There has been an unprecedented wave of assassinations, and assassination attempts, in Idlib, beginning on 26 April and lasting about two days, targeting mainstream, Free Syrian Army-branded rebels, opposition activists, and journalists, as well as Islamist and jihadist insurgents.
The United States Department of State designated Katibat al-Imam al-Bukhari (KIB), the Taliban-loyal insurgent unit in Syria, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) on 22 March. Over the last few days, KIB and other insurgent groups have issued statements in response. Continue reading
A series of clashes broke out on 19 January between al-Qaeda’s rebranded Syrian branch, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), and its heretofore close ally and portal into the Syrian rebellion, Ahrar al-Sham. By 23 January, JFS had expanded its targets, engaging in hostilities with mainstream rebel groups in the “Greater Idlib” area, and specifically trying—and succeeding—in dismantling the positions of Jaysh al-Mujahideen, a moderate group, west of Aleppo. The crisis continued to escalate, forcing many groups to merge with Ahrar al-Sham for protection, until 28 January, when a JFS-led merger was announced under the banner of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), or the Syrian Liberation Committee. HTS announced a ceasefire, and since then individuals and groups—including a significant number from Ahrar—have given allegiance to HTS. This radical reshaping of revolutionary dynamics in northern Syria has undoubtedly created antibodies going forward against al-Qaeda that could be capitalized on by the international community, but the present situation is highly favourable to al-Qaeda. 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
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
In the past few days, news has circulated of an impending merger between the rebranded al-Qaeda branch in Syria Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS) and several rebel groups, Ahrar al-Sham and Harakat Nooradeen al-Zengi among them. Labib al-Nahhas (Abu Ezzeddine al-Ansari) is the leader of the Political and External Affairs bureau within Ahrar al-Sham. In mid-to-late 2015, al-Nahhas led an effort to recast Ahrar as a mainstream actor in the insurgency that was in any case too large to avoid engaging, a characterization of the organization that is, to say the least, open to challenge. Al-Nahhas is sincerely opposed to Ahrar merging with JFS, however, for the simple reason that he can see it is political suicide: it is the end of any degree (and there hasn’t been much as it is) of Western support for the Syrian armed opposition; once the insurgency is formally attached to al-Qaeda, the only question will be the extent of the Western support for efforts to put it down. Continue reading