Abu Mohammad al-Julani

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Abu Mohammad al-Julani
1st Emir of the Al-Nusra Front
Assumed office
23 January 2012
Personal details
Born 1974[1] or 1981[2]
al-Shahil, Deir ez-Zor, Syria[3]
Nationality Syrian
Religion Sunni Islam
Military career
Allegiance Flag of Jihad.svg Al-Qaeda (2003–present)
Years of service 2003–present
Rank Emir of the Al-Nusra Front
Battles/wars Iraq



Osama al-Absi al-Wahdi[4] (Arabic: أسامة العبسي آلواحدي‎‎) or Abu Mohammad al-Julani (Arabic: أبو محمد الجولاني‎‎), also written as al-Joulani, al-Jolani, al-Jawlani and al-Golani, born as Osama al-'Absi al-Waahdi,[2] is the leader and emir of al-Nusra Front, also known as Jabhat al-Nusra, and sometimes called Al-Qaeda in Syria. Al-Julani was listed by the US State Department as a "specially designated global terrorist" on 16 May 2013.[5]

Little is known about Abu Mohammad al-Julani, which is his nom de guerre.[6] The phrase "Al-Julani" is a reference to Syria's Golan Heights, occupied by Israel during the war in 1967.[7] Syrian state television reported in October 2013 that he was killed near Latakia,[8] but SANA (the official Syrian news agency) soon withdrew its report.[citation needed] al-Julani released an audio statement on 28 September 2014, in which he stated he would fight the "United States and its allies" and urged his fighters not to accept help from the West in their battle against ISIS.[9]

A Jordanian security official says only the top echelon in al-Qaeda know al-Julani's real name, but he's commonly known to them as "al-Sheikh al-Fateh" (meaning the Conqueror Sheikh in Arabic).[10]


Early life and Iraq War

Al-Julani was born in Al-Shahil, near Deir ez-Zor in Syria.[3] His family was originally from the province of Idlib, before moving to Deir ez-Zor. After completing formal education, he entered the Faculty of Medicine at University of Damascus, where he studied for two years, before leaving for Iraq in his third academic year.[11]

Once al-Julani moved to Iraq to fight American troops after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he quickly rose through the ranks of al-Qaeda, and reportedly was a close associate of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian-born leader of the militant group al-Qaeda in Iraq. After al-Zarqawi was killed by a US airstrike in 2006, al-Julani left Iraq, briefly staying in Lebanon, where he offered logistical support for the Jund al-Sham militant group, which follows al-Qaeda's ideology. He returned to Iraq to continue fighting but was arrested by the US military and held at Camp Bucca on Iraq's southern border with Kuwait. At that camp, where the US military held tens of thousands of suspected militants, he taught classical Arabic to other prisoners.[6]

After his release from Camp Bucca prison in 2008, al-Julani resumed his militant work, this time alongside Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of al-Qaeda in Iraq. He was soon appointed head of al-Qaeda operations in Mosul province in Iraq, officially known as Nineveh Province.[6]

Syrian Civil War

Syrian uprising and foundation of al-Nusra

Shortly after the uprising began against the administration headed by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, al-Julani moved into Syrian territory and, fully supported by al-Baghdadi, formed the al-Nusra Front, which was first announced in January 2012. Julani was declared the "general emir" of Nusra Front. Under al-Julani’s leadership, Nusra grew into one of the most powerful rebel groups in Syria.[6]

Rise of ISIL

Al-Julani gained prominence in April 2013, when he rejected an attempted takeover of the al-Nusra Front by al-Baghdadi (which revealed a widening rift within al-Qaeda’s global network). Al-Julani distanced himself from claims that the two groups had merged into a group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), as announced by al-Baghdadi. Instead, he pledged allegiance directly to al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, who was said to be against al-Baghdadi’s bid to merge both groups, and said his group will continue to use Jabhat al-Nusra as its name. Al-Julani was quoted as saying "We inform you that neither the al-Nusra command nor its consultative council, nor its general manager were aware of this announcement. It reached them via the media and if the speech is authentic, we were not consulted."[12] In June 2013, Al Jazeera English reported that it had obtained a letter written by al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri, addressed to both Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and Abu Mohammad al-Julani, in which he ruled against the merger of the two organizations and appointed an emissary to oversee relations between them and put an end to tensions.[13] Later in the same month, an audio message from Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was released in which he rejected al-Zawahiri's ruling and declared that the merger of the two organizations into the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was going ahead. Clashes have ensued between al-Nusra Front and ISIL for control of Syrian territory.[14]

Despite some friction with members of the mainstream Free Syrian Army rebel umbrella group, al Julani's Jabhat al-Nusra often work together against the Syrian army in opposition-held areas. The group is more popular in Syria than ISIL, which is largely made up of foreign fighters and has been criticized for its brutality and for trying to impose a strict version of Islamic law in areas under its control. Al-Nusra, by contrast, is made up mostly of Syrians, many of whom fought American forces in Iraq.[6]

Resurgence of al-Nusra

File:Abu Mohammad al-Julani interview.jpg
Abu Mohammad al-Julani (face hidden) being interviewed by Al Jazeera journalist Ahmed Mansour, in Idlib, Syria, on 27 May 2015.

In late May 2015, during the Syrian civil war, al-Julani was interviewed by Ahmed Mansour on Qatari news broadcaster Al Jazeera, hiding his face. He described the Geneva peace conference as a farce and claimed that the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition did not represent the Syrian people and had no ground presence in Syria. Al-Julani mentioned that al-Nusra have no plans for attacking Western targets, and that their priority is focused on fighting the Syrian regime, Hezbollah, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Al-Julani is credited with saying that the "Nusra Front doesn’t have any plans or directives to target the West. We received clear orders from Ayman al-Zawahiri not to use Syria as a launching pad to attack the U.S. or Europe in order to not sabotage the true mission against the regime. Maybe Al-Qaeda does that but not here in Syria. Assad forces are fighting us on one end, Hezbollah on another and ISIL on a third front. It is all about their mutual interests."[15]

When asked about al-Nusra's plans for a post-war Syria, al-Julani stated that after the war ended, all factions in the country would be consulted before anyone considered "establishing an Islamic state." He also mentioned that al-Nusra would not target the country's Alawite Muslim minority, despite their support for the Assad regime. "Our war is not a matter of revenge against the Alawites despite the fact that in Islam, they are considered to be heretics."[15] A commentary on this interview however states that al-Julani also added that Alawites would be left alone as long as they abandon elements of their faith which contradict Islam.[16]

On August 18, he received the support of Hamza bin Laden, son of Osama bin Laden in a video message produced by the Al-Qaeda's network "Al-Sahab media."[citation needed]

In October 2015, al-Julani called for indiscriminate attacks on Alawite villages in Syria. He said, "There is no choice but to escalate the battle and to target Alawite towns and villages in Latakia."[17]


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