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
A horrifying video emerged on Tuesday of a teenage boy being beheaded. This had occurred the day before around Handarat in Aleppo, northern Syria. The boy had been fighting for Liwa al-Quds, a militia of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, composed mostly of Palestinians from the Nayrab camp and likely also from the unofficial settlement at Ayn al-Tal near Handarat. The rebel group that took him captive and then murdered him was Harakat Nooradeen al-Zengi, which had previously received support, including TOW anti-tank missiles, from the United States’ covert program run by the Central Intelligence Agency, though that support ended nearly a year ago. The episode is important in itself, and underlines some trends, namely al-Zengi’s evolution and the dynamics underway in northern Syria, where the U.S. is preparing to intensify its de facto policy of collaborating pro-Assad coalition against Jihadi-Salafist terrorist groups, which are strengthening al-Qaeda. Continue reading
Article published at NOW Lebanon
Over the last six weeks the regime of Bashar al-Assad—which by this point means in most areas Iranian-run ground forces and Russian air power—have made territorial gains in northern Syria that threaten the existence of the armed opposition in the area. This threat has been compounded by the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and allies, which have also drawn on Russian airstrikes to attack the rebellion in the same areas. The U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS) has made the PYD its main proxy inside Syria—the only force that can call in coalition airstrikes. This policy was obviously flawed given the view of the PYD by necessary anti-ISIS allies like Turkey and the demographic realities of ISIS, which require Sunni Arabs to be able to police their area, and ensure that ISIS begins to look like a protector of Sunnis if Kurds occupy Arab areas; the PYD now attacking the crucial anti-ISIS demographic in alliance with the regime underlines that fact. Continue reading
A version of this article was published at Middle East Eye.
The Syrian opposition is meeting in Saudi Arabia between December 8 and 10 in an attempt to create a unified structure that can credibly sit across the table from the Bashar al-Assad regime in the internationally-organised peace talks in Vienna, and make a binding commitment on the path forward for Syria. Continue reading