On January 22nd the al Qaeda affiliated, former ISIS commander Abo Mus’ab al Jazrawi saw his timely end from a US Intelligence operated drone strike.
Northern Syria, early morning, January 22 – A convoy travels down the Sarmada desert highway at high speed, two Toyota Land Cruiser 4x4s, and one 2004 Toyota Hilux 2.8 TD. One Land Cruiser is in the lead, while the other takes up the rear. The lead truck is the only vehicle with its headlights on. Flanked by the 4x4s, the Toyota Hilux carries precious cargo. The convoy quickly approaches the safe harbor of Sarmada in the Harem District of Idlib Governorate.
The passengers belong to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, formerly known as the al-Nusra Front, in Syria. Included is one of the militia’s highest field commanders, Abo Mus’ab al Jazrawi.
A flash of bright light breaks the night sky. The lead Toyota Land Cruiser is lifted into the air. Before the driver of the pickup truck right behind can react, another missile strikes. An air-to-ground missile (ATGM) slams into the middle of the truck, “neutralizing” the existence of any soul inside. For the third time in under a week, an al Qaeda affiliated commander had seen this last flash of light.
Neutralizing and terminating its enemies with exacting precision and remorseless ferocity, the United States had struck again. A drone under the command of US Intelligence had targeted the convoy, and acted according to its rules of engagement.
al Jazrawi was a highly sought man. Many wanted him dead. He had made many alliances, and broken many more. He was a Jihadist of fleeing alliances and religious interpretations. He fought for the highest bidder, as it suited his current plan.
Early on, al Jazrawi was affiliated with the Jihadist militia group known today as the Islamic State. Inside the group he was considered a skilled field commander and an acknowledged cleric. When the group separated with the al Qaeda affiliated al Nusra Front in 2014 to declare its self-proclaimed Islamic “caliphate” in Iraqi and Syrian territories, al Jazrawi was one of the group’s foremost commanders.
In 2015, however, al Jazrawi was “dismissed” from his position inside the Islamic State over religious objections as to the method chosen in the execution of a prisoner. 26 year old Jordanian Air Force pilot, Captain Muath Al-Kasasbeh, was burned to death while trapped inside a cage. The killing was held as a public ceremony and broadcast live from the Islamic State capital of al Raqqa, in Syria. The act provoked widespread outrage in Jordan, and condemnation by leading figures of the Islamic world. It subsequently led the Jordanian government to sentence already captured ISIS militants to death in retaliation. The execution bolstered regional support for the US-led anti-ISIS coalition.
After al Jazrawi’s dismissal he was left in limbo and reportedly feared for his life. Within days he escaped from al Raqqa. Within a week it was announced that al Jazrawi and a small number of his loyal men had joined the then al Nusra Front.
He may very well have found himself on the run yet again, had he not been killed by the American drone.
al Jazrawi’s benefactor, Abu ‘Umar al Turkistani, was killed in a Predator drone strike in early January. The attack was part of the opening salvo from the American Intelligence Community. al Turkistani was the recently elected chief organizer of the group’s Shura Council, intended to oversee the merger of several Islamic factions in Northern Syria. This in turn would have facilitated the creation of a new Jabhat Fateh al Sham controlled power bloc of previously unseen magnitude. al Turkistani would have become one of the premier militia leaders in the region, and a singular force to reckon with.
The death of al Turkistani caused a power vacuum and several subsidiary commanders within al Sham emerged attempting to claim the centralizing power. al Jazrawi appeared to have stayed out of the immediate struggle, but is believed to have been considered a strong contender for the role once the initial dust settled. As such, he would likely have been considered a problem for the commanders currently engrossed in the internal power struggle.
Since January 1st, the US has directly or indirectly participated in attacks that have resulted in more than 250 al Qaeda affiliated fighters and commanders in Syria killed. The largest such attack occurred on January 19th when a US Air Force B-52 bomber and 3 drones, acting on information retrieved through US Intelligence Community HUMINT networks inside Syria, engaged and targeted the “Shaykh Sulayman Training Camp.” The camp had been operating since late 2012 outside of Idlib, Syria, and becoming a haven for al Qaeda affiliated groups to regroup, resupply, and train. The attack resulted in the death of 125 Salafist militants with countless more wounded.
John Sjoholm, Middle East Bureau Chief, Lima Charlie News
John Sjoholm is Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief, and the founder of the consulting organization Erudite Group. He is a seasoned Middle East connoisseur, with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch and the Security Contracting industry. He studied religion and languages in Sana’a, Yemen, and Cairo, Egypt. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Jordan. Follow John on Twitter @JohnSjoholmLC
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