Hurras al-Din (HaD)

Introduction

Hurras al-Din (HaD) was formed on February 27, 2018, by a merger of seven hardline Syrian rebel factions.* Ten more minor rebel factions joined the group in the months following its formation, all with a history of ideological and leadership ties to al-Qaeda.* At least half of the group’s 700-2,500 members are foreigners.* HaD is avowedly loyal to al-Qaeda and its leadership is dominated by non-Syrian al-Qaeda veterans.* HaD’s leadership is split along two ideological currents; one following the teachings of al-Qaeda scholar Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and the other following the Libyan cleric Jamal Ibrahim Ashityawee al-Musratti.* Both currents, however, view al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri as their “defining authority.”*

Despite its small size, HaD claims to have carried out more than 200 attacks in Syria’s Idlib, Latakia, Hama, and Aleppo provinces, often in conjunction with other Syrian rebel factions.* The group holds no territory and largely uses small arms and light weapons such as mortars and technicals in its raids against Syrian regime positions.* While HaD’s core leadership and fighters were mostly defectors from the former Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate the al-Nusra Front, now known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the two groups initially worked together to carry out combat operations against the Syrian regime.*

On September 10, 2019, the United States listed HaD and its founding leader, Samir Hijazi, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).* These listings came just 10 days after the U.S. executed its third airstrike in two months against the organization in Syria’s Idlib province.* On June 14, 2020, the United States reportedly carried out a fourth targeted airstrike on the group, killing its overall leader Khaled al-Aruri (a.k.a. Abu al-Qasim al-Urduni) and another senior commander Bilal al Sanaani.* U.S. officials believe that, given enough freedom to plan and prepare, HaD will carry out attacks against American interests domestically and abroad.* In mid-2020, however, the ruling rebel faction in Idlib, HTS, initiated a significant crackdown on HaD’s leadership and rank and file. Dozens of senior and mid-level leaders were arrested or killed and the group was militarily expelled from its strongholds in the governorate.* Since then, HaD has been largely dismantled, unable to conduct attacks, rebuild, or operate freely in northwest Syria.*

Leadership

Khaled al-Aruri (a.k.a. Abu al-Qasim al-Urduni) (overall leader, deceased),* Abu Hamzah al Yemeni (senior leader, deceased),* Samir Hijazi (a.k.a. Abu Hamam al-Shami or Faruq al-Suri) (Shura Council member, former leader)*

Base of Operations

Idlib province in Syria*

Website

N/A

Membership Size and Relevance

In mid-2019, analysts estimated that HaD consisted of 16 local factions that together comprised between 700 and 2,500 fighters, half of whom were foreigners.* HaD foreign fighters come from most Middle Eastern and North African countries, such as Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria, as well as from Central Asia.* The group’s factions used to operate in Aleppo, Latakia, Idlib, and north Hama, but regime offensives and attacks by the United States and HTS have reduced their activity to just parts of Idlib. The group has also allied itself with other Syrian militants for specific operations. These partners have ranged from small pro-al-Qaeda groups like Jabhat Ansar al-Din and Jamaat Ansar al-Islam to major local factions like HTS.*

Recruitment and Propaganda

Most of HaD’s members appear to be defected fighters from other Syrian rebel factions, including a large percentage of foreign fighters dissatisfied with the less-hardline ideology they believe HTS has adopted.* At its height, HaD also conducted extensive outreach programs, pushing its ideology on locals and other militants through Friday sermons, youth lectures, public dawa (outreach) forums, dawa tours, cultural courses, and hospital visits.*

Violent Activities

Rhetoric

  • Sami al-Oraidi (Shura Council member), May 24, 2020: “Dealing with the infidels, whether in the times of peace or times of war, has to be controlled by sharia orders and the absolute devotion to Allah, and to be under supervision of scholars and pious experts who are familiar with the criminals’ approaches, so that people will not resort to the enemies or obey infidels. Obeying infidels never brings good.”*
  • Official HaD release, March 2019: “In the past few days…the soldiers of God in Afghanistan [Taliban]…killed more than 350 crusaders [U.S. coalition forces] and apostates [Afghan security forces] in a major breakthrough…with their blood [the Taliban] took revenge for the violation and desecration of sanctities.”*
  • HaD member, July 2019: “[Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham] have left the amirship of the learned hafiz sheikh al-Zawahiri (may God protect him). They broke their allegiance to the organization. And we did not come to Syria to be independent or break a pact and covenant.”*

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On January 23, 2019, two car bombs exploded outside of a mosque in Benghazi, Libya, killing 41 people and injuring 80 others. No group claimed responsibility for the blast, but remnants suggested an ISIS affiliate was responsible.  

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