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Abu Mohammad al-Julani

Abu Mohammad al-Julani
أبو محمد الجولاني
File:Abu Mohammad al-Golani, Iraq.jpg
Mugshot of al-Julani taken around 2006 or 2007 at Camp Bucca.[1]
Born Shahail, Deir ez-Zor, Syria[2]
Nationality Syrian
Other names 'The Conqueror Sheikh'[3]
Known for Founder and Emir of the al-Nusra Front
Military career
Allegiance 23px Al-Qaeda
Service/branch 23px al-Qaeda in Iraq
23x15px Al-Nusra Front
Rank Emir of the al-Nusra Front

War on Terror



Military intervention against ISIL

Abu Mohammad al-Julani (in Arabic أبو محمد الجولاني, also written as al-Joulani, al-Jolani, al-Jawlani and al-Golani) is the leader and emir of al-Nusra Front, which is called Jabhat al-Nusra in Arabic (Arabic: جبهة النصرة , full name, in Arabic: جبهة النصرة لأهل الشام Jabhat an-Nuṣrah li-Ahli ash-Shām, "The Support Front for the People of Sham") and is sometimes called Tanzim Qa'edat Al-Jihad fi Bilad Al-Sham or Al-Qaeda in Syria. Al-Julani was listed by the US State Department as a “specially designated global terrorist” in May 2013.[citation needed]

Little is known about Abu Mohammad al-Julani, which is his nom de guerre.[4] The phrase "Al-Julani" is a reference to Syria's Golan Heights, occupied by Israel during the war in 1967.[5] His real name has never been revealed. Syrian state television reported in October 2013 that he was killed near Latakia,[6] 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.[7]

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).[3]


Early life and Iraq War

Al-Julani is a native of Syria. He was reportedly a teacher of classical Arabic in Syria. He moved to Iraq to fight American troops and 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.[citation needed]

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 officially known as Nineveh Province.[citation needed]

Syrian Civil War

Shortly after the Syrian uprising began against the Syrian 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.[citation needed]

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."[8] 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.[9] 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.[10]

Despite some friction with members of the mainstream Free Syrian Army rebel umbrella group, al Julani's Jabhat al-Nusra often work together against Assad's troops 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.[citation needed]

In late May 2015, during the Syrian civil war, al-Julani was interviewed by Ahmed Mansour on Qatari news broadcaster Aljazeera, 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 of 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 credit with saying that the "Nusra Front doesn’t have any plans or directives to target the West. We received clear orders 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." [11]

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.”[12]


  1. ^ "New Al Nusrah Front video features interview with leader, military gains in Syria". February 2015. Retrieved 2015. 
  2. ^ "Who's who in the Nusra Front?". al-Araby. 15 December 2014. Retrieved 2 June 2015. 
  3. ^ a b "Hearts, Minds and Black Flags: Jabhat al-Nusra's Data Dump Takes Aim at the Islamic State". Syria: direct. February 2015. Retrieved April 2015. 
  4. ^ "Elusive Al-Qaeda leader in Syria stays in shadows". Associated Press. 4 November 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  5. ^ "TIME Exclusive: Meet the Islamist Militants Fighting Alongside Syria’s Rebels". Time. 26 July 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  6. ^ "Abu Mohammad al-Golani, leader of Jabhat al-Nusra, killed in Syria, state TV claims". Global Post. 25 October 2013. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  7. ^ "U.S. and its allies strike ISIS tank, refineries and checkpoints". CNN. 28 September 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  8. ^ "Al-Nusra Commits to al-Qaeda, Deny Iraq Branch 'Merger'". Agence France Presse. 10 April 2013. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  9. ^ "Qaeda chief annuls Syrian-Iraqi jihad merger". Al Jazeera English. 9 June 2013. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "ISIS vows to crush rival rebel groups". The Daily Star. 8 January 2014. Retrieved 2 October 2014. 
  11. ^ "Syria Al-Qaeda leader: Our mission is to defeat regime, not attack West". al-Jazeera. 28 May 2015. Retrieved 30 May 2015. 
  12. ^ "Syria Al-Qaeda leader: Our mission is to defeat regime, not attack West". al-Jazeera. 28 May 2015. Retrieved 30 May 2015.