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
An effort is underway, led by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, mediated by Qatar, to unify the largest Syrian Islamist rebel brigades. With these regional powers now seemingly reading from the same script after years of internecine competition that has fractured the Syrian rebellion, there is also talk of a direct Saudi-Turkish intervention in Syria to overthrow Bashar al-Assad. While increased support to the Syrian insurgency from the Gulf and Turkey is already arriving, a direct intervention seems unlikely, though not, in the current context after the Saudi-led coalition went it alone in Yemen, impossible. Continue reading
Ahrar a-Sham “merged with“—in reality annexed—Suqour a-Sham on March 22. Ahrar’s leader, Hashem al-Sheikh (a.k.a. Abu Jabbar), is the leader of the Ahrar-Suqour formation, and Suqour’s leader, Ahmed Issa al-Sheikh (a.k.a. Abu Issa) is his deputy. Ahrar is the largest and most hardline Syrian insurgent group in Syria, and Suqour has a fairly stern Salafi-nationalist ideology—at least at its leadership level—and was once the largest rebel group in Idlib Province.
The first thing this brought to mind was Sam Heller’s witticism late last year: “the most successful, lasting approach to rebel unification so far has basically been ‘Ahrar al-Sham absorbs you’.” Continue reading
What a disaster. With American and coalition jets in the air overhead, ostensibly to do battle with Salafi-jihadists, al-Qaeda has been allowed to push rebel brigades the United States purports to support out of almost all of Idlib Province. Continue reading
On August 11, Jamaat Ansar ad-Dawla al-Islamiya fi Bayt al-Maqdis (The Group of the Supporters of the Islamic State in Jerusalem), released a “martyrdom” notice for “the mujahid brother” Mahmoud Nayef al-Qayrnawi (Abu al-Bara) of Gaza, who was killed by the regime on July 26 while fighting for the Islamic State (I.S.) at the Sha’ar gas field in Homs.
This is not the first Gazan jihadist killed in Syria. Continue reading
As we approach the forty month mark for the Syrian uprising the situation is grimmer than it has ever been. Not just the casualties: more than 200,000 people dead. Not just the physical devastation and mass-displacement of more than a third of the country. But now in military terms the rebellion is on the defensive in a way it has not been since it erupted at the end of 2011, after more than six months of peaceful protests.
There has long been speculation in Syrian oppositionist circles that the regime was colluding with the Qaeda-type forces in the insurgency, to shore-up its own base by frightening the minorities and to ward off external help to the rebellion from the West. Continue reading