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Army of Islam (AOI)
Jaysh al-Islam
Jaish al-Islam

The term Jaish al-Islam (JAI) / Army of Islam is a bit generic, and as of 2015 more than one outfit is operating using this title. The small outfit operating in Gaza under Mumtaz Dughmush a few years ago and the vastly larger organization in Syria led by Zahran Alloush are evidently unrelated apart from a common name.

Jaish al-Islam (JAI) - Syria

Jaish al-Islam (JAI) is thought to be funded by Saudi Arabia. Jaish al-Islam was one of the major groups involved in operations in Idlib, making up part of the Battle of Victory operations room that took the city of Jisr al-Shughur in later April 2015. Little verifiable reporting is available on the group.

By 2015 JAI was led by Zahran Alloush. The group's charismatic leader was son of the Damascus-based Salafist preacher Sheikh Abdullah Alloush. “If you want an Islamic state, you should not take the IS idea of the Islamic state and think we want the same – we dream of an Islamic state in the future, but this is not necessarily to be achieved the second day after the fall of Bashar al-Assad.”

Liwa al-Islam, the Army of Islam, is a coalition of about 50 insurgent groups operating around Damascus, which merged into Jaysh al–Islam, (Army of Islam). General Commander of Jaysh al-Islam, Zahran Alloush, is the son of a Saudi-based religious scholar, and his Army of Islam flies the black flag and not the Syrian flag. He speaks of resurrecting the Omayyad Empire and has little faith in democracy, seeking to establish an Islamic state ruled by a committee of Islamic scholars. He is suspicious of the FSA because of its links with Western countries. Saudi Arabia seems to be central to the new coalition. Liwa al-Islam was backed by Riyadh and is the central player in the Army of Islam.

AOI's terrorist acts include a number of rocket attacks on Israel, the 2006 kidnapping of two journalists in Gaza (an American and a New Zealander), and the 2007 kidnapping of a British citizen, journalist Alan Johnston, in Gaza. AOI is also responsible for early 2009 attacks on Egyptian civilians in Cairo and Heliopolis, Egypt. AOI is alleged to have planned the January 1, 2011 Alexandria attack on a Coptic Christian church that killed 25 and wounded 100 . On May 7, 2011, the group released a eulogy for Usama bin Ladin via its Al Nur Media Foundation.

Jaish al-Islam includes salafi and former Muslim Brotherhood members with Saudi connections. The majority of Syrians would be repelled by the sectarian language and ideologies of Zohran Alloush, his group’s overt affiliations, their pandering to al-Qaeda ideologues, and his Army of Islam.

By 2015 JAI was thought by some analysts to includeas many as 60 battalions, with around 20,000 fighters – entirely made of Syrians, rather than foreign volunteer fighters. Saudi Arabia reportedly initiated the unification of the brigades making up Jaish al-Islam in an attempt to counter the influence of Al Qaeda and its affiliates in Damascus.

Jaish al-Islam, one of Syria's largest rebel groups, on 23 September 2015 declared war on Russian soldiers fighting alongside Syrian pro-government forces in the country's civil war. Its primary base of operations had been Damascus, particularly the Douma and East Ghouta regions.

On 25 December 2015, the Syrian Army confirmed that Zahran Alloush, the leader of the Jaysh al-Islam, a group operating in the suburbs of Damascus had been killed in an airstrike. Considered one of the most prominent leaders of the armed Syrian opposition, Alloush was the head of a powerful militant group consisting of up to 15,000 fighters. Jaysh al-Islam's repeated shelling of Damascus and its suburbs with mortar rounds, its military cooperation with the al-Nusra Front, and its brutality toward opponents (including public executions of prisoners, and the parading of civilian women around in metal cages) has led to the group being compared with the Daesh (ISIL/ISIS) terrorist group.

According to the Syrian Army, Alloush and representatives of other Islamist terrorist groups including Suqour al-Sham and the al-Nusra Front were killed during negotiations on the formation of a terrorist coalition against government forces. Amazingly, although perhaps not surprisingly, much of the Western media rushed to eulogize Alloush and his 'moderate' Islamist rebels, the Wall Street Journal suggesting that his death "imperiled planned peace talks," France24 running the headline "In death, Syrian rebel chief haunts peace hopes," and CNN lamenting that his death "casts doubt over Bashar al-Assad's intentions."

According to Israeli Arab affairs analyst Jacky Hugi, who recently wrote an interesting analysis in Israeli daily newspaper Maariv, "Alloush was," for a number of reasons, "one of the most fascinating and prominent rebel commanders, complicating the lives of government troops, causing them heavy losses and disrupting daily life in the capital, Damascus."

Alloush, a Sunni Muslim born in the city of Duma near Damascus, "grew up in a religious home, his father, Sheikh Abdullah Alloush, considered one of the leaders of the Salafi movement in the outskirts of the Syrian capital. Zahran received a master's degree in Islamic theology at the University of Damascus, and then went to Saudi Arabia, where he deepened his study at the University of Medina. Following his father's footsteps, Zahran preached in mosques and at meetings on the merits of a strict religious life."

The future rebel commander's sermons, the analyst noted, "were peppered with politics," which got him in trouble with the authorities. "He was first arrested under Hafez Assad, when he was 16 years old…In 2010, a year before the Syrian civil war began, he was again arrested and imprisoned at the Sidnaia prison for incitement against the regime."

"Three months after the beginning of the unrest [in 2011], Alloush was released from prison as part of a goodwill gesture by the Syrian government…He realized that the time had come to attack the regime, and he did not waste time, creating an armed organization known as the Liwa al-Islam ('Brigade of Islam'), and attacking the military under the guise of the bloody events that unfolded in the south of Syria."

"After some time," Hugi noted, "the Saudis made contact with Alloush and began financing the activities of his militia, as they had other organizations fighting against Assad. With time and generous Saudi support, his group grew, and changed its name to Jaysh al-Islam."

This militant group, the analyst explained, "truly is a real army, with at least 10,000 fighters in its ranks and, according to some sources, up to 15,000. They have armored vehicles, air defense and artillery. Unlike Daesh, which gathered Muslims from all over the world, all of Alloush's soldiers are Syrians.

Jaish al-Islam (JAI) - Gaza

Designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization on May 19, 2011, the Army of Islam (AOI) is a Gaza-based terrorist organization founded in late 2005 that has been responsible for numerous terrorist acts against the Governments of Israel and Egypt, as well as American, British, and New Zealander citizens.

AOI was initially led by Mumtaz Dughmush, and operated in Gaza. It subscribes to a Salafist ideology together with the traditional model of armed Palestinian resistance. AOI has previously worked with Hamas and is attempting to develop closer al-Qa'ida contacts.

One of Gaza’s oldest and most powerful jihadi groups, membership was estimated in 2012 to range in the low hundreds. Th US government assessed that AOI received the bulk of its funding from a variety of criminal activities in Gaza.

In September 2015 Jaish al-Islam, pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. “We, the soldiers of Jaish al-Islam in the Gaza Strip and our leader Mumtaz Dughmush, may Allah preserve him, we consider ourselves to be an integral part of Wilayat Sinai [ISIS in the Sinai peninsula],” the online statement said. “We pledge allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Qurayshi, the Caliph to all Muslims in the House of Islam and each place where Muslims reside.”

AOI inititlly operated in Gaza, with attacks in Egypt and Israel. Iraqi soldiers on 10 October 2008 captured two alleged members of the Jaish al-Islam terrorist cell operating in the Balad area. A third suspect, identified as a member of Hamas in Iraq, was killed after trying to attack Iraqi soldiers. The association of the insurgent groups indicates the possible convergence of terrorist groups, officials said.

Hamas is thought to have an agreement with Mumtaz Dughmush, the head of the Palestinian salafi militant group, Jaish al-Islam, which purportedly runs training camps in Gaza for jihadists who subsequently go to fight in Yemen, Syria, and the Sinai. The purported links between the Palestinian salafi groups and the Sinai-based terrorist groups also account for the Egyptian military’s clampdown on the tunnels and efforts to seal the border as much as possible.

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Page last modified: 03-01-2016 20:13:46 ZULU