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Foreign fighter group pledges allegiance to Al Nusrah Front

Jaish Muhammad fi Bilad al Sham (Army of Muhammad in Syria, JM), a foreign fighter group operating in northern Syria, has officially joined Al Nusrah Front. Their pledge came after years of fighting alongside al Qaeda's official branch in Syria and its old leader pledging bayah (allegiance) to al Qaeda's overall leader Ayman al Zawahiri.

JM tweeted out two days ago that the group officially pledged allegiance to Al Nusrah, but gave no further details. It also changed its Twitter bio to describe itself as the "Jaysh Muhammad Brigade of Al Nusrah Front." No photos or videos of the pledge have been released at the time of publishing.

The jihadist group long fought alongside Al Nusrah and other allied jihadist groups in northern Syria, including in Aleppo and Idlib Provinces. JM was initially formed in late 2012 by an Egyptian fighter, Abu Obayda al Masri, who swore allegiance to Ayman al Zawahiri - effectively putting his group within al Qaeda's network in Syria. The group was originally confined to Aleppo before spreading to Idlib, JM is largely a foreign group, with many Libyans in its ranks (including its most recent leader), as well as a contingent of French fighters. It is unknown how many French citizens are in its ranks, but its official Twitter feed is in the French language.

As a result of moving operations to Idlib, JM has participated in several battles in the province as part of Jaish al Fatah, a coalition that was co-founded by Al Nusrah Front. Last year, it released a video showing its fighters taking part in the capture of Idlib City, which was captured by Jaish al Fatah last March. JM has also released photos highlighting its roles in the fighting in the Al Ghab plains of Hama Province and has reported taking part in battles in Latakia Province.

Other media released by the group depicted schools ran for women and children as well as its social services in Idlib. In 2014, JM highlighted a training camp in Aleppo, which is unlikely to have remained operational.

The pledge of allegiance to Al Nusrah by Jaish Muhammad represents just the latest foreign fighter group to join its ranks. Last September, Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, a group originally comprised of mainly Chechens and other North Caucasians, joined Al Nusrah. A week later, an Uzbek group, Katibat al Tawhid wal Jihad, also merged with Nusrah. After another week, the Crimean Jamaat, a small group of mainly Crimean Tartars and other Russian-speaking militants, also pledged to Nusrah. However, all these groups were always under the auspices and influence of al Qaeda and Nusrah before officially joining it.

[Source: By Caleb Weiss, Threat Matrix, The Long War Journal, NJ, 13Jun16]

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