Tag Archives: Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham

The Death of Al-Qaeda’s Leaders and the Iran Factor

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 16 November 2020

Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (Abu Muhammad al-Masri) and Ayman al-Zawahiri. // Image sources: FBI, AFP

Credible reports over the last few days indicate that Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is dead, and there are even clearer reports that two of his most senior deputies have been killed. The terrorist network itself, however, will survive. Al-Qaeda has, in the last ten years, survived the killing of its charismatic founder Usama bin Laden, the upheaval of the “Arab spring”, and the rise of the Islamic State (IS)—all of them greater challenges than whatever short-term turbulence might attend the succession process. Continue reading

Former Head of Islamic State Executive Committee Speaks

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 23 May 2020

Abd al-Nasr, who claims his real name is Taha al-Ghassani (image sources 1 & 2)

There is now, with various caveats, a general agreement that the Islamic State (IS) is on the upswing—in Iraq, particularly, but also in the Badiya, the desert regions of eastern Syria, and more recently in the south of Syria around Deraa. Still, there have been some recent notable gains against the terrorist group. Continue reading

Syria and Coronavirus

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 6 April 2020

The first quarter of 2020 saw a serious escalation of combat in Syria, albeit without much alteration in the political trends, and the arrival of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has exacerbated a fraught situation. Continue reading

Russia Closes the St. Petersburg Metro Case, Doubts Remain

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 23 January 2020

Abror Azimov in detention // Source: Alexey Kudenko

In July 2019, I co-wrote an article for Haaretz about the Russian legal case relating to the alleged suicide bombing of the St. Petersburg metro on 3 April 2017 as it then stood. To make a long story short: none of the “facts” derived from the Federal Security Service (FSB) investigation could be taken at face value—literally none. A key assertion from the Kremlin was that the Petersburg attack was directed from outside by an Al-Qaeda-linked group in Syria, for which no evidence was provided, but the issues with the case went much deeper. As fundamental a fact as the identity of the alleged suicide bomber was in question. Indeed, it was worse than that: the Russian state refused, when questioned, to say whether this “suicide bomber” was dead, raising a question about whether the Petersburg atrocity was a suicide-attack at all. Last month, the Russian government in effect closed the book on this case by sentencing eleven people it claims were implicated in it; none of the questions raised during the trial have been answered, and nor are they ever likely to be now. Continue reading

Last Insurgent Bastion in Syria Shows Signs of Collapse

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 25 August 2019

A version of this article was published at The Arab Weekly

Devastation in Khan Shaykhun, Idlib, Syria, 3 August 2019 (AFP)

Bashar al-Assad’s regime, supported by Russia and (in a more deniable form) Iran, began an offensive against the last insurgent-held enclave in Syria, Idlib, in the last days of April. Up until a month ago, this looked like an embarrassing fiasco: with a minimal increase in Turkish support to its rebel proxies, the pro-Assad forces had been able to gain about one-percent of the territory in the southern part of “Greater Idlib”. In the last fortnight, however, the pro-Assad coalition has made important breakthroughs that could prove decisive. Continue reading

Turkey Balancing Between America and Russia

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 22 July 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting during the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, 29 June 2019 [image source]

The delivery of the first parts of the Russian S-400 anti-missile missile system to Turkey on 12 July has brought the crisis in the Turkish-American relations to a head. This long-simmering problem is intertwined with America’s and Turkey’s policies in Syria, specifically where the latter is responsive to the former, which has resulted in as serious rift within NATO and exposed Turkey to pressure from the Russian government. Continue reading

The Trial: The St. Petersburg Metro Attack Reaches Court in Russia

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) and Oved Lobel on 14 July 2019

Abror Azimov in court in Moscow in April 2017 [photo source] and Mukhamadyusup Ermatov [photo source]

When defense officials from Russia, the U.S. and Israel met for an unprecedented trilateral summit in Jerusalem recently, it was in large measure another attempt by U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to put into practice their long-running belief that Russia will help them deal with Iran and perhaps other counter-terrorist issues in Syria. Continue reading

Renewed Rebellion in Southern Syria and Western Failure

Published at The Arab Weekly

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 28 April 2019

A young boy rides his bicycle in Deraa // AFP

In military terms, the fall of Daraa, in south-western Syria, to Iranian and regime forces last July eliminated the last insurgent-held pocket not dominated by jihadists. Politically, it had profound effects, demonstrating American disengagement and Israel’s misperceptions of the Syrian landscape, particularly Russia’s role in it.

Recent signs of renewed insurgency in Daraa, however, underline how far from over Syria’s war is and how badly the West has mishandled the crisis. Continue reading

Al-Qaeda and Global Terror

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 16 April 2019

Ahmad al-Shara (Abu Muhammad al-Jolani) [image source]

Several years ago, Al-Qaeda made a strategic decision to refrain from foreign terrorist operations, refocusing away from these global spectaculars towards integrating more closely into local conflicts. The 2014 rampage across Iraq and Syria by Al-Qaeda’s rebellious former Iraqi branch, the Islamic State (ISIS), provided both the opportunity and additional incentive for a long-mediated rebranding effort. However, there have recently been signs of a shift back towards external terror operations, just as ISIS undergoes a setback and Al-Qaeda has a chance to reassert its dominance over the jihadi scene. Continue reading

What is Turkey Doing in Syria?

By Kyle Orton (@KyleWOrton) on 10 March 2019

Turkish soldiers in Efrin, Syria, March 2018. (AFP)

Eight years ago, peaceful protests began against Syrian President Bashar Assad. Since then, outside powers — the Iran-Russia axis, the United States and Turkey — have become dominant in Syria.

The Iranians and Russians keeping Assad’s regime alive are clearly going nowhere. The Americans’ indecision on the point is apparently final. So, what of Turkey, which is the custodian of the remnants of the armed opposition? Continue reading