On March 4 2013 the city of ar-Raqqa was conquered by Syrian rebels. What is remarkable about this conquest is that the city fell to Jihadist troops. The (secular) Free Syrian Army hardly had any role in the battle for and conquest of the al-Assad stronghold.
Although this news is widely spread amongst specialists inquiring and reporting on Jihadism in Syria, the traditional media seem to be ignoring this fact. In this blogpost I will try to point out the significance of the Jihadist groups in conquering this city.
ar-Raqqa is the capital of the governorate ar-Raqqa in North-Central Syria. In 2012 the city counted about 220 000 inhabitants. Since the city is situated on the shores of the Euphrates river and is a center of major roads, it can be considered as one of the most strategic cities in Syria. [See map]
On March 4 the city fell in the hands of three Jihadist organisations; the infamous Jabhat an-Nusra (see previous posts), Harakat Ahrar as-Sham (known as the Syrian Islamist Front) and the brigade of Huthaya bin al-Yaman.
This photo from ar-Raqqa is a few days old. The grafitti says : Jabhat an-Nusra – The thief’s hand will be cut off .
These first videos will you show the troops of Jabhat an-Nusra and Harakat Ahrar as-Sham advancing through the outskirts of the city. The third video, in which Jabhat an-Nusra claims the conquering parts of the city, is translated.
Videos by Harakat Ahrar as-Sham
The statement by Jabhat an-Nusra claiming the conquest of parts of ar-Raqqa on March 3
In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent, the most Merciful.
“To those against whom war is made, permission is given (to fight), because they are wronged; and verily, Allah is most powerful for their aid”
We, the Media Office of Jabhat an-Nusra in the Province of ar-Raqqa, declare that we will now start a full-scale military operation in ar-Raqqa that aims to attack and break the regime in the province.
This operation is strategically important:
Firstly: because it is executed by the Islamic Brigades and Fronts in the Province, as represented by Jabhat an-Nusra, Harakat Ahrar as-Sham al-Islamiyya and the brigade of Huthayfa bin al-Yaman. [Hereby] we unite under the banner of la ilaha illa’llah Muhammadun rasulu’llah. (There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his Messenger)
Secondly: because this operation aims to attack the regime’s military camps and main headquarters with high grade heavy weapons. [We will] take care of the safety of the residents of ar-Raqqa and the refugees of other provinces. [These people] were used by the al-Assad regime as a human shield to protect the headquarters and military camp. We will show the regime what will unplease them.
In this operation the Jihadist groups in Syria proved their worth once more; this translates itself best by the four tweets sent by
@Charles_Lister (Analyst & Head of MENA, IHS Jane’s Terrorism & Insurgency Centre (JTIC), London, UK) on March 4th:
Significance of Al-Raqqah’s fall to Ahrar al-Sham & Jabhat al-Nusra cannot be emphasised enough. Its position on Highway 4 between Aleppo to the W and Deir ez Zour to the SE makes it of critical strategic value. Deir ez Zour already dominated by Islamist rebel groups, especially members of Syrian Islamic Front’s Jaish al-Tawhid and of Jabhat al-Nusra. Linking Deir ez Zour & Al-Raqqah – with Iraqi border to the east, unites two Islamist rebel fronts and puts them in a very strong position to converge on Aleppo if necessary