Mostafa Mahamed (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir) is a U.S.-designated terrorist, an al-Qaeda operative who has formally resigned from al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), which was previously Jabhat al-Nusra and has now reorganized itself as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). Earlier this month, on 11 March, Michael Ratney, the U.S. special envoy to Syria wrote an open letter (in Arabic) labelling all constituents of HTS as terrorists seeking to exploit the Syrian opposition, and incited divisions within the Islamist sections of the insurgency by including Ahrar al-Sham—heretofore a close HTS ally, though recently involved in clashes with the group—as part of the Syrian revolution. HTS issued a formal response on 12 March and, on 20 March, Mahamed issued his own response, which is reproduced below. The main themes were anti-Americanism and dissuading the Syrian armed opposition that the U.S. was an ally; arguing that HTS was different than JFS and unconnected to al-Qaeda; and the strong impression of a threat should the U.S. move against HTS—while explicitly denying that such a threat was being made. Continue reading
The Democratic Union Party (PYD), the Syrian front of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), is the leading group in the administration of the Kurdish areas in north-eastern Syria. The PYD and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), have become the preferred instrument of the U.S.-led Coalition against the Islamic State (IS) and as a by-product have been assisted in conquering some Arab-majority zones of northern Syria—and perhaps soon of eastern Syria. The PYD/PKK has always treated all dissent harshly and the Kurdish opposition in recent days has reported an escalation in repression by the PYD, which the West—as has become a habit in cases of PYD misbehaviour—has made no public protest about. Continue reading
Michael Ratney, who has been the United States Special Envoy for Syria since July 2015, wrote a public letter on 11 March 2017 that labelled all constituent parts of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) as members of al-Qaeda and therefore as terrorists. On 12 March, HTS’s “Administration of Political Affairs”—its newly-minted political office, perhaps evidence of an evolution in HTS’s thinking about an endgame in Syria—issued a statement in reply, which is reproduced below. Continue reading
Abdul Munim Halima (Abu Basir al-Tartusi), a Syrian previously based in London, is an important jihadi-salafist scholar, who has diverged from some aspects of jihadism since the 7 July 2005 massacre on the London subway system by al-Qaeda. As the Syrian rebellion has progressed, Halima has departed even further from key jihadi ideologues that continue to take al-Qaeda’s line and support its branch in the country, Jabhat al-Nusra, which formed as a splinter from the Islamic State and has now rebranded itself as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. Halima has long expressed the view that al-Nusra and its leader, Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani), were insufficiently focused on Syrian needs. Halima tended to favour Ahrar al-Sham, an insurgent group with deep links to al-Qaeda, but which has presented its jihadism within a more nationalistic framework. Halima retains sway over Islamist opinion, especially in Syria, so his fatwa today calling for al-Shara to be put on trial for crimes against the Syrian revolution is noteworthy. Halima was especially exercised that the recent attempts by al-Shara to separate his organization from al-Qaeda came so long—and so unconvincingly—after so many had begged him for so long to carry out this policy. Instead, says Halima, al-Shara bullied and dominated the Syrian insurgency in the north under the flag of al-Qaeda, providing the regime of Bashar al-Assad with an alibi for his barbaric conduct in suppressing the insurrection. This is one of several “crimes” Halima says al-Shara should face a court for. The fatwa is reproduced below with some editions to transliteration and syntax.