good relationship with IS. They did not listen to the order and instead defected and formed a new brigade, except for Abu Jihad—there are two divergent stories surrounding him. Some say that he too defected while others say that he stayed on with Nusra.
Q: Where are Jamaat al-Ansar located—in areas where truces are active or in IS and Nusra-controlled areas?
Jamaat al-Ansar is located in areas under IS and Nusra control because of the ongoing fighting between them and rebel brigades.