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
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
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
After a series of intra-insurgent clashes beginning on 19 January 2017 in northern Syria, al-Qaeda’s rebranded presence, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), annexed several groups and clerics—and a number more since—on 28 January in a merger that took on the name Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). JFS followed the pattern of its parent branch, the Islamic State, and did not monopolize the leadership posts in HTS, leaving the emir post to Hashem al-Shaykh (Abu Jabbar). Al-Shaykh is a former senior official of Ahrar al-Sham, an insurgent group that also has links to al-Qaeda and has been the primary bridge between the mainstream rebellion in Syria and al-Qaeda. Al-Shaykh gave his first speech as General Leader of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham on 9 February, and Bilad al-Sham Media put out a transcript (reproduced below) and picture (above). Continue reading
On 28 January, as a part of its long-term strategy of integrating with, and ultimately co-opting, the Syrian rebellion, al-Qaeda shifted ground again and merged into a wider spectrum of insurgent groups, many of them jihadi in character, but many not, united under the banner of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). One of the non-jihadi groups to join HTS was Harakat Nooradeen al-Zengi, which became infamous in July 2016 after it beheaded one of the Bashar al-Assad regime’s child soldiers on video. This has aroused some controversy in jihadi circles, and today a statement by a jihadi ideologue, Abu Mahmud al-Filistini, who lives in London, was circulating explaining why HTS was right to take in al-Zengi. The statement was entitled, “Clearing the Doubts Regarding Nooradeen al-Zengi Uniting with Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham,” and is reproduced below. Continue reading