An airstrike seriously injured Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’s leader and killed 12 commanders of Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliate, Russia’s defense ministry said on Wednesday.
— Минобороны России (@mod_russia) October 4, 2017
“On October 3, the Russian military intelligence found out the time and venue of the Jabhat al-Nusra leaders’ meeting led by the group’s leader, Abu Muhammad al-Julani,” defense ministry spokesperson Major-General Igor Konashenkov said, adding that the meeting was struck by Sukhoi Su-34 and Su-35 aircraft.
“After the attack, Jabhat al-Nusra leader, Abu Mohammed al-Julani, sustained multiple heavy shrapnel wounds and, having lost his arm, according to several independent sources, is in critical condition. Along with numerous (about 50 people) body guards, twelve Jabhat al-Nusra field commanders, including al-Julani’s closest assistant, head of the group’s security service Ahmad al-Ghizai, have been killed,” Konashenkov said.
Some experts have cast doubt on Russia’s claims, saying that imagery released had previously been used to illustrate Russian airstrikes in eastern Syria.
Russian MoD says killed 12 JAN commanders and wounded Al-Jolani in 3 October airstrike.
But footage shared alongside announcement had prev been released as showing Mayadin.
— Tobias Schneider (@tobiaschneider) October 4, 2017
Update October 4: In a statement on its Telegram channel, HTS denied that Julani was injured, saying that he was in “good health and exercising the duties assigned to him completely.”
Abu Mohammed al-Julani
Ahmed Hussein al-Shar’a, known by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Julani, is from the Golan area of western Syria.
He went to Iraq after the 2003 U.S. invasion, and rose through the ranks of al-Qaeda in Iraq, reportedly becoming a close associate of its leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
He was eventually arrested by the U.S. military and held at Camp Bucca. After his release in 2008, Julani worked with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the head of the then Islamic State of Iraq, and was appointed head of ISI in Nineveh Province.
Julani returned to Syria after the uprising against Bashar al-Assad in 2011, and founded Jabhat al-Nusra as a sub-group of ISI. In 2013, after refusing al-Baghdadi’s instruction to dissolve Nusra as a distinct group and make it part of ISIS, he pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and its then leader Ayman al-Zawahri, and was listed by the U.S. as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist in May of that year.
In 2016, Julani publicly declared that Nusra was changing its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and breaking links to al-Qaeda, but the alleged severing of ties was not accepted by the international community. In May, the FBI offered a $10 million reward for information leading to his identification or location.
In early 2017, JFS announced the formation of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, an alliance between it and other jihadist groups Jabhat Ansar al-Din, Jaysh al-Sunna, Liwa al-Haqq, and Ḥarakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, which had previously supplied with TOW anti-tank missiles by the US. More groups and individuals – including many from Turkey-backed Ahrar al-Sham – joined later.
Julani was named as the new group’s military commander, with former Ahrar al-Sham leader Hashim al-Sheikh, (also known as Abu Jabir) as it’s overall leader.
The group controls significant territory in Idlib province in western Syria.
In July, Nour al-Din al-Zenki withdrew from the alliance after conflict between HTS and Ahrar al-Sham in Idlib.
Abu Jaber al-Shaikh, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham's chief & former Ahrar al-Sham's chief, resigns; Abu Muhammad al-Jolani steps in as the acting leader; a new leader is expected to take over later. pic.twitter.com/is4Del9Bzr
— Hassan Hassan (@hxhassan) October 1, 2017
More recently, one of HTS’ biggest factions, Jaysh al-Ahrar, left the alliance, and on October 1, HTS announced the resignation of Abu Jabir and the appointment of Julani as interim leader.