Tahrir al-Sham

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Hayʼat Tahrir al-Sham
Organization for the Liberation of the Levant
هيئة تحرير الشام
Participant in the Syrian Civil War and the
Syrian Civil War spillover in Lebanon
Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham logo.jpg
Logo of Hayʼat Tahrir al-Sham
Flag of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.svg
Flag of Hayʼat Tahrir al-Sham
Active 28 January 2017 – present
Ideology

Sunni Islamism

Leaders
Headquarters Idlib, Idlib Governorate, Syria
Area of operations  Syria
 Lebanon
Size 50,000[6][7][8]
(20,000 al-Nusra fighters)[9]
Part of al-Qaeda (covertly, alleged)[10][2][11][12][13]
Originated as
Allies
Opponents

State opponents

Non-state opponents

Battles and wars

Syrian Civil War

Military intervention against ISIL

Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (Arabic: هيئة تحرير الشام‎‎, transliteration: Hayʼat Taḥrīr al-Shām,[22] "Organization for the Liberation of the Levant" or "Levant Liberation Committee"),[20][21] commonly referred to as Tahrir al-Sham and abbreviated HTS, is an active Salafist jihadist militant group involved in the Syrian Civil War. The group was formed on 28 January 2017 as a merger between Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front), the Ansar al-Din Front, Jaysh al-Sunna, Liwa al-Haqq, and the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement.[2] After the announcement, additional groups and individuals joined. The merger is currently led by Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and former Ahrar al-Sham leaders, although the High Command consists of leaders from other groups.[23][24] Many groups and individuals defected from Ahrar al-Sham, representing their more conservative and Salafist elements. Currently, a number of analysts and media outlets still continue to refer to this group by its previous names, al-Nusra Front, or Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.[25][26]

Despite the merger, Tahrir al-Sham has been accused to be working as al-Qaeda's Syrian branch on a covert level.[27][28] However, Tahrir al-Sham has officially denied being part of al-Qaeda and said in a statement that the group is "fully independent and doesn't represent any foreign body or organization".[29] Furthermore, some factions such as Nour al-Din al-Zenki, which was part of the merger, were once supported by the US.[30] Some analysts reported that the goal of forming Tahrir al-Sham was to unite all groups with al-Qaeda's extreme ideology under one banner, and to obtain as many weapons as possible. They also reported that many of the former Jabhat Fateh al-Sham fighters still answered to al-Qaeda, and held an increasing amount of sway over the new group.[13] It has also been claimed that despite the recent formation of Tahrir al-Sham, the new group secretly maintains a fundamental link to al-Qaeda, and that many of the group's senior figures, particularly Abu Jaber, held similarly extreme views.[27][better source needed] Russia claims that Tahrir al-Sham shares al-Nusra Front's goal of turning Syria into an Islamic emirate run by al-Qaeda.[31][32]

History[edit]

Formation[edit]

Abdullah al-Muhaysini, Abu Taher al-Hamawi, and Abd ar-Razzaq al-Mahdi worked on the formation of the group.[33]

Tahrir al Sham stated that it may include the Turkistan Islamic Party in the future.[34][better source needed]

The group received praise from the Gaza-based Salafist jihadist insurgent group Jaysh al-Ummah.[35][better source needed]

The group is currently establishing an Islamic governing body (Majlis-ash-Shura), or the consultative council (hence the multiple signed documents creating decrees/laws which can be found on official Tahrir al-Sham outlets). The reasoning behind this is that with a governing body, the newly formed group will be able to work together & prevent infighting which had been seen as the cause of tension within the rebel held areas for weeks prior to the formation of the group.[36]

On 28 January, the same day that Tahrir al-Sham was born, the group announced the formation of its elite units, the "Inghimasi", some of whom were deployed in Idlib city. They could also be used for suicide infiltration operations and as assault troops.[37]

Consolidation of power (2017)[edit]

On 30 January, there were reports of mobilizations by Tahrir al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham at the Bab al-Hawa Border Crossing and other nearby areas, and that the two groups were preparing for another round of clashes.[38] On 30 January, it was reported that there were around 31,000 fighters in Tahrir al-Sham.[8]

Soon after the group's formation, many local Syrians began referring to the group as Hetesh, which was an Arabic acronym meant as a pejorative, similar the "Daesh" label applied to ISIL by much of the Arab World. This labeling indicated that many Syrians saw Tahrir al-Sham as no different than ISIL, especially given the similarities between Tahrir al-Sham's recent attacks and ISIL's massive offensive on rebel forces in 2014.[39]

On 1 February 2017, it was reported that the US had conducted an airstrike on Carlton Hotel, in the city of Idlib, which was used by Tahrir al-Sham's former al-Nusra component for troop housing, and hosting meetings of prominent commanders.[40] On the same day, the Elite Division of the FSA was attacked by Tahrir al-Sham.[41]

On 3 February, a US airstrike struck a Tahrir al-Sham headquarters[42] in Sarmin, killing 12 members of HTS and Jund al-Aqsa. 10 of the killed militants were HTS members.[43][11] The airstrike also killed militant commander Ibrahim al-Rihaal Abu Bakr.[42]

On 3 February, hundreds of Syrians demonstrated under the slogan "There is no place for al-Qaeda in Syria" in the towns of Atarib, Azaz, Maarat al-Nu'man to protest against HTS. In response, supporters of HTS organized counter-protests in al-Dana, Idlib, Atarib, and Khan Shaykhun.[44] In Idlib pro- Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham protests were held waving pictures of its leader Abu Jaber on 3 February 2017.[45]

Attendance at a speech by Muhaysini was manipulated by drawing internally displaced persons and impoverished people with promises of motorcycles and refrigerators through a raffle by HTS.[46][better source needed]

On 4 February 2017, a US airstrike killed al-Qaeda commander Abu Hani al-Masri, who was a part of Ahrar al-Sham at the time of his death. It was reported that he was about to defect to Tahrir al-Sham before his death.[11] On the same day, Tahrir al-Sham official Muslah al-Alyani criticized other groups for not joining Tahrir al-Sham, arguing that any group that "fought for Islam" would be bombed, regardless of terrorist designations. In his statement, he indicated that one of the reasons why most Ahrar al-Sham fighters refused to join Tahrir al-Sham was because the latter group contained terrorist-designated individuals.[42]

Tariq Abdul Haleem praised a statement calling for war against Alawites and Zoroastrians by Hashim al-Sheikh and denounced negotiations.[47][better source needed]

Around 8 February, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi confirmed that 2 senior Jabhat Fateh al-Sham leaders, including former al-Nusra deputy leader Sami al-Oraydi, left Tahrir al-Sham after its formation.[48]

A speech was released by Abu Jaber on 9 February.[49] He emphasized his group being an "independent entity" and praised his "brothers" in the "Syrian Jihad". The statement included derogatory rhetoric on Shia Muslims.[50]

On 12 February, the Bunyan al-Marsous Operations Room, of which Tahrir al-Sham is a member of, launched an offensive against the Syrian Army in Daraa's Manshiyah district. Tahrir al-Sham forces began the attack with 2 suicide bombers and car bombs.[51]

On 13 February, clashes erupted between the previously-allied Tahrir al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa, also called Liwa al-Aqsa, in northern Hama and southern Idlib.[52][53]

On 15 February, Ahrar al-Sham published an infographic on its recent defections, claiming that only 955 fighters had defected to Tahrir al-Sham.[48] There were also reports that Ahrar al-Sham, the Sham Legion, Jaysh al-Izza, the Turkistan Islamic Party in Syria, and the Tamkin Brigade would soon merge to form a new organization called the "Syrian Liberation Front", with websites close to the organizations reportedly disclosing this.[54][55]

On 19 February, HTS arrested Major Anas Ibrahim in Atarib, and in response, an anti-HTS protest was held in the town.[56]

On 20 February, a Ma'arat al-Numan Shura Council was created by the Sham Legion, Ahrar al-Sham, and Tahrir al-Sham.[57]

On 22 February, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova stated that Russia feared that Tahrir al-Sham would declare a new Islamic Emirate in northwestern Syria within a month, patterned after ISIL's self-styled "Caliphate" in Ar-Raqqah.[32] On the same day, the Combating Terrorism Center reported that Jabhat Fateh al-Sham had formed the Tahrir al-Sham group due to its fear of being isolated, and to counter Ahrar al-Sham's recent expansion during the clashes in the Idlib Province.[48]

On 22 February, the last of Liwa al-Asqa's 2,100 militants left their final positions in Khan Skaykhun, to join ISIL in the Ar-Raqqah Province, after a negotiated withdrawal deal with Tahrir al-Sham and the Turkistan Islamic Party.[58][59] Afterward, Tahrir al-Sham declared terminating Liwa al-Aqsa, and promised to watch for any remaining cells.[60]

On 26 February, a US airstrike in Al-Mastoumeh, Idlib Province, killed Abu Khayr al-Masri, who was the deputy leader of al-Qaeda.[4][5][61] The airstrike also killed another Tahrir al-Sham militant.[62][63]

In early March 2017, local residents in the Idlib Province who supported FSA factions accused Tahrir al-Sham of doing more harm than good, saying that all they've done is "kidnap people, set up checkpoints, and terrorize residents."[64]

On 16 March, a US airstrike struck an al-Qaeda meeting in the village of al-Jina, just southwest of Atarib, killing dozens of Tahrir al-Sham militants and 49 civilians. Despite local groups and the SOHR accusing the US of bombing a mosque in the village, the US denied targeting the al-Jina Mosque, though the airstrike struck a building only 15 meters away.[65][66][67]

On the morning of 21 March (local time), a US drone strike in Darkoush, Idlib Province, killed Abu Islam al-Masri, a high-ranking HTS commander. HTS commander Abu al-'Abbas al-Darir was also killed in the drone strike.[68] On the same day, Tahrir al-Sham launched the 2017 Hama offensive against Syrian Government forces.

On 24 March, two flatbed trucks carrying flour and belonging to an IHH-affiliated Turkish relief organization were stopped at a HTS checkpoint at the entrance to Sarmada. HTS then seized the trucks and the flour, which was intended for a bakery in Saraqib. The seizure caused 2,000 families in the area to be cut off from a free supply of bread.[69]

On 3 May, HTS arrested Suhail Muhammad Hamoud, "Abu TOW", a former FSA fighter, in a house raid in Idlib. Earlier, al-Hamoud had published a photograph of him smoking in front of a HTS billboard that prohibited smoking.[70]

On 20 May, the main faction of the Abu Amara Battalions merged into Tahrir al-Sham, boosting the militant organization's fighting force to about 50,000, according to some sources.[6] However, the covert operations unit of the Abu Amara Battalions based in Aleppo remained independent.[71]

On 27 May, Tahrir al-Sham and Saraya Ahl al-Sham clashed with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in the western Qalamoun Mountains near Arsal, Lebanon–Syria border. 33 fighters were killed from both sides.[17]

On 29 May, Tahrir al-Sham arrested Abdul Baset al-Sarout after accusing him of participating in an anti-HTS protest in Maarat al-Nu'man.[72]

On 2 June 2017, defectors from the Northern Brigade's Commandos of Islam Brigade joined Tahrir al-Sham. However, Capt. Kuja, leader of the unit, stated that he is still part of the Northern Brigade.[73][74]

On 20 July 2017, the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement led by Sheikh Tawfiq Shahabuddin announced its withdrawal from Tahrir al-Sham amid widespread conflict between HTS and Ahrar al-Sham, and became an independent group.[14]

Terrorist attacks[edit]

Suicide vest with explosives similar to the ones used by Tahrir al-Sham

On 25 February 2017, 5 Tahrir al-Sham suicide bombers attacked the headquarters of the Syrian military intelligence in Homs, killing dozens of security forces, including the head of the military security in Homs.[75][76][77] There were 5 of them.[78][79][80][81] Pictures of the attackers were released.[82][83] One of the attackers was a Khan Shaykhun native called Abu Hurayra (Safi Qatini).[84] The State Security branch chief and Military security branch chief died in the attack.[85] Hassan Daaboul was among the 40 assassinated by Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham[86][87][88][89] The explosion killed Ibrahim Darwish, a Brigadier General and the state security branch's chief.[90][91][92][93] Syrian reporter Moussa al-Omar tweeted that he "thanks the terrorists who killed him".[94] Moussa uploaded a video talking about the blast.[95][96] He posted pictures of officers and soldiers who were killed.[97] The War Center Media gave a figure of six suicide attackers and a death toll of thirty.[98] The death toll was given at twenty by Moussa when he posted it a breaking.[99] The death toll was given at thirty five on 24 February according to Moussa.[100] The injured numbered fifty four and the dead numbered forty seven on 25 February according to Moussa.[101] Abu Yusuf al-Muhajir, a Tahrir al-Sham military spokesman was interviewed by Human Voice on the bombings.[102][103][104] Twenty-six names were released.[105] Sheikh Samir bin Ali Ka'aka Abu Abdurrahman from Eastern Ghouta suggested that the attack was carried out by Iranians in a dispute between Russians and Iranians.[106][107][108] It was claimed that the Homs strike was carried out by the government by Geneva-based opposition Syrians.[109] The attack took place the same time as the beginning of the Geneva Four talks.[110][111] The attack was praised by Liwa Omar al-Farouq Brigade leader in Ahrar Al-Sham, Abu Abdul Malik (Mahmoud Nemah).[112] The attack was mentioned in an article in the publication Al-Masra by the terrorist group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.[113][114] Terrorist leader Abu Mohammed al-Julani mentioned the Homs attack, stating that it was a message for the "defeatist politicians" to "step aside."[115][116][117][118] It has been alleged that the raid did not result in the death of Ibrahim Darwish.[119][120] Tariq Abdelhaleem posted a tweet on the Homs attack by Tahrir al-Sham.[121]

On 11 March 2017, Tahrir al-Sham carried out a twin bombing attack in the Bab al-Saghir area of Damascus's Old City, killing 76 and wounding 120. The death toll included 43 Iraqi pilgrims.[122][123] The attacks at a shrine frequented by Shi'ite pilgrims and militiamen[124] were described in a statement attributed to Tahrir al-Sham, as targeting Iran-backed militias and pro-Assad fighters.[125]

Ideology and governance[edit]

Tahrir al-Sham's leader, Abu Jaber, has Salafist jihadist beliefs. This has resulted in him being arrested several times by the Syrian government. He was imprisoned at the Sednaya Prison in 2005 and released among several jihadist prisoners in 2011 who would form several Salafist rebel groups during the Syrian Civil War.[50] Abu Jaber has also professed a belief in "Popular Jihad", a bottom-to-top approach in which jihadists would win the hearts and minds of the people, before setting out to establish jihadi governance, after receiving enough popular support, which is notably the opposite of ISIL's "elite Jihad" top-to-bottom approach.[27]

Analysts[who?] have also reported that the group continues to maintain many of al-Nusra Front's al-Qaeda ideologies.[13] It was also reported that a large portion of Tahrir al-Sham's fighters from Jabhat Fateh al-Sham still refused to disengage from al-Qaeda, and continued to hold a large sway over the group, despite the public re-branding of the group.[13] Tahrir al-Sham continues to harbor the former al-Nusra Front's goal of turning Syria into an Islamic Emirate, run by al-Qaeda. If such a governing entity were declared, it would be similar to ISIL's declaration of a Caliphate.[31][32] The Combating Terrorism Center also reported that despite public statements by some of Tahrir al-Sham's top figures, the group was still largely the same al-Qaeda-aligned group it was, back when it was known as al-Nusra.[48]

In July, 2017, the organization published an infographic showing some of its objectives. Among them were; "rejection of secularism and democracy", "establishment of an Islamic state", "rule by the Islamic scholars based on the sharia law" and "rejection of political rapprochement with the criminal regime (i.e. Syrian government)".[126]

Structure[edit]

Member groups[edit]

[better source needed]

The groups in italic are defectors from Ahrar al-Sham which either left to join Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in the last few days of its existence, or joined it's successor group Tahrir al-Sham.

Disclaimer

This list is based on official announcements by Tahrir al-Sham[241][better source needed] and may not necessarily express the full extent of allegiances to the group. These groups may or may not become independent in the future; however, effort will be made to accordingly add or remove groups, based on the status given to them by the commanding office of Tahrir al-Sham. This list may not be a full comprehensive list of member groups.[citation needed]

Leadership[edit]

[better source needed]

The "general commander" or emir of Tahrir al-Sham is Abu Jaber Hashem Al-Sheikh,[242][243] also known as Abu Jaber, who was the leader of Ahrar al-Sham until September 2015.[244] The "general commander" should not be confused with Tahrir al-Sham's "military leader", who is Abu Mohammad al-Julani,[243] the emir of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham who had also led its predecessor organisation Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.[245] The individuals in italic are defectors from Ahrar al-Sham, which either left to join Jabhat Fateh al-Sham in the last few days of its existence, or joined it's successor group Tahrir al-Sham.

Former groups[edit]

Former leaders[edit]

Political relations[edit]

Ahrar al-Sham[edit]

The relationship between HTS and Ahrar al-Sham is complex. While there is some enmity between them, the groups are not at war. According to a leading scholar in Tahrir al-Sham, the groups do not particularly hate one another in the political or social battlefield. Certain members, however, do believe that a war between the two would be possible, since Ahrar al-Sham's attendance at the Astana talks labels it as a "moderate" faction, often seen as blasphemy within groups such as Tahrir al-Sham.[274]

Designation as a terrorist organization[edit]

The US embassy in Syria confirmed on May that HTS had been designated a terrorist organization in March.[275] The United States Ambassador to Syria stated that "HTS is a merger and any group that merges into it becomes part of al-Qaeda's Syrian network." [276] and "the core of HTS is Nusra, a designated terrorist organization This designation applies regardless of what name it uses or what groups merge into it.".[277]

Canada has followed not suit, refusing to designate the organization as terrorist.[278]

External support[edit]

Iran's government has accused Qatar and Saudi Arabia of helping Tahrir al-Sham.[279]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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