Tag Archives: Abu Khalid al-Suri

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

The Coalition Strikes Down Al-Qaeda’s Leaders In Syria

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

Muhsin al-Fadhli [top-left]; Abdul al-Sharikh (Sanafi an-Nasr) [bottom-left]; Radwan Nammous (Abu Firas al-Suri) [centre]; David Drugeon [top-right]; Rifai Taha (Abu Yasser al-Masri) [bottom-right]

Since September 2014, the U.S.-led Coalition has been targeting the leaders of Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch, which has since rebranded as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS). Below is a list of the Qaeda-linked individuals killed in Coalition air attacks since 2014. It will be updated and kept as a rolling record of the ongoing campaign. Continue reading

The Fall of the Islamic State’s Terrorism Director

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 31, 2016

Taha Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani) in al-Naba

Taha Falaha (Abu Muhammad al-Adnani) in al-Naba

The Islamic State confirmed yesterday, via their “news” agency Amaq, that Taha Subhi Falaha had been killed in Aleppo. Falaha had gained global notoriety under his kunya, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, after his September 2014 speech calling on Muslims in the West to “kill any disbeliever” in range, and to at least “spit in his face” if one was unable to find a knife or a car or a rock to do murder with.

Falaha was often referred to as the spokesman of IS, and so he was—the voice of the organization since 2011. He was also from the first generation of the organization, recruited before the invasion of Iraq, one of the few within the organization of that stature. But, as I explained recently in a paper for the Henry Jackson Society that compiled what is known of IS’s leadership, Falaha was much more than a figurehead.

Falaha was the governor of IS-held areas in Syria and the man who oversaw the external terrorist attacks. By now he was the caliph’s effective deputy. Heretofore, IS’s impressive bureaucracy has managed to replace individuals with minimal perturbation. IS will experience few perturbations quite like this.
Continue reading

The Structure of Al-Qaeda

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 14, 2016

Screenshot of Mostafa Mahamed (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir) during a video interview, 12 April 2014

Screenshot of Mostafa Mahamed (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir) during a video interview, 12 April 2014

Mostafa Mahamed (Abu Sulayman al-Muhajir) is an Australian citizen who was born on 14 February 1984 in Port Said, Egypt. Mahamed currently occupies a “senior leadership position” within al-Qaeda in Syria—formerly Jabhat al-Nusra, now Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS)—according to the sanctions levied against him in May by the U.S. Treasury. In an indication of Mahamed’s seniority, he moved from Australia to Syria in late 2012 and within a few months led the mediation efforts between al-Nusra and the then-Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), now the Islamic State (IS), that began with a breach in April 2013 and ended with al-Qaeda expelling ISIS from its command structure in February 2014. Mahamed is also one of the public faces of al-Qaeda in Syria, now calling himself the “Director of Foreign Media Relations of JFS”. In this capacity, Mahamed has inter alia recently communicated with CNN to further the narrative that al-Nusra/JFS has “split” with al-Qaeda—something, let it be noted, neither the leader of al-Nusra/JFS nor Mahamed have actually said.

With regard to both the ongoing narrative war between IS and al-Qaeda over what their actual relationship was in the lead-up to the schism and al-Qaeda’s structure—the two things very much interlinked—Mahamed gave a very useful interview on 12 April 2014, about ten weeks before ISIS became IS when it declared its caliphate. Mahamed also touches on other interesting matters, such as those jihadi ideologues al-Nusra/JFS regards as guides, and—small point—al-Qaeda’s continuing claim that IS’s founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi would have sided with them. (This is matched on the other side by IS continuing to feature Usama bin Ladin in their propaganda as one of their forebears, while regarding Ayman al-Zawahiri as deviant.)

In watching the video back, I ended up taking notes, which turned into a partial (though fairly substantial) transcript that will perhaps be of use to others as well, so it’s posted below. Continue reading

Al-Qaeda Rebrands, Marches on in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on August 2, 2016

First ever picture of the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria), Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani), 28 July 2016

First ever picture of the leader of Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria), Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani), 28 July 2016

The leader of Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria), Abu Muhammad al-Jolani, whose real name is Ahmad al-Shara, ostensibly broke the link between his organization and al-Qaeda last week. This is another stage in al-Qaeda’s long-term strategy of embedding itself into local societies so that it can more effectively reshape the faith and shield itself from the international community. Continue reading

Al-Qaeda Central in Syria

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on September 14, 2015

Osama bin Laden and Ayman az-Zawahiri (2001)

Osama bin Laden and Ayman az-Zawahiri (2001)

A couple of days ago, a leader Jabhat an-Nusra issued a statement condemning Ahrar a-Sham. The statement is actually rather milder than initial reports suggested. Nusra is mostly annoyed at Ahrar for working with Turkey and Qatar to acquire money and weapons. Nusra is also displeased that Ahrar, at the instigation of Ankara and Doha, asked Nusra to publicly break its al-Qaeda link. Nusra also felt Ahrar was too willing to publicly distance itself from Salafi-jihadism to gain war materiel. This will no doubt help intensify the debate about Ahrar’s ostentatious “moderation” over the last eighteen months, and what the West should do about Ahrar.

In this post, however, I’d like to focus on the statement’s author, Abu Firas as-Suri, or more precisely on what he represents. Abu Firas is part of a group of (known) agents of al-Qaeda Central (AQC) who were sent into Syria in mid-2013 to mediate the dispute between Nusra and then-ISIS (now the Islamic State, I.S.), and when that failed the AQC veterans stayed, erected a veritable bureaucracy, and sought to forestall Nusra “going local”. Below are mini-profiles of these AQC veterans. Continue reading

Is Ahrar a-Sham a “Moderate” Syrian Rebel Group?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on July 12, 2015

Ahrar a-Sham

To answer my headline simply: no, Ahrar a-Sham’s leadership is not what anybody in the West means by “moderate” Syrian rebels that could be supported.

The question is provoked by an op-ed in The Washington Post last night signed by Labib al-Nahhas, Ahrar’s foreign political relations officer, the culmination of a public-relations campaign by Ahrar to rebrand itself as the mainstream alternative to the Islamic State (ISIS) and the Assad tyranny we’ve all been waiting for. Continue reading