IntroductionAhrar al-Sharqiyah is a militia associated with the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), which Turkey relied on to support its 2019 incursion into northeast Syria.* The group has been accused of human rights violations, including the murder of Syrian Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf at a checkpoint during the 2019 invasion.* Ahrar al-Sharqiyah members have also been accused of engaging “in abductions, torture, and seizures of private property from civilians, barring displaced Syrians from returning to their homes,” and the murder of predominantly Kurdish civilians.* The group and two of its leaders were sanctioned by the U.S. Department of the Treasury in July 2021.* Ahrar al-Sharqiyah announced its formation in January 2016. * The group composes the 123rd Brigade of the First Legion of the SNA and has training camps in Aleppo Province in the Rajo district, in the city of al-Bab, and in al-Rai.*
LeadershipAbu Hatem Shaqra is the current commander of the group and was personally sanctioned at the same time his group was designated a terrorist group.* Shaqra met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after the completion of Operation Euphrates Shield.* Abu Jaafer Shaqra, who acts as the group’s military commander, was also sanctioned.*
Base of OperationsAleppo countryside, Syria*
Membership Size and RelevanceIn its early phases, the group resided in Idlib, Latakia, and western Aleppo but was active mainly in northern Aleppo. * In November 2018, Ahrar al-Sharqiyah claimed to have 5,000 fighters after losing 500 members in a battle with ISIS. *
Recruitment and PropagandaMost of the members of the militia are from eastern Syria in Deir Ez Zor province and fled when ISIS took over. * The group also absorbed many members and leaders from Ahrar al-Sham. *
- October 2019: Hevrin Khalaf and nine others are executed at a checkpoint during the 2019 Turkish invasion.* When asked about the killings, Abu Hatem Shaqra responds, “every armed force in the world makes mistakes.”*
- December 2017: The group documents their crimes via social media, including field executions and beheading enemy corpses.* A video is circulated showing Ahrar al Sharqiyah members torturing and executing a civilian they accused of working for the Syrian Democratic Forces.*
- September 2016: The group publishes a video of their execution of an alleged ISIS fighter.*
- September 2016: The group gathers around a Syrian opposition faction that was escorting a unit of U.S. Special Forces and denounces them all as “American agents,” “dogs,” “pigs,” and part of a “Christian coalition” for their support of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to the east.*
Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.
On February 26, 2015, a Boko Haram suicide bomber detonated his explosives near a market in Biu, Nigeria, killing 19 people and injuring 20 others. A second attempted-suicide bomber was caught and beaten by a crowd before he was able to carry out his attack.
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