Al-Qaeda’s Leader Calls on Syria’s Opposition to Shun the West, Rely on the Jihadists

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 23 April 2017

Al-Qaeda’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, released a speech today entitled, “Sham Will Submit to None Except Allah” or “Syria Will Submit to None Except Allah”. The short speech—around five minutes in length—was part of the “Brief Messages” series, “Brief Messages to a Victorious Nation 6,” to be exact. An English transcript of al-Zawahiri’s speech was released by As-Sabha Media and is reproduced below with some editions in transliteration, explanatory notes added, and interesting sections highlighted in bold.
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The West’s Inconsistent Approach To Foreign Fighters in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 10 April 2017

The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Turkey-based Kurdish Marxist-nationalist insurgent group, which is listed as a terrorist organization by Britain, the United States, NATO, and Turkey, created a new foreign fighter unit in Syria on 31 March. In Syria, the PKK uses the name People’s Protection Units (YPG), and the new organization, mostly composed of Europeans, is called the International Revolutionary People’s Guerrilla Forces (IRPGF). In addition to underlining some interesting points about the PKK and Western strategy in the fight against the Islamic State (IS), the IRPGF also underlines the different approach the West has taken to foreign fighters flowing to various groups during the Syrian war. Continue reading

An American Who Rose to the Top of the Islamic State

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 8 April 2017

The eighth edition of the Islamic State’s magazine, Rumiyah (Rome), was released on 5 April 2017, and contained an obituary for one of the architects of the magazine itself. Named by his kunyas, Abu Sulayman al-Shami, Abu Sulayman al-Halabi, and Ahmad Abdul-Badi Abu Samrah, the jihadist referred to is Ahmad Abousamra, a U.S.-Syrian dual citizen. Abousamra is quite possibly the most senior American ever to have been in IS’s ranks, and the Rumiyah article gives a very interesting glimpse more generally of IS’s hierarchy, particularly the importance of its media and the late emir of that department, Wael al-Fayad. The Rumiyah article is reproduced below with some editions in transliteration, occasional explanatory notes, and interesting or important aspects highlighted. Continue reading

Australian Jihadi Spokesman Distances Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham From Al-Qaeda, Criticises America

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 20, 2017

Mostafa Mahamed on Sky News, August 2016

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

Al-Qaeda in Syria Denounces America, Claims to Be the Revolution

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on March 13, 2017

Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham fighter engaging the Assad regime

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.[1] 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

Al-Qaeda’s Deputy Killed in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 27, 2017

abu-al-khayr-car-killed-in

Last night it was reported that al-Qaeda’s overall deputy, Abu Khayr al-Masri, had been killed by the U.S.-led Coalition in Syria with a drone strike. This was soon seeminglyconfirmed by pro-Qaeda channels, and Abu al-Khayr was said to have been buried this morning. Though the emphasis on targeting jihadist leaders can be overdone, the demise of Abu al-Khayr is an important development, and one with significance beyond itself.

Abu al-Khayr’s career is demonstrative of a few interesting trends within the Jihadi-Salafist movement, primary among them the willingness of the Iranian revolution to work with the Sunni jihadists, al-Qaeda very much included, when it suits its purposes, particularly in undermining Western interests. Abu al-Khayr also elucidates the changed nature of al-Qaeda, where the “centre” (AQC) could now be said to be more in Syria than the Afghanistan-Pakistan, and where al-Qaeda operates both an overt and covert presence to try to secure a durable foothold in the Levant, which might in time be a base for attacks against the West, currently suspended only for tactical reasons. Continue reading

U.S. Treasury Targets Al-Qaeda in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on February 24, 2017

The U.S. Treasury on Thursday imposed sanctions on two senior operatives associated with al-Qaeda in Syria (AQS). This is undoubtedly part of the escalating campaign against AQS. The two men are interesting on their own account, however, and give a glimpse at some of the things that have shaped jihadism across the Fertile Crescent. In the one case, that of Iyad Nazmi Salih Khalil, better-known as Iyad al-Tubaysi or Abu Julaybib, this history begins with the earliest days of the Islamic State (IS), from which AQS splintered, in Iraq before Saddam Husayn was deposed. The other case, that of Bassam al-Hasri (Abu Umar al-Filistini), highlights the events at the outset of the Syrian uprising, when the regime of Bashar al-Assad set in motion its strategic plan to militarize and radicalize the nascent insurgency in order to present the population and the world a binary choice—the dictator or a terrorist takeover. Continue reading