Saddam al-Jamal, the former leader of the Liwa Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest Brigade) announced his defection from the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to join the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The announcement came on December 1 via a video released by the ISIS, posted on YouTube. Al-Jamal complained that working with the FSA involved meeting “with the apostates of Qatar and Saudi Arabia and with the infidels of Western nations, such as America and France, in order to receive arms and ammo or cash.” He called on all rebels to leave the FSA as well, accusing the group of working to “prevent the Shari’a of Allah from being established in the land.” [1] 

Al-Jamal has been appointed as a local commander of ISIS forces around his hometown of Abu Kamal in the eastern Syrian governorate of Deir Ezzor (al-Jazeera [Doha], December 16). Al-Jamal’s defection is significant because he was formerly a member of the Free Syrian Army-Supreme Military Council (FSA-SMS) and the commander of its “Eastern Front,” noted for his bravery and fierceness in battle (al-Jazeera [Doha], December 16).

In addition to fighting against the Syrian military, al-Jamal frequently led the Liwa Allah Akbar against the majority- Kurdish organization Yekineyen Parastina Gel (YPG -People’s Protection Units) in several skirmishes in the area of the city of Ras al-Ayn and the town of Aruda in the north-eastern Syrian governorate of al-Hasakah. His enemies, including a YPG leader, have accused him of being an arms and drugs trafficker more focused on accruing money and power than fighting for ideological reasons. Giwan Ibrahim, a top YPG commander, said of al-Jamal, “He isn’t himself at heart an Islamist” (Daily Beast, December 9). A former aide to al-Jamal said he “became a mini-Bashar [al-Assad] in his hometown. He surrounded himself with his brothers, created cronies around him, and his men arrested any resident who opposed him” (al-Jazeera, December 16).

Al-Jamal’s defection may have been a result of increasing pressure from Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS for him to leave the FSA. Tensions have been mounting since al-Jamal’s battalion suffered a series of military setbacks while fighting against the ISIS. In addition, al-Jamal suffered a series of personal attacks: he escaped an assassination attempt at his battalion’s headquarters, two of his brothers were kidnapped and the home of one of his brothers was bombed. Al-Jamal’s fighters were “demoralized and demotivated” and “not keen on raising arms against the jihadists,” so al-Jamal surrendered to the ISIS (al-Jazeera [Doha], December 16).

Al-Jamal is likely to remain an important figure in the fighting for control of eastern Syria, particularly in and around the city of Deir Ezzor near the Iraqi border, as long as he is incorporated into the ISIS’s command structure and given access to the group’s resources. More significant than al-Jamal as an individual militant leader, however, are the broader developments in the Syrian civil war that his defection portends: the increasing military strength of ISIS in eastern Syria and western Iraq and the consolidation of its political control of the area to the degree that it can cow, co-opt or kill its local enemies in the Syrian armed opposition.


1. “Saddam al-Jamal’s Very Dangerous Confessions about Arab and Western Intelligence Support for the Free Army and the Opposition.” Uploaded on YouTube by “Nadr Fares,” December 1, 2013,





Nicholas A. Heras 

The U.S. Department of State listed Osama Amin al-Shihabi as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist on December 18. [1] Al-Shihabi is designated for his role as a former leader within the al-Qaeda organization Fatah al-Islam and for his current role as the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra’s Palestinian wing in Lebanon (al-Monitor, January 28). He is reported to be an important organizer and facilitator for Jabhat al-Nusra in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ayn al-Helweh near the coastal city of Saidon (al-Hadath News [Beirut], May 7).

Al-Shihabi was born in the Ayn al-Helweh camp and is in his early 40s. [2] He has been a committed ideologue of Salafist organizations in the camp since the 1990s. [3] Before becoming a prominent leader in Fatah al-Islam, al-Shihabi was a fighter with the Ayn al-Helweh -based organization Usbat al-Ansar. Al-Shihabi was reportedly a spiritual guide for Fatah al-Islam fighters from his base in the Ayn al-Helweh camp, and endorsed attacks against the Lebanese military in retaliation for the military’s campaign against Fatah al-Islam at Nahr al-Bared refugee camp (Saida Online [Saida], August 19, 2010; al-Jazeera, June 26, 2012). Al-Shihabi became the assistant to Abd al-Rahman Awad, the former leader of Fatah al-Islam, in late 2007 or early 2008, following the fighting at the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp. After Awad was killed in an army ambush in Chtoura, Lebanon on August 14, 2010, al-Shihabi succeeded him as the head of Fatah al-Islam (al-Shorfa, September 2, 2010).

After months of meetings with Jabhat al-Nusra emissaries, al-Shihabi was designated the al-Qaeda affiliate’s Palestinian wing commander in January (al-Monitor, January 28). His position as liaison and organizer for al-Qaeda affiliates in Lebanon’s Palestinian camps is part of a strategy by the organization to revive its network of important facilitators that were once members of its allied groups to coordinate future attacks against targets in Lebanon and Syria (al-Akhbar [Beirut], March 3, 2012). Al-Shihabi is regarded as a committed Salafist ideologue who is an effective recruiter and organizer. He is a key node in Lebanese jihadist networks, using an array of contacts from his time spent with Usbat al-Ansra, Fatah al-Islam and Jabhat al-Nusra to connect these Lebanese, Palestinian and Syrian opposition groups. Al-Shihabi also manages the group’s finances. [4]

Al-Shihabi has a significant list of criminal convictions imposed on him by the Lebanese military authorities. In 2003, while a member of Usbat al-Ansar, al-Shihabi and several members of the organization were charged in absentia by a Lebanese military court for planning to carry out attacks against Western fast food chains, including a McDonald’s restaurant, in and around the city of Saidon and throughout Lebanon (al-Rai [Kuwait City], August 17, 2010). He was also charged in absentia in September 2010 by a Lebanese military court with being a member of Fatah al-Islam and for seeking to undermine the authority of the Lebanese state, transporting weapons to attack the Lebanese military and conspiring to prevent the Lebanese military and internal security forces from regulating the movement of people into and out of the Ayn al-Helweh camp (al-Mustaqbal [Beirut], September 2, 2010). In August, al-Shihabi and several co-conspirators were charged by a Lebanese military court with coordinating an August 13, 2008 bus bombing that killed 4 Lebanese soldiers and a civilian and wounded 35 people in the Bahsas district of the northern, coastal city of Tripoli (al-Mustaqbal [Beirut], August 6).

Al-Shihabi will remain a very important intermediary for al-Qaeda affiliated groups in Lebanon, particularly in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ayn al-Helweh. The camp is an important node in a network that includes Tripoli, Beirut’s Tarek al-Jdeideh neighborhood, the northeastern town of Arsal and the central-eastern town of Majdal Anjar in the Beka’a Valley, which enhances the influence that al-Shihabi could have over the strategic direction of al-Qaeda’s offshoots in Lebanon.


1. “Terrorist Designation of Fatah al-Islam Associate Usamah Amin Al-Shihabi,” United States Department of State, December 18, 2013,

2. “Anti-terrorism Designations,” U.S. Department of the Treasury, December 18, 2013,

3. Skype interview with a Lebanese journalist and analyst with knowledge of the situation in the Ayn al-Helweh camp, December 18, 2013.

4. Ibid