AMMAN — A Jordanian national has been tapped to lead jihadist forces in Syria, Islamist sources unveiled on Thursday.
According to a Syrian Islamist source, the Jabhat Al Nusra Li Ahl Al Sham coalition has named Mustafa Abdul Latif Al Saleh, nicknamed Abu Anas Al Sahabi, as commander — or emir — of jihadist forces in Syria following the death of leader Eyad Tobassi in a Daraa skirmish with regime forces on Wednesday.
Sahabi, a 38-year-old Zarqa resident and brother-in-law of former Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Mussab Zarqawi, was previously imprisoned by Syrian authorities between 2007 and 2010 and was detained in Jordan for his participation in a violent jihadist protest in Zarqa in April 2011.
Confirming Sahabi’s appointment, Jordanian jihadist movement leader Mohammed Shalabi stressed that Jordanian Islamists “have no influence” over the decision-making process within Jabhat Al Nusra (front of support) — a coalition of Islamist fighters with ties to Al Qaeda in Iraq.
“Although we support their holy war against the Assad regime, there are no ties, direct or indirect, between the Jordanian Salafist jihadist movement and Jabhat Al Nusra,” Shalabi said.
Sahabi’s appointment caps a rising prominence of Jordanian jihadists within the Islamist coalition, who, according to sources, are favoured by Jabhat Al Nusra for their “knowledge of Syria” and previous fighting experience in Iraq.
Jordanian nationals currently head four Jabhat Al Nusra battalions battling Syrian regime forces in the cities of Aleppo, Idlib and Daraa, according to the source.
On Tuesday, the US designated Jabhat Al Nusra as a “terrorist group”, calling the group an extension of Al Qaeda in Iraq that has laid claim to over 40 suicide attacks across Syria.
Some 300 Jordanian jihadists are currently fighting alongside Al Qaeda-affiliated militants, according to the Jordanian jihadist movement, representing the largest group of non-Syrian Islamist fighters active in Syria.
Also on Thursday, Jabhat Al Nusra announced that a Jordanian national was killed during a brazen car bombing near the Syrian interior ministry in Damascus on Wednesday.
In a statement on Thursday, the jihadist coalition announced that Ismael Arar, a resident of the Baqaa Refugee Camp, died in a suicide bombing outside the interior ministry in the Syrian capital that killed five and left over 20 injured on Wednesday afternoon.
Arar’s death raised to 25 the total number of Jordanians who have been killed while fighting alongside jihadist forces in Syria.
Jordanian authorities have doubled military patrols along the northern borders in a bid to stem a rising influx of jihadists into Syria, which they say represents a “direct threat” to Jordan’s national security.
Earlier in October, the government unveiled a foiled Al Qaeda plot targeting Western diplomatic sites and shopping centres in west Amman using explosives and mortar shells smuggled from Syria.
Despite distancing themselves from Al Qaeda-supported Jabhat Al Nusra, Jordanian jihadists actively encourage and facilitate the entry of Jordanian fighters into Syria.