A recording was leaked on 28 November of a Syrian cleric, Abdul Halim al-Atwan, giving a lecture to Syrians in Idlib, condemning the current leader of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the descendant of al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch Jabhat al-Nusra, for having distorted and destroyed the Syrian rebellion by infecting it with extremism and intra-insurgent fighting. Al-Atwan, the uncle of HTS leading shar’i Abdurraheem Atun (Abu Abdallah al-Shami), notes that al-Nusra intruded into Syria as a wing of the Islamic State in 2011. This is only a small demonstration of the continued resistance among Syria’s armed opposition to being co-opted by the HTS jihadists. Continue reading
The leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, gave a thirty-five-minute speech on 28 November 2017, entitled: “Let Us Fight Them As A Solid Structure” (or “Let Us Fight Them As One Body” or “Let Us Fight Them With Solid Foundations”), dealing with the vexed question of al-Qaeda’s relationship with the Syrian jihadi group, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, a situation that escalated again in recent days. The mention of an impending Turkish intervention into Idlib—which began on 7 October—suggests that al-Zawahiri recorded this speech in the last days of September or the first few days of October. An English transcript of the speech was released by As-Sahab Media, and is reproduced below with some edits for syntax and transliteration. Continue reading
In the ninetieth edition of its newsletter, al-Naba, released on 20 July 2017, the Islamic State (IS) published an obituary for one of its most senior operatives, Ali Aswad al-Jiburi, much better known as Abu Ayman al-Iraqi, who had been serving as the caliph’s “security advisor” when he was killed on 18 May 2016. 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.
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
On 5 January 2016, Abdallah al-Muhaysini appeared on episode sixty of Sham Weekly, an interview series, to lament the failure of the Syrian insurrectionists to merge with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), al-Qaeda’s rebranded presence in Syria. Al-Muhaysini places the blame for the failure to merge squarely on Ahrar al-Sham. Continue reading
The forty-first edition of the Islamic State’s newsletter, al-Naba, was released within the territory of the caliphate on 30 July 2016 and released online on 2 August; it and the forty-third edition (released 13 and 16 August) contained an obituary for Abdurrahman al-Qaduli (Abu Ali al-Anbari), the caliph’s deputy, who was killed on 25 March. The obituaries were entitled, “The Worshipping Scholar and the Mujahid Preacher: Shaykh Abu Ali al-Anbari”. The German version of the third issue of the Islamic State’s Rumiyah magazine on 11 November contained this obituary. Below is a very rough translation. Some interesting or important sections have been highlighted in bold. The subheadings are mine.
On 20 November 2016, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), al-Qaeda’s rebranded presence in Syria, published its first official account of how JFS, previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra, split from its parent organization, the group we now know as the Islamic State (IS). The statement was composed by Abdelraheem Atoun (Abu Abdullah al-Shami), identified as the General Judge of JFS. It is apparently drawn from the book, “Under the Shade of the Tree of Jihad” (p. 177-194), and the post was entitled, “The Establishment of Jabhat al-Nusra and the Events of al-Sham [Syria] from the Beginning of the Disagreement to the Announcement of al-Dawla [the State]”. On 27 November, Bilad al-Sham Media released an English language version of this statement, which is reproduced below with some editions for spelling, grammar, and so on, and some especially notable sections bolded. Continue reading
The Islamic State’s (IS) weekly newsletter, al-Naba, interviewed a high-ranking al-Qaeda defector, Abu Ubayda al-Lubnani, across two issues in February and March. Abu Ubayda appeared on a list of prominent clerics supporting IS’s caliphate declaration in February 2014, and two months later his defection from al-Qaeda to IS was announced by al-Battar. Abu Ubayda is described by al-Naba—as best as can be told accurately—as having been a member of al-Qaeda’s: Shura [Consultation] Council, a training officer in its Military Committee, and a counter-intelligence officer. Abu Ubayda is advertised as speaking about many secret aspects of al-Qaeda.
Among the topics Abu Ubayda covers is the alleged infiltration and manipulation of al-Qaeda by foreign intelligence services, specifically Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which is not only a violation of jihadist doctrine by collaborating with an “infidel” and illegitimate state but led to the deaths of a number of senior al-Qaeda leaders.
Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of what Abu Ubayda has to say relates to al-Qaeda’s attempt to take advantage of the Syrian revolution. This persistent campaign has followed a pattern of disguising al-Qaeda’s presence and attempting to influence and eventually co-opt the rebellion against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. One lever al-Qaeda relied upon, according to Abu Ubayda, was Ahrar al-Sham, an organization that disclaims all connections to al-Qaeda and dissimulates about its ideology. Whatever Ahrar’s dominant ideology, it is simply a fact that it has served as the bridge between the foreign-led jihadists and Syrian Islamists, and its connections to al-Qaeda are evident enough. Abu Ubayda suggests Ahrar’s connections to al-Qaeda are even deeper than they appear. Continue reading