Insurgents Respond to America Declaring Syrian Taliban Unit A Terrorist Group

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 25 March 2018

Katibat al-Imam al-Bukhari (image source)

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.

KIB, also known as the Imam Bukhari Jamaat, is “the largest Uzbek fighting force in Syria”, says the State Department. “The group has played a significant role in the fighting in northwestern Syria, fighting alongside groups including [Jabhat al-Nusra]—al-Qa’ida’s affiliate in Syria”. Al-Nusra has since become Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.

KIB has undoubtedly operated side-by-side al-Nusra, particularly as part of the Jaysh al-Fatah coalition that swept Bashar al-Asad’s regime out of Idlib city and ultimately Idlib province in 2015. In addition to these logistical connections, al-Qaeda has a bay’at (pledge of allegiance) to Taliban leader Hibatullah Akhundzada and KIB has explicated a stern jihadist doctrine, attesting to a close ideological affiliation.

Among the first to respond on 24 March was Hassan Sufan, the leader of Ahrar al-Sham,[1] who denounced the U.S. designation, saying KIB was a revolutionary organisation that had fought extremists, namely the pro-Asad coalition and the Islamic State (IS).

Ahrar joined with the infamous Harakat Nooradeen al-Zengi in February to create Jabhat Tahrir al-Suriya (JTS) or the Syrian Liberation Front. JTS, combined with the remnants of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), has been clashing with al-Nusra/HTS ever since. JTS released a statement on 24 March condemning the designation:

KIB released its own statement on 25 March:

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[1] Ahrar’s nature is highly contested: it certainly began in the jihadi-Salafist world and received start-up finance from networks associated with al-Qaeda. Defectors have claimed Ahrar had a closer relationship with al-Qaeda’s network. Whatever the truth of that, Ahrar certainly did work alongside al-Nusra, being a key reason for al-Nusra’s dominance in the Greater Syria area at the present. This alliance ended last year, when Ahrar folded under HTS’s attacks.

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