Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the jihadist group in Syria that has broken away from al-Qaeda’s formal command, appears to have arrested the leaders of its splinter group that retained allegiance to al-Qaeda on 27 November. The arrests were first reported by pro-Qaeda media and later by HTS itself. HTS released a statement on the matter yesterday evening, “For the judicial authorities will be the decisive word,” which was translated by Al-Maqalaat and is reproduced below with some syntactical edits. Continue reading
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 seemingly confirmed 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
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
UPDATE: It has subsequently become clear that the “Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir” who was killed in Syria on 18 November 2016 was not Muhammad al-Saghir, who is profiled below. The slain man, like al-Saghir a veteran of the war get the Soviets out of Afghanistan and an Egyptian jihadist with close links to al-Qaeda, also used the kunya “Abu Afghan al-Muhajir”.
A week ago, it became clear that the air war being waged by the U.S.-led Coalition, which primarily targets the Islamic State (IS), was going to expand its campaign against the leadership of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), al-Qaeda’s rebranded branch in Syria. In the evening of 18 November 2016, the Coalition killed Abu Abdullah al-Muhajir, whose real name is Muhammad Ibrahim al-Saghir. Al-Saghir also uses the name Abd al-Rahman al-Ali. This killing would appear to be part of the Coalition’s new effort.
Al-Saghir has a long record as an important jihadi religious ideologue, though his exact relationship with al-Qaeda’s network remains unclear. Al-Saghir’s most lasting contribution to jihadi-salafism is as a key guide to the founder of IS, Ahmad al-Khalayleh. Continue reading