On June 4, supporters of Jaysh al-Izza released a short video throwing light on the group’s high-tolerance to al-Qaeda ideology.
The video shows Jaysh al-Izza General Commander Major Jamil al-Saleh congratulating a group of his fighters on the occasion of Eid al-Fitr in a underground bunker. One of the fighters greeted by Saleh was wearing a batch of the Islamic Black Standard with the Seal of Muhammad. This is a well-known symbol of al-Qaeda and the official flag of ISIS.
Jaysh al-Izza’s media office made an attempt to hide the footage by releasing a heavily edited version of the meeting on their official YouTube channel. However, the original footage was already shared by pro-government activists.
Formed in 2013, Jaysh al-Izza was one of the first Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups in northern Syria to benefit from U.S. support through the CIA’s “Timber Sycamore” train and equip program, which had been approved by then U.S. President Barack Obama.
The group received loads of weapons from the U.S. including Grad rockets, as well as Fagot and TOW anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs).
Jaysh al-Izza received this support under the pretension of being a “moderate group” led by a known Syrian Arab Army (SAA) defector, al-Saleh. However, the group’s acts were not in line with these claims.
Since its formation, Jaysh al-Izza has been deeply linked to al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, the al-Nusra Front. The group became one of the main allies of al-Nusra when its changed its name to Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in 2017.
Al-Saleh is known for having a close relationship with HTS’ leader Abu Mohammad al-Julani. This close relation was likely behind Jaysh al-Izza’s decision to avoind joining the Turkish-backed National Front for Liberation (NFL) last year.
The weapons supplied to Jaysh al-Izza were used to support several military operations of HTS. Some were even used in attacks on civilians. Last month, the group’s Grad rockets claimed the lives of four children in the government-held town of al-Suqaylabiyah in northern Hama.
Jaysh al-Izza’s “special relationships” with HTS and its high-tolerance to al-Qaeda ideology confirms the radical views of the group’s fighters and leader. Jaysh al-Izza members are not even making much efforts to hide this after the suspension of the U.S. support in 2017.