Ahrar ash-Sham

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Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiyya
حركة أحرار الشام الإسلامية
Participant in the Syrian Civil War and
the American-led intervention in Syria
Ahrar al-Sham.jpg
Official logo of Ahrar ash-Sham
Flag of Ahrar ash-Sham.svg
Flag of Ahrar ash-Sham
Active Late 2011–present

Sunni Islamism


Hassan Aboud  (2011–2014)[2][3]
nom de guerre: Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi[4][5]

Abu Jaber (2014–present)[6]
Headquarters Babsaqa, Idlib Governorate, Syria[7]
Area of operations Syria
Strength 10,000–20,000[3]
Part of Islamic Front[8]
Syrian Revolutionary Command Council[1]
Army of Conquest[9]
Fateh Haleb[10]
Originated as Katibat Ahrar al-Sham
Allies al-Nusra Front[11]
Jaysh al-Islam[12]
Ajnad al-Sham Islamic Union
Army of Mujahedeen
Alweiat Al-Furqan
Sham Legion[13]
Suqour al-Ezz
Harakat Sham al-Islam
Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar[14]
Ahrar al-Jazeera[15]
Opponents Syrian Armed Forces
Syrian Resistance
Syriac Military Council
National Defense Force
Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant[16][17]
United States Armed Forces (allegedly)[18]
Battles and wars

Syrian Civil War

Website http://ahraralsham.net/

Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiyya (Arabic: حركة أحرار الشام الإسلاميةAhrār ash-Shām, meaning "Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant") is a coalition of multiple Islamist and Salafist units, which coalesced into a single brigade during the Syrian Civil War, in order to fight against the Ba'athist government lead by Bashar al-Assad.[11] Ahrar ash-Sham was led by Hassan Aboud.[3] As of July 2013, Ahrar ash-Sham had 10,000 to 20,000 fighters,[3] making it the 2nd single most powerful unit fighting against al-Assad, after the Free Syrian Army.[20] It was the principal organization operating under the umbrella of the Syrian Islamic Front[3] and is a major component of the Islamic Front.[8]


The first Ahrar ash-Sham brigades were formed just after the Egyptian revolution, and before the Syrian Revolution started in 2011.[21] Most of the group founders were Islamist political prisoners who had been detained for years at the Sednaya prison until they were released as part of an amnesty by the Syrian Government in March–May 2011.[22][23][24] At the time of its establishment in late 2011, Ahrar ash-Sham consisted of about 25 rebel units spread across Syria. It has expanded since then; by July 2012, the group's website listed 50 units, and by mid-January 2013, the number had increased to 83 units.[25] Most of these units are headquartered in villages in Idlib Governorate, but many others are located in Hama and Aleppo. Some Ahrar ash-Sham units that have been involved in heavy fighting include the Qawafel al-Shuhada and Ansar al-Haqq Brigades (both in Khan Sheikhoun, Idleb Province), the al-Tawhid wal-Iman Brigade (Maarrat al-Nouman, Idleb Province), the Shahba Brigade (Aleppo City), the Hassane bin Thabet Brigade (Darat Ezza, Aleppo Province), and the Salahaddin and Abul-Fida Brigades (both in Hama City).[4]

Members of the group are Islamists.[26] Ahrar ash-Sham cooperates with the Free Syrian Army and other secular rebel groups; however, it does not maintain ties with the Syrian National Council.[27] Although they coordinate with other groups, they maintain their own strict and secretive leadership, receiving the majority of their funding and support from donors in Kuwait.[11][28][29]

Through donations from supporters abroad and the capture of material from the Syrian Armed Forces, Ahrar ash-Sham became one of the best-armed most powerful rebel factions active in the Syrian Civil War, having progressed from the use of improvised explosive devices and small-arms ambushes in early 2012 to assuming a lead role in large-scale sustained assaults on multiple fronts by 2013. It regularly deployed tanks and mobile artillery, anti-tank guided missiles, and occasionally 1990s-era Croatian rocket and grenade launchers and was involved in every major rebel victory over Syrian Government forces between September 2012 and mid-2013.[5] It grew significantly by absorbing into its ranks other rebel factions from the Islamic Front and Syrian Islamic Front coalitions.[30]

On 26 April 2015, along with other major Aleppo based groups, they established the Fateh Haleb joint operations room.[10][31]


The group has a Syrian leadership and "emphasizes that its campaign is for Syria, not for a global jihad".[3] However, according to US intelligence officials, a few al-Qaeda members released from prisons by the Syrian government have been able to influence actions of the group, and install operatives within the senior ranks of Ahrar ash-Sham.[32][33][34] Such ties were not disclosed publicly until January 2014, when a former senior leader of Ahrar ash-Sham, the now deceased Abu Khalid al-Suri, acknowledged his long-time membership in al-Qaeda and role as Ayman al-Zawahiri's representative in the Levant.[33][35]

In its first audio address, Ahrar ash-Sham stated its goal was to replace the Assad government with an Islamic state, however it acknowledged the need to take into account the population’s current state of mind. It also described the uprising as a jihad against a Safawi plot to spread Shiism and establish a Shiite state from Iran through Iraq and Syria, and extending to Lebanon and Palestine.[27] Ahrar ash-Sham has claimed that it only targets government forces and militia and that it has cancelled several operations due to fear of civilian casualties.[36] It provides humanitarian services and relief to local communities, in addition to pamphlets promoting religious commitment in daily life.[27]

Notable incidents[edit]

Ahrar ash-Sham was responsible for rescuing NBC journalists Richard Engel, Ghazi Balkiz,[37] John Kooistra Aziz Akyavas, and Ammar Cheikhomar after they were kidnapped by the pro-Assad government Shabiha in December 2012. However, this version of events was called into question by an April 2015 investigation by the New York Times.[38]

In December 2012, a new umbrella organization was announced, called the Syrian Islamic Front, consisting of 11 Islamist rebel organizations. Ahrar ash-Sham was the most prominent of these, and a member of Ahrar ash-Sham's, Abu 'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Suri, served as the Front's spokesman.[39] In November 2013, the SIF announced that it was dissolving, and that its components would henceforth operate as part of the newly formed Islamic Front.[40]

In January 2013, several of the member organizations of the Syrian Islamic Front announced that they were joining forces with Ahrar ash-Sham into a broader group called Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiyya (The Islamic Movement of Ahrar ash-Sham).[24] In September 2013, members of ISIL killed the Ahrar ash-Sham commander Abu Obeida Al-Binnishi, after he had intervened to protect a Malaysian Islamic charity; ISIL had mistaken its Malaysian flag for that of the United States.[41]

In August 2013, members of the brigade uploaded a video of their downing of a Syrian Air Force MiG-21 over the Latakia province with a Chinese-made FN-6 MANPADS, apparently becoming the first recorded kill with such a weapon.[42]

In mid-November 2013, after the Battle for Brigade 80 near the Aleppo International Airport, fighters from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant beheaded a commander[43] of Ahrar ash-Sham forces, mistaking him for an Iraqi Shiite pro-government militiaman.[44]

In December 2013, there were reports of fighting between ISIL & another Islamic rebel group in the town of Maskana, Aleppo; activists reported that the Islamic rebel group was identified as Ahrar ash-Sham.[45][46][47]

On 23 February 2014, one of the top commanders and al-Qaeda representative,[33][35] Abu Khalid al-Suri, was killed in a suicide bombing in Aleppo, organized by ISIL.[33][48]

On 9 September 2014, a bomb went off during a high level meeting in Idlib province, killing Hassan Abboud, the leader of the group, and 27 other senior commanders, including military field commanders, members of the group's Shura council, and leaders of allied brigades. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack. The day after the bombing Abu Jaber was announced as replacement leader.[1][49][50]

In early November 2014, representatives from Ahrar ash-Sham attended a meeting with al-Nusra Front, the Khorasan Group, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and Jund al-Aqsa, which sought to unite several hard-line groups against the US-led coalition and other moderate Syrian rebel groups.[51] However, by 14 November 2014, it was revealed that the negotiations had failed.[52]

During the night of 6 November 2014, a US airstrike targeted the group for the first time, hitting it's headquarters in Idlib governorate[7] and killing Abu al-Nasr, who was the person in charge of receiving weapons for the group.[53] On 24 November 2014, a US airstrike on the ISIL headquarters building in Ma'dan, Ar-Raqqah killed another Ahrar ash-Sham fighter, who was being held prisoner by ISIL.[54]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Syria’s Ahrar al-Sham Leadership Wiped Out in Bombing". Carnegie Endowment of International Peace. 9 September 2014. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  2. ^ "Suicide bombing kills head of Syrian rebel group". The Daily Star. 9 September 2014. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f "Competition among Islamists". The Economist. 20 July 2013. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  4. ^ a b Lund, Aron (2012-10-05). "Holy Warriors". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2012-12-26. 
  5. ^ a b "The crowning of the Syrian Islamic Front". Foreign Policy. 24 June 2013. Retrieved 27 June 2013. 
  6. ^ "Syria rebels name slain leader's replacement". Al Jazeera English. 10 September 2014. Retrieved 10 September 2014. 
  7. ^ a b "Report: Airstrikes target another Islamist group in Syria". CNN. 6 November 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  8. ^ a b "Leading Syrian rebel groups form new Islamic Front". BBC. 22 November 2013. Retrieved 22 November 2013. 
  9. ^ a b "Rebels launch full-on assault of Idlib city". Syria Direct. Retrieved 25 March 2015. 
  10. ^ a b "The biggest rebel factions in Aleppo just formed coalition "Operation Conquest of Aleppo". Source is a facebook video uploaded 20 mins ago by the Syrian Revolution 2011 facebook page. : syriancivilwar". reddit. 
  11. ^ a b c O'Bagy, Elizabeth (2012). Middle East Security Report: Jihad in Syria (PDF) 6. Washington, DC. p. 27. 
  12. ^ Aron Lund (24 September 2013). "New Islamist Bloc Declares Opposition to National Coalition and US Strategy". Syria Comment. Retrieved 25 September 2013. 
  13. ^ "Freedom, Human Rights, Rule of Law: The Goals and Guiding Principles of the Islamic Front and Its Allies". Democratic Revolution, Syrian Style. 17 May 2014. Retrieved 17 May 2014. 
  14. ^ a b "Former Guantanamo detainee killed while leading jihadist group in Syria". Long War Journal. 4 April 2014. Retrieved 19 May 2014. 
  15. ^ "Arab Tribes Split Between Kurds And Jihadists". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 15 May 2014. Retrieved 20 May 2014. 
  16. ^ "NGO: Syria jihadists kill rebels in bombing". Al Arabiya. 11 January 2014. Retrieved 12 January 2014. 
  17. ^ "Al Qaeda's chief representative in Syria killed in suicide attack". Long War Journal. 23 February 2014. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  18. ^ "Report: Airstrikes target another Islamist group in Syria". CNN. 6 November 2014. Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  19. ^ Jocelyn, Thomas (23 April 2015). "Al Nusrah Front, allies launch new offensives against Syrian regime". Long War Journal. 
  20. ^ Lund, Aron (17 June 2013). "Freedom fighters? Cannibals? The truth about Syria’s rebels". The Independent. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  21. ^ "TIME Exclusive: Meet the Islamist Militants Fighting Alongside Syria’s Rebels". 2012-07-26. Retrieved 2014-01-19. 
  22. ^ Blanford, Nicholas (10 October 2013). "Jihadis may want to kill Assad. But is he lucky to have them?". csmonitor.com. Retrieved 7 January 2014. 
  23. ^ "TIME Exclusive: Meet the Islamist Militants Fighting Alongside Syria’s Rebels". Time. 2012-07-26. Retrieved 2014-01-19. 
  24. ^ a b Bar, Herve (13 February 2013). "Ahrar al-Sham jihadists emerge from shadows in north Syria". AFP. Retrieved 10 March 2013. 
  25. ^ Lund, Aron (March 2013). "Syria’s salafi insurgents: The rise of the Syrian Islamic Front" (PDF). Swedish Institute of International Affairs. Retrieved 2013-03-22. 
  26. ^ Spencer, Richard (16 August 2012). "British convert to Islam vows to fight to the death on Syrian rebel front line". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 11 September 2012. 
  27. ^ a b c "Tentative Jihad Syria's fundamentalist opposition" (PDF). International Crisis Group. 2012-08-12. Retrieved 2012-12-29. 
  28. ^ Abouzeid, Rania (2012-09-18). "Syrian Anti-Assad Rebel Groups Funded by Saudi Arabia, Qatar | TIME.com". Time. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  29. ^ "Going Rogue: Bandits and Criminal Gangs Threaten Syria’s Rebellion". Time. 2012-07-30. Retrieved 2012-09-11. 
  30. ^ "Islamist Mergers in Syria: Ahrar al-Sham Swallows Suqour al-Sham". Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 23 March 2015. Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  31. ^ "Fateh Haleb Coalition Member Organizations List : syriancivilwar". reddit. 
  32. ^ "Syrian rebel leader was bin Laden's courier, now Zawahiri's representative". The Long War Journal. 17 December 2013. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  33. ^ a b c d "Syria’s duplicity over al-Qaeda means West will not trust Assad". 20 January 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  34. ^ "Syria's Assad accused of boosting Al-Qaeda with secret oil deals". 20 January 2014. Retrieved 20 January 2014. 
  35. ^ a b "Statement from Zawahiri's representative shows Syrian rebel group tied to al Qaeda". 2014-01-18. Retrieved 2014-01-20. 
  36. ^ "Syrian rebels seek refuge in religion". Financial Times. 2012-08-09. Retrieved 2012-09-21. 
  37. ^ Ackerman, Spencer. "Islamic Extremists Rescue NBC Reporter Held in Syria". Wired. Retrieved 23 September 2014. 
  38. ^ http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/16/business/media/nbc-news-alters-account-of-correspondents-kidnapping-in-syria.html
  39. ^ "Islamic Forces In Syria Announce Establishment Of Joint Front Aimed At Toppling Assad, Founding Islamic State; Syrian Website Urges Them To Incorporate All Islamic Forces In Country". MEMRI. 26 December 2012. Retrieved 9 September 2014. 
  40. ^ [1][dead link]
  41. ^ Luca, Ana Maria (11 November 2013). "Message from Ayman al-Zawahiri". NOW News. Retrieved 22 January 2014. 
  42. ^ Jeremy Binnie (2013-08-18). "Hardline Islamists down Syrian jet with Chinese MANPADS - IHS Jane's 360". Janes.com. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  43. ^ "Al-Qaeda-linked rebels apologise after cutting off head of wrong person". Telegraph. 2013-11-14. Retrieved 2013-12-29. 
  44. ^ "ISIS accidentally beheads allied rebel fighter". Al Bawaba. 2013-11-14. Retrieved 2013-11-22. 
  45. ^ Barbara Surk (10 December 2013). "Syrian army pounds rebels near Lebanon border". Associated Press. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  46. ^ "Avashin ISIS kills number of Ahrar Al Sham… | YALLA SOURIYA". Yallasouriya.wordpress.com. 10 December 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  47. ^ "#BREAKING: Intense clashes between #ISIS and Ahrar al-Sham in Maskana town #Aleppo north of #Syria to seize control on Jarah Airport : zaidbenjamin". Inagist.com. 9 December 2013. Retrieved 17 December 2013. 
  48. ^ "Top al-Qaeda operative killed in Syria attack". Al Arabiya. 2014-02-23. Retrieved 2014-02-24. 
  49. ^ "Syria rebels name slain leader's replacement". Al Jazeera English. 9 September 2014. Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  50. ^ Syrian Civil War: 'At Least 45' Killed as Blast Hits Meeting of Islamist Insurgents International Business Times. 2014-09-09. Retrieved on 2014-09-09.
  51. ^ "AP sources: IS, al-Qaida reach accord in Syria". 2014-11-13. Retrieved 2014-11-13. 
  52. ^ Master. "Negotiations failed between the IS, Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic battalions". Syrian Observatory For Human Rights. 
  53. ^ "US-led air strikes hit al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria". Reuters. 6 November 2014. Retrieved 9 November 2014. 
  54. ^ "US-led air strikes on Syria ISIL targets 'kill 1,600'". Al-Jazeera. 23 February 2014. Retrieved 23 February 2014. 

External links[edit]