Terrorist Organization Profile:
|Army of the Levant, Soldiers of Greater Syria|
|Afghanistan, Lebanon, Syria, West Bank/Gaza|
|Original group established in 1999; new groups surfaced in 2004 and 2005|
|Less than 30 members|
|Originally started with funds provided to Zarqawi by Usama bin Laden; current means unknown|
|Jund al-Sham (Army of the Levant; Soldiers of Greater Syria) is a title claimed by several Sunni Islamic extremist entities, all or none of which may be tied together. Despite variations in their origin and focused area of operations, these elements were founded upon the common goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate in the greater Syrian region.
The first incarnation of Jund al-Sham occurred in Afghanistan in 1999 when Abu Musab al-Zarqawi led exiled militants and recruits from Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine in planning and training for operations to be conducted in the Levant. As Zarqawi's affiliation with al-Qaeda grew, his Jund al-Sham offered the potential to boost al-Qadea's relatively weak presence in the Levant region. Following the U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan, Jund al-Sham was widely scattered and many of its members are believed to have returned to their homelands where other groups operating under the same title surfaced in 2004 and 2005.
It is unclear whether these newer incarnations are actually reunions of the formerly scattered Zarqawi followers finally becoming operational in the Levant, or if they are merely factions of the Palestinian Asbat al-Ansar. Based in the Ayn al-Hilwah refugee camp in southern Lebanon, Asbat al-Ansar witnessed leadership changes in the 1990s that resulted in several splinter factions, one of which revealed itself in 2004 under the name Jund al-Sham. This organization has been able to exert a substantial militant control over a buffer zone outide of the refugee camp, leading to sporadic clashes with both Fatah elements and the Lebanese army. In 2005 a spokesman confirmed the group's Salafist doctrine, claiming that Jund al-Sham represents an effort to return to the true form of Islam as opposed to what it considers a modern-day shift of Muslims away from the correct path of their faith. Whereas Zarqawi's Afghanistan-based group may have had as many as 150 members at its inception, the Asbat al-Ansar faction reportedly has as few as 20.
In 2005, a third Jund al-Sham emerged in Damascus and instantly became a highly publicized target of Syrian security authorities. The latter half of 2005 witnessed several clashes with arrests of "takfiri" elements operating under the Jund al-Sham banner. The goal of these elements is to subvert existing governmental and religious structures in favor of establishing an Islamic caliphate in Syria, and eventually across the greater Levant. These incidents are often reported with little or no detail beyond the mention of a Jund al-Sham affiliation and any resultant arrests, injuries or deaths. The increasing publicity on Syrian state television surrounding the authorities' campaign against Jund al-Sham has been met with much skepticism. Many believe the government may have invented or greatly exaggerated the presence of such a group in order to bolster its image regarding counter-terrorism efforts. Aside from their shared name, there has been no direct evidence linking this group to the one operating from the Ayn al-Hilwah camp. However, it is not altogether unlikely that the two groups are in fact related and are pursuing their shared vision in two separate countries that would be united under their proposed caliphate. Likwise, a relation between this Syrian Jund al-Sham and the original group begun by Zarqawi is possible, although unsubstantiated.
The final appearance of the Jund al-Sham moniker surfaced in statements claiming responsibility for several terrorist incidents, the most notable of which was the March 2005 bombing of a theater in Doha, Qatar near a British school and popular among Westerners. Statements were also issued touting Jund al-Sham's involvement in several bombings in Lebanon and a blast at a Texas oil refinery that same month. More claims followed, citing a blast outside the British consulate in New York two months later and the targeting of a media figure in Lebanon in September 2005 for his collaboration with "suspicious regimes" in Morocco and Saudi Arabia. The fact that the U.S. refinery blast was proven to have no ties to terrorism, coupled with other organizations' claims of responsibility for some of these same incidents, casts serious doubt on the validity of the Jund al-Sham statements. Although these targets support the group's assertions that it is combating the Western influence and presence in the Islamic world, this concern does not mesh with the other Jund al-Sham organizations' focus on a misguided path of Islam separate from any crusade against the West. Whether an active entity or simply one that has not evolved beyond the dissemination of claims, this particular Jund al-Sham is likely not affiliated with the aforementioned groups active in Lebanon and Syria.
|Although the connection between any or all of the Jund al-Sham entities is unclear, they all (save for the final group that may exist in name only) continue to clash with security elements and rival factions in their respective areas of operation in order to achieve the unified purpose of replacing what they view as misguided forms of Islam and governmental rule with their vision of a traditional Islamic caliphate extending across the Levant. Likewise, whether or not they are directly descended from Zarqawi's original band of fighters they represent a continued threat to the security of the Levant region in which al-Qaeda's presence is weaker, thereby fulfilling the purpose envisioned by Zarqawi's group. Like many second and third-tier Islamic extremist entities, the Jund al-Sham organizations are believed to be incorporated, however loosely, under the greater al-Qaeda umbrella and therefore may be expected to remain active in various forms and guises throughout the region.|
- al-Fatah -- Enemy
- al-Qaeda -- Umbrella Organization
- Asbat al-Ansar -- Founding Group
- Hezbollah -- Enemy
U.S. Government Designations
Learn more about these U.S. Department of State classifications:
Terrorist Exclusion List (TEL)
Other Governments' Designations