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Latest Intelligence
Jihad Intel: Vital Intelligence on Designated Islamic Terrorist Organizations

Inquiring About A Role In Suicide Bombings Via WhatsApp

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Tue, 30 Jan 2018, 10:17 AM

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Procedures for carrying out a suicide bombing are not necessarily as simple as being willing to strap oneself with explosives or drive an explosive-rigged vehicle and then plunge into the enemy ranks. There is often also some bureaucracy behind the process, as has been attested in the case of the Islamic State. This point similarly applies to the Syrian jihadist group Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (Liberation of al-Sham Commission: HTS), a successor to Jabhat al-Nusra, which was Syria's official al-Qaeda affiliate.

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The Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham-al-Qaeda Dispute: Primary Texts (VI)

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Fri, 15 Dec 2017, 11:49 AM

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For prior parts in this series:

Sami al-Oraidi's testimony.
Abd al-Rahim Atoun's testimony.
Abu al-Qassam al-Urduni's testimony.
Abu al-Harith al-Masri's testimony.
Exchange between Abu Abdullah and Abd al-Rahim Atoun.

This post features a statement by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's Abu Malek al-Shami and a response by Abu Humam al-Shami (aka al-Faruq al-Shami), who used to be the general military official for Jabhat al-Nusra.

For more information on Abu Malek al-Shami, see this post. It is Abu Humam al-Shami's statement that is of greater interest. Reports that he was killed in March 2015 turned out to be erroneous, but there was some biographical information provided about him at the time that he partially affirms in his statement.

According to Orient News, he travelled to Afghanistan in the late 1990s and gave allegiance to Osama bin Laden, but after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, he was entrusted with operations in Iraq a little before Baghdad fell in 2003. During his time there, he supposedly met both Abu Hamza al-Muhajir and Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. The Iraqis then arrested him and turned him over to the Syrian authorities, who released him. But following a 2005 crackdown on jihadists by the Syrians, he fled to Lebanon, then returned to Afghanistan and was entrusted by Atiyat Allah al-Libi to operate in Syria. Detained in Lebanon for 5 years, on his release he joined the budding al-Qaeda wing in Syria, becoming Jabhat al-Nusra's general military official.

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The Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham-al-Qaeda Dispute: Primary Texts (V)

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Thu, 14 Dec 2017, 8:39 AM

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For prior parts in this series:

Sami al-Oraidi's testimony.
Abd al-Rahim Atoun's testimony.
Abu al-Qassam al-Urduni's testimony.
Abu al-Harith al-Masri's testimony.

This post features a statement by one Abu Abdullah, identified as the external connection/communications official for al-Qaeda, and Abd al-Rahim Atoun's response to that statement. The debate concerns Abd al-Rahim Atoun's claims in his testimony regarding communication between al-Qaeda on one side and Jabhat al-Nusra and its successors on the other.

The texts are easy to follow and there is no need for summary. I reproduce them below with translation.

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The Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham-al-Qaeda Dispute: Primary Texts (IV)

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Wed, 13 Dec 2017, 8:02 AM

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The previous posts in this series explored the testimonies of Sami al-Oraidi, Abd al-Rahim Atoun and Abu al-Qassam al-Urduni. This post features the testimony of one Abu al-Harith al-Masri of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham. Abu al-Harith al-Masri has been identified in media as Osama Qasim, a figure involved on the Egyptian jihadi scene since the 1970s. Though it may seem as though this identification of Abu al-Harith al-Masri as Osama Qasim is only very recent, it was in fact reported much earlier in the pro-Syrian government newspaper al-Watan in March 2017.

Qasim came to join the Jihad group that was involved in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar al-Sadat in 1981. Qasim was imprisoned as one of those accused of participation in the assassination operation. He denounced the revisionist notions of renouncing violence that began to be promulgated by imprisoned leaders of al-Gama'a al-Islamiya in the late 1990s, arguing that these revisions were produced under pressure of the Egyptian security apparatus.

Qasim was released in 2007. Following the 2011 revolution he showed an interest in the political process in Egypt on more peaceful terms, such as the idea of dialogue with 'liberals', though he did threaten that Islamists would resort to arms should they be targeted. As for Copts, he specified that they should pay jizya as traditionally demanded of certain religious minorities deemed acceptable to be living in the lands of Islam. On al-Qaeda, Qasim had asserted that he was supportive of al-Qaeda's actions but felt the group had rushed in carrying out operations without appropriate preparation.

Following the deposition of President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in a coup in 2013, Qasim is said to have left for Syria. He is now reportedly an important Shari'i official in Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham.

In this testimony as part of the split between Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and al-Qaeda, Abu al-Harith al-Masri takes a harsh line against al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Although he asserts that he has had a long-standing 'friendship' with Zawahiri, he says that the truth comes above that 'friendship'. It should be noted that Qasim has known Zawahiri since his days in prison, which may lend credence to the identification of Abu al-Hairth al-Masri as Qasim. Further, as Jerome Drevon notes, Qasim opposed Zawahiri's joining of al-Qaeda.

In addition, the language used in this testimony is quite complex, at least when the author is using his own words rather than quoting other texts. Qasim is said to have had a background in Arabic language study, which may also support the identification here with Abu al-Harith al-Masri.

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The Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham-al-Qaeda Dispute: Primary Texts (III)

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Sun, 10 Dec 2017, 8:34 PM

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The previous parts of this series looked at the testimonies of Sami al-Oraidi and Abu Abdullah al-Shami (Abd al-Rahim Atoun). This testimony is a much shorter essay by Abu al-Qassam al-Urduni, once the deputy of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. This essay was posted on Oraidi's Telegram channel in October 2017 and is a response to Atoun's initially internal essay that was commenting on Zawahiri's speech: 'We will fight you until there is no more fitna.'

Unsurprisingly, Abu al-Qassam follows Oraidi's line and makes these key points:

. Correcting Atoun's characterization of the status of Sayf al-Adel and Abu Muhammad al-Masri (Zawahiri's two deputies present in Iran).

. Explaining why he withdrew support for the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham project.

. Accusing Atoun and Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham of breaking the allegiance and disobeying/rebelling against Zawahiri.

. Attacking Atoun's characterization of the system of correspondence and problems of betrayal of trust as particularly unwarranted and egregious. Correcting the example Atoun gave of a message supposedly reaching Abu Julaybib before it reached Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani.

. Concluding with an urgent call for the mujahideen in al-Sham to unite, because of the global war against Islam.

. As a final note, denying links to or special knowledge of an al-Qaeda 'loyalist' group called Ansar al-Furqan that is rumoured to have been established in Syria.

Interestingly, in characterizing Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's disobedience/rebellion against al-Qaeda, Abu al-Qassam quotes a well-known poem by Ma'an bin Aws, a poet who was said to have been born in the time before Islam (al-Jahiliya) but converted to the religion and lived beyond the Prophet Muhammad's death.

Note that in publishing a version of his internal essay, Atoun appears to have made a correction on his claims regarding a message that supposedly reached Abu Julaybib before it reached Jowlani.

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The Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham-al-Qaeda Dispute: Primary Texts (II)

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Sun, 10 Dec 2017, 11:58 AM

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The previous post in this series looked at the testimony of al-Qaeda 'loyalist' Sami al-Oraidi, who directed his criticisms at comments by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's Abu Abdullah al-Shami (Abd al-Rahim Atoun) on the speech by Ayman al-Zawahiri entitled 'We will fight you until there is no more fitna' and released in October 2017. Atoun has responded to the criticisms by releasing a long post on his Telegram channel in two main parts.

The first part is a version of Atoun's comments on Zawahiri's 'We will fight you until there is no fitna' speech, which did not mention Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham or its predecessors by name but implied that they had broken the allegiance pledge to him. Atoun's comments were circulated for internal consumption in Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham but were leaked to Oraidi. Thus, the material that Oraidi had obtained at the time in October 2017 was authentic.

Atoun gives a history of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and its predecessors with a focus on the relationship with al-Qaeda. The following key points and claims arise from this history:

. There was no illegitimate breaking of the original allegiance to al-Qaeda in the transition from Jabhat al-Nusra to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (July 2016) and subsequently Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (January 2017)

. For around two years and ten months (c. November 2013-September 2016), the ability of Jabhat al-Nusra and its successors to communicate with Zawahiri was cut off. In 2015 however, Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, who was considered to be the 'first successor' to Zawahiri and on this understanding his deputy, came to Syria after being released from custody by Iran in a hostage swap.

. In the transition to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the idea was that the connection and allegiance with al-Qaeda should be secretly maintained, similar to Jabhat al-Nusra's status before its leader Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani publicly declared a 'renewal' of the allegiance to al-Qaeda in response to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's public attempt to subsume the group within the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham in April 2013.

. The transition to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham was overwhelmingly supported in the leadership of Jabhat al-Nusra, with around 60 out of 65 of the leadership agreeing to the idea. The project also had the blessing of Abu al-Khayr al-Masri. It should be noted that Oraidi's response seems to support Atoun's assertion of the level of support for the project here, in that Oraidi says many initially agreed with the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham project on the basis of a break in ties for media portrayal only.

. However, Zawahiri's other two 'successors' who were released from prison but barred from leaving Iran (Abu Muhammad al-Masri and Sayf al-Adel) rejected the idea. In particular, Sayf al-Adel (appears to be the 'third successor') supposedly got to communicate with Zawahiri first about the project, giving him a false impression of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham as marking a true break from al-Qaeda and being a fake merger initiative to break off from al-Qaeda.

. Zawahiri rejected the formation of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, supposedly on the basis of the false portrait he had been given of it by Sayf al-Adel. Jowlani's first message to Zawahiri on the nature of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham had apparently not reached him before the al-Qaeda leader wrote his response of rejection. In response, Jowlani and (allegedly) Abu al-Khayr al-Masri and Abu Faraj wrote letters to Zawahiri to try to explain that he had misunderstood the project. Here, there is a significant divergence from Oraidi's testimony, which claims that Abu al-Khayr al-Masri ceased to give his blessing to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and ceased to move forward with the project once Zawahiri's response of rejection came.

. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham was already involved in merger talks with other factions at the time Zawahiri's first message came (c. early September 2016). The basis of the thinking behind mergers was that it would bring about a more effective force that could realize an Islamic government project in Syria. It had also been presumed that mergers would lead to a real break of ties with al-Qaeda but in such a way as to be endorsed by Zawahiri. A decision was made by Jowlani to delay going forward with the merger at least until Zawahiri had a clearer understanding of the situation, fearing internal strife.

. The fall of Aleppo in December 2016 to the Syrian government and its allies gave rise to renewed energy for merger talks and initiatives. A second message had also come from Zawahiri, responding to Jowlani's first message on the nature of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. In his second message, Zawahiri indicated he rejected the idea of secret allegiances because of the experience with the Islamic State, something Jowlani, Atoun et al. had not been aware of. Zawahiri also said that he wanted resolution of the matter to be limited to himself, Jowlani and Abu al-Khayr al-Masri. He supposedly added that were a merger to come about, the problem would be resolved, and he might bless it publicly.

. Merger talks focused on a merger with Ahrar al-Sham, whose main leadership ultimately pulled out of the project that was supposed to embody a merger of most of the rebel factions. However, since Jabhat Fatah al-Sham had already committed to a merger project, it joined with whatever factions remained to form Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham. Abu al-Khayr al-Masri was supposedly pleased with this project, met with its leadership after its formation and then wrote to Zawahiri before he was killed. Similar to Oraidi's testimony though this time with a positive spin, the formation of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham is considered to mark the full break from al-Qaeda.

Atoun's historical account lays the ground work for the second part of his testimony: that is, a commentary on Zawahiri's most recently released speech entitled 'Let us fight them as a structured edifice.' This speech had in fact been recorded more than two months ago. Whoever had control over releasing it publicly likely put it out in light of the recent reports of arrests of al-Qaeda 'loyalists' by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, as Zawahiri makes a more general accusation along those lines against Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham.

Atoun's commentary is essentially a defense of the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham project, making the following key points:

. No allegiance pledge was illegitimately violated/broken.

. Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham was deemed to be a true merger project and in the 'interest' of the jihad in al-Sham, thus the decision to join it and the wholesale breaking of ties: something that Zawahiri should in fact approve of if he understood it correctly. The goal itself was not to do away with ties to al-Qaeda: otherwise, Jabhat al-Nusra would have joined the Islamic Front in 2013 and used that as a pretext to do away with ties, but Jabhat al-Nusra refrained from doing so as it was not deemed to be a true merger. Zawahiri had apparently approved of the Islamic Front on account of the covenant it espoused.

. The rapid progression of events in the field, contrasting with the long time needed to communicate with Zawahiri, means that it is too late simply to go back and return to al-Qaeda as it was before.

. It is absurd to tie the decline in fortunes of the jihad/insurgency in Syria to the breaking of ties with al-Qaeda.

. We did not take the steps we did out of fear of the U.S. We know the U.S. remains an enemy whether or not we are al-Qaeda.

. We do not arrest people simply for advocating for al-Qaeda. Rather, the people we arrest are stirring up trouble only in the name of al-Qaeda, and often have disputes with us going back to the time when we were affiliated with al-Qaeda. They are driven by personal agendas and psychological complexes.

. The breaking of ties does not mean we have changed our ideological program. We reject the idea that we are only committed to the region we operate in (Arabic: qatariyya). In fact we are still committed to a wider jihadist project. We still respect you and hope the differences between us can be resolved.

Below is the text of Atoun's testimony with translation. Any explanatory notes are in square brackets.

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The Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham-al-Qaeda Dispute: Primary Texts (I)

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Wed, 6 Dec 2017, 8:57 AM

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What is the exact nature of the relationship between al-Qaeda and Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS)? HTS is a successor to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the rebranded version of Jabhat al-Nusra that was announced in July 2016 with a purported dropping of ties to al-Qaeda. There has been continual debate over questions such as whether the shift to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham constituted a genuine breaking of ties, and whether there was agreement from the central leadership regarding the matter. Or did the shift to HTS constitute the real break of ties if any?

Recently, testimonies from multiple key figures on all sides of the debate have been released, apparently eager to settle their disputes over the Internet. It is the aim of this post and subsequent ones to translate this material for the reader's convenience and in a final post, try to put all the material together to understand what it means. To begin with, we will consider the testimony of the Jordanian jihadist jurist Sami al-Oraidi, who was once Jabhat al-Nusra's chief Shari'i official (i.e. dealing with religious matters for the group). His descriptions of the group's ideological program released through its media wing in 2013 were indicated by Jabhat al-Nusra leader Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani to be a reliable guide to the group's orientation.

Oraidi appears to have remained in the organization following the shift to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham but broke off after the founding of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, hinting through postings and a treatise on bay'a (allegiance) that Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham had rebelled against al-Qaeda and broken its allegiance pledge to al-Qaeda's amir Ayman al-Zawahiri without proper consultation of Zawahiri.

Oraidi eventually became more explicit in his criticisms, and offered his version of events behind the scenes in a series of posts in October 2017. This series came in response to leaked comments by HTS' Abd al-Rahim Atoun (Abu Abdullah al-Shami) on a speech of Zawahiri that had been released at the time. In that speech, Zawahiri commented on the nature of allegiance, affirming that it is binding by nature and cannot be violated. The implication seemed to be that Jabhat al-Nusra's successors had broken that pledge of allegiance. Abu Abdullah al-Shami has been the main leading figure in HTS who has defended the project intellectually and ideologically against al-Qaeda 'loyalists' like Oraidi. Indeed, it is said that Abu Abdullah al-Shami is particularly close to Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani, who was originally the military commander of HTS but has since succeeded ex-Ahrar al-Sham figure Hashim al-Sheikh as overall leader.

Oraidi himself has since been arrested by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham.

Some key points that emerge from Oraidi's testimony:

. He claims he is being forced to speak only so far as necessary to refute supposed errors and falsehoods of Abu Abdullah al-Shami.

. A distinction is made between the stage of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham: the latter is characterized as a wholesale break from al-Qaeda. Not even Zawahiri's deputy in Syria, Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, was informed of the process of formation of the group. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, however, is portrayed as only a media-image break from al-Qaeda. If Oraidi's testimony is to be believed, then the likes of Jowlani and Abu Abdullah al-Shami tried to convince the al-Qaeda 'loyalists' to go along with forming Jabhat Fatah al-Sham by arguing that it would only be an outward break from al-Qaeda, whereas connections would in reality be secretly maintained. This context does make sense for the initial wording of the announcement of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham as not being connected to an 'external entity'.

. Zawahiri nonetheless rejected Jabhat Fatah al-Sham some time after its formation in a private letter as there had not been appropriate consultation. He ordered it to return to its previous state and thus Abu al-Khayr al-Masri ceased to endorse the project.

. Oraidi portrays what has happened as an act of rebellion similar to the Islamic State's break from al-Qaeda.

Below is the original text of Oraidi's October 2017 series, with translation as well as explanation of terms in square brackets where necessary.

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Islamic State Advice on Attacks in 'Enemy Abode'

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Fri, 10 Nov 2017, 12:11 PM

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As the Islamic State goes into rapid decline as an entity controlling territory in Iraq and Syria, the overwhelming majority of its propaganda output has become dedicated to coverage of military operations against its enemies. Alongside that shift has come increasing emphasis on the idea that the Islamic State will still live on its 'soldiers' conduct operations in the heart of enemy territory. The latest issue of the Islamic State's al-Naba' newsletter (issue 105) contains the following infographic on the matter. Of course, in seeking to conduct attacks in 'enemy' countries, many Islamic State supporters are undoubtedly seeking fame in what would otherwise have been an uneventful existence without supposed meaning to their lives. Yet the infographic warns against that sort of motivation.

Also notable in this infographic is the urge to inflict maximum damage at minimum cost. Much speculation exists as to how far the Islamic State finances attacks by its operatives in the West but self-funding by operatives seems to be the preferred means, such as through taking out loans under false pretences, or relying on proceeds of common criminal activity like drug-dealing and robbery.

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Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki Splits from Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Thu, 20 Jul 2017, 1:00 PM

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Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki (The Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement: NZM)- an Islamist faction originating from Aleppo that once received support from the CIA's program of backing 'vetted' Syrian rebels that now seems set to be phased out- gained a widespread reputation as being representative of the 'not-so-moderate rebel' trend in Syria when a video emerged from Aleppo last year of some members beheading of a youth accused of being a fighter for the regime. While a beheading in itself is not so indicative of ideological 'moderation' considering how widespread war crimes and brutality are in Syria, a legitimate concern was NZM's close working relationship with Jabhat al-Nusra/Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, which was probably a key reason why the group was cut off in 2015 from the program of support for 'vetted' groups.

The reputation of being 'baddie rebels' was compounded by NZM's subsequent joining of the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham merger in January 2017, which came amid infighting in Idlib and Aleppo provinces that saw a number of factions join Ahrar al-Sham in seeking protection from Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. NZM had been touting the idea of of a grand merger between Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham, but as became apparent from comments from Turki Abd al-Hameed, a member of NZM's political office, the support for a merger was not indicative of a supposed NZM ideological affinity with jihadism. Rather, the merger hopes came from a belief that Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in particular was an effective military actor that in a merger initiative could help uphold the interests of the 'revolution' militarily and politically in a stage of crisis following the regime's recapture of Aleppo in December 2016. NZM's hopes were likely derived from the close working relationship it had developed with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. Ahmad Hamamer of NZM explained to me the rationale for joining Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham as follows:

"The necessity of the stage [of the 'revolution'/civil war] required the existence of a strong body in all its components, and Ahrar al-Sham was among those to merge but it withdrew in the last period before the announcement of the merger."

As for NZM, Hamamer insisted that "We were a revolution [faction] and continue to be so." Yet the idea that Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in a merger initiative could help uphold what NZM perceived as the 'revolution's' interests was naive. Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani, the leader of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, and Hashim al-Sheikh, who headed a more hardline contingent of Ahrar al-Sham that unsuccessfully tried to push the whole group into a merger with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, have come to wield the real reins of power and direction in Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham as the military and general leaders respectively.

There are certainly questions to be raised about the nature of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's exact relationship with al-Qa'ida: the speed at which the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham merger took place suggests that al-Qa'ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, with whom correspondence takes considerable time, was almost certainly not consulted, even as the transition from Jabhat al-Nusra to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham through the official dropping of the 'external entity' affiliation with al-Qa'ida in July 2016 insisted Ayman al-Zawahiri and al-Qa'ida's leadership would remain an exemplar and that the general directives had been followed to carry out the rebranding. Further, although the idea of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham could fit in with an al-Qa'ida conception of embedding more deeply within the insurgency to advance the interests of the jihadist project, there is currently a sharp strategic divergence as Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham has sought to expand its administrative reach and power base, whereas Ayman al-Zawahiri, likely out of a realistic view of the current trends in Syria's civil war that have gone against the insurgency, advises a guerrilla approach that does not focus on controlling territory. A rapprochement here will probably require Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham being forced to pursue guerrilla tactics through loss of territory on account of a major offensive against it by a party pushing into Idlib from the outside.

Nonetheless, these questions of the relationship with al-Qa'ida do not alter the fact that on the ground, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham has not softened its conduct, whatever overtures it might make towards the 'revolution' in its statements and rhetoric that al-Qa'ida loyalists and Ayman al-Zawahiri might consider to be nationalist dilution of the jihadist project. In fact, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's approach towards other insurgent groups and civil society in the form of local councils, as well as its treatment of the officially ex-Druze community in Idlib, have become more hardline. This probably reflects the dominance of the jihadists in the entity, and certainly the overall direction could not have sat well with many of the NZM members who had joined, even if they felt Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham could ultimately be the 'winning horse'- so to speak- for the 'revolution'. For example, Hussam al-Atrash, an NZM official who joined Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and wrote extensively on the backstories behind the rebel merger initiatives, caused considerable controversy within Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham in suggesting through comments on Twitter that 'liberated' areas needed to be handed over to the interim government tied to the opposition-in-exile.

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Ansar al-Shari'a in Libya Dissolves Itself

by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi  •  Mon, 29 May 2017, 11:31 AM

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Ansar al-Shari'a ("Supporters of Shari'a") was once Libya's most familiar jihadi organization in the post-Gaddafi environment, widely suspected of involvement in the attack on the U.S. government presence in Benghazi in 2012. It was closely linked to the Ansar al-Shari'a of Tunisia, many of whose members took refuge in Libya following a crackdown by the Tunisian government, which declared Ansar al-Shari'a of Tunisia a terrorist organization in August 2013.

Since 2014, Ansar al-Shari'a in Libya went into significant decline. A thorough overview of the group's rise and beginning of its loss of influence in the period c.2011-2015 can be found in a lengthy paper for the Hudson Institute by my friend Aaron Zelin. In brief, the two main reasons for the group's decline were the military campaign launched against it by Libyan general Khalifa Heftar, which shifted much focus away from da'wa [Islamic proselytization] activity and social outreach across Libya, and the rise of the Islamic State in Libya, which absorbed many of Ansar al-Shari'a's networks. However, it must be stressed that contrary to common perception, the organization as a whole never pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, but rather remained ideologically aligned with al-Qa'ida.

Sample Ansar al-Shari'a social outreach in Sirte, western Libya, September 2013. The city would later become known as the Islamic State's main stronghold in Libya, as it absorbed the Ansar al-Shari'a network there.

The newly released statement announcing the group's dissolution does not come as much of a surprise considering that the group's output on social media had almost completely disappeared, with the last item before this statement put out several months ago. The statement alludes to some of the points made above: for instance, the loss of key leaders and cadres and the emphasis the group had on da'wa and social outreach.

Like Ansar al-Shari'a, the Islamic State in Libya has also experienced a significant decline, lacking real control of territory. Its main governance projects in Derna and Sirte have both collapsed. However, it should not be thought that the wane in fortunes for Ansar al-Shari'a and the Islamic State means the end of jihadism in Libya. There are still other active jihadist groups in Libya like the Derna Mujahideen Shura Council, in which Ansar al-Shari'a had participated as a junior actor. In addition, the country's vast expanse and continuing civil war chaos provide ample training ground space for jihadists and potential bases for remote direction of operations abroad or to dispatch operatives from Libya into neighbouring countries (e.g. Tunisia and Egypt) and beyond. How exactly the Libya connection may have played out in the recent Manchester attack- claimed by the Islamic State and carried out by a British citizen of Libyan descent who travelled to Libya- remains to be seen.

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