August 31, 2014
In a statement released on its official Twitter feed on Aug. 30, the Al Nusrah Front announced its responsibility for the detention of 45 members of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).
The peacekeepers were captured during recent fighting at the Quneitra border crossing, which connects Syria to the Israeli-controlled portion of the Golan Heights. The key crossing wascaptured by a coalition of rebel forces, including the Al Nusrah Front, earlier this week.
The announcement by Al Nusrah, which is al Qaeda's official branch in Syria, was first obtained and translated by the SITE Intelligence Group.
Al Nusrah attempts to justify the capture of the men by arguing that the UN has failed to support the Syrian people during the rebellion against Bashar al Assad's regime. The al Qaeda branch also accuses the UN of looking the other way when it comes to Assad's crimes.
During the course of the Syrian war, Al Nusrah's statement alleges, the UN "has pretended to stand alongside the people of Sham in their revolution and their fight against the Nusayri [a derogatory term for Alawites] criminal regime." According to SITE's translation, Al Nusrah argues that the UN "has not given to the people of Sham but bare statements and hollow words, completely ignoring all that the Nusayri enemy committed of brutal crimes and massacres against the vulnerable Muslims from among elderly, women, and children."
Al Nusrah goes on to list crimes by the Syrian regime that the UN has supposedly failed to adequately address, including the use of chemical weapons and torture.
Imagined conspiracy "against Muslims"
Al Nusrah portrays itself as standing up for Muslims in Syria and elsewhere against the UN. The group claims that the UNDOF was established "to ensure the safety and protection of the borders of the Zionist entity," or Israel. In reality, the UNDOF has helped maintain a ceasefire agreement between Israel and the Syrian regime since 1974.
Al Qaeda's Syrian arm attempts to further justify the peacekeepers' detention by claiming that the UN only uses its power under Chapter VII of its charter "against Muslims." Chapter VII outlines the UN's responsibilities with respect to determining "the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression." The chapter also states that the UN will "decide what measures shall be taken ... to maintain or restore international peace and security."
The "crimes of Muslim extermination in Central Africa and Burma are happening before the eyes and ears of the world, and the United Nations did not move a muscle," Al Nusrah claims, adding that the UN has not condemned the "Zionist Jews" for their "bombing of Gaza and the massacring of the people there."
"The crimes of the unjust Nusayri regime and its allies from Hezbollah of Iran and others are happening every day with the acknowledgment of the international organizations and others, and we did not hear of Chapter VII," Al Nusrah's statement continues.
Al Nusrah argues that the UN acts in this manner as part of a grand conspiracy against Muslims. The statement reads: "This is so the Muslims know that such international resolutions are only used against them and against their jihad so that they remain submissive to the powers of global infidelity to pillage their resources and the fortunes of their land, and to control their necks and lives as they wish."
The announcement echoes the words of Abu Firas al Suri, Al Nusrah's spokesman, who released a speech on Aug. 27. Al Suri, a longtime al Qaeda veteran, accused the UN of serving a "Zio-Protestant alliance" that seeks to thwart the development of an al Qaeda-style Islamic state in Syria and elsewhere.
The group's arguments are, of course, based on a highly selective and biased version of history. While attempting to build moral legitimacy for its actions, Al Nusrah ignores the role that al Qaeda and its branches have played in spilling Muslim blood. Most of al Qaeda's victims since the group's founding in 1988 have been Muslims.
Al Nusrah's argument that the UN is not acting against Iran and Hezbollah despite acknowledging their crimes is also rich given that top Nusrah leaders have themselves worked with the Iranian regime. [See, for example, LWJ reports: Treasury designates 2 'key' al Qaeda leaders and Senior al Qaeda facilitator 'back on the street' in Iran.]
Hostages seized during raid by Al Nusrah and allies
The UN was initially reticent to identify the group responsible for the detention of its peacekeepers.
"We are dealing with nonstate armed actors," UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said. "The command and control of these groups is unclear. We're not in a position to confirm who is holding whom," Dujarric added. "Some groups self-identified as being affiliated with Nusrah, however, we are unable to confirm it."
However, Al Nusrah's announcement of responsibility makes it clear that the hostage-taking was sanctioned by the top leadership of the group. The statement was released via Al Nusrah's official channels, including on its Twitter feed.
The al Qaeda branch cooperated with other Islamist and jihadist groups in seizing the Quneitra border crossing. The Islamic Front, a coalition of several groups, also participated in the raid. One of the most powerful factions within the Islamic Front is Ahrar al Sham, which is linked to al Qaeda.
In a video celebrating the raid on Quneitra, the Islamic Front included footage of the UN's outpost.
Despite claiming that it has the right to hold the UN's men as hostages, Al Nusrah says they are being treated well.
"We assure that the detainees are in a safe place, and they are in good health, and that we have given them what they need of food and treatment, for our good Islamic religion urges use to be charitable with the prisoners," Al Nusrah claims, according to SITE's translation.