Hurras al-Din

Also Known As:

Executive Summary:

Hurras al-Din (HaD) was formed on February 27, 2018, by a merger of seven hardline Syrian rebel factions.Tore Refslund Hamming and Pieter Van Ostaeyen, “The True Story of al-Qaeda’s Demise and Resurgence in Syria,” Lawfare, April 8, 2018, https://lawfareblog.com/true-story-al-qaedas-demise-and-resurgence-syria; Josko Baric, “Syrian War Daily – 28th of February 2018,” Syrian War Daily, https://syrianwardaily.com/2018/02/28/syrian-war-daily-28th-of-february-2018/. 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.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Huras al-Din: The Overlooked al-Qaeda Group in Syria,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 24, 2019, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/huras-al-din-the-overlooked-al-qaeda-group-in-syria; Charles Lister, “The Syria Effect: Al-Qaeda Fractures,” Hudson Institute, December 11, 2019, https://www.hudson.org/research/15533-the-syria-effect-al-qaeda-fractures. At least half of the group’s 700-2,500 members are foreigners.“Twenty-Fourth Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team Submitted Pursuant to Resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities,” UN Security Council, June 27, 2019, 7-9, https://undocs.org/S/2019/570; The Best of Bad Options for Syria’s Idlib, International Crisis Group, March 14, 2019, 18, https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/197-the-best-of-bad-options%20.pdf; Charles Lister, “The Syria Effect: Al-Qaeda Fractures,” Hudson Institute, December 11, 2019, https://www.hudson.org/research/15533-the-syria-effect-al-qaeda-fractures. HaD is avowedly loyal to al-Qaeda and its leadership is dominated by non-Syrian al-Qaeda veterans.“Twenty-Fourth Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team Submitted Pursuant to Resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities,” UN Security Council, June 27, 2019, 7-8, https://undocs.org/S/2019/570; Charles Lister, “The Syria Effect: Al-Qaeda Fractures,” Hudson Institute, December 11, 2019, https://www.hudson.org/research/15533-the-syria-effect-al-qaeda-fractures. 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.“Hardliner Wing of ‘Hurras al-Din’ Loses Its Most Influential Figures,” Enab Baladi, July 4, 2018, https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2019/07/hardliner-wing-of-guardians-of-religion-loses-its-most-influential-figures/#ixzz65J3MS9o5; Twenty-Fourth Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team Submitted Pursuant to Resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities,” U.N. Security Council, June 27, 2019, 7, https://undocs.org/S/2019/570. Both currents, however, view al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri as their “defining authority.”“Hardliner Wing of ‘Hurras al-Din’ Loses Its Most Influential Figures,” Enab Baladi, July 4, 2018, https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2019/07/hardliner-wing-of-guardians-of-religion-loses-its-most-influential-figures/#ixzz65J3MS9o5; “Twenty-Fourth Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team Submitted Pursuant to Resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities,” U.N. Security Council, June 27, 2019, 7, https://undocs.org/S/2019/570.

Despite its small size, HaD claims to have carried out over 200 attacks in Syria’s Idlib, Latakia, Hama, and Aleppo provinces, often in conjunction with other Syrian rebel factions.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Huras al-Din: The Overlooked al-Qaeda Group in Syria,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 24, 2019, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/huras-al-din-the-overlooked-al-qaeda-group-in-syria. The group holds no territory and largely uses small arms and light weapons such as mortars and technicals in its raids of Syrian regime positions.The Best of Bad Options for Syria’s Idlib, International Crisis Group, 18, March 14, 2019, https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/197-the-best-of-bad-options%20.pdf. While HaD’s core leadership and fighters are mostly defectors from the former Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front, now known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the two groups have worked together to carry out combat operations against the Syrian regime.The Best of Bad Options for Syria’s Idlib, International Crisis Group, 17, March 14, 2019, https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/197-the-best-of-bad-options%20.pdf.

On September 10, 2019, the United States listed HaD and its founding leader, Samir Hijazi, as Specially Designated Global Terrorists.“Designation of Faruq al-Suri as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” U.S. Department of State, September 19, 2019, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/09/19/2019-20277/designation-of-faruq-al-suri-as-a-specially-designated-global-terrorist; “Designation of Hurras al-Din as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” U.S. Department of State, September 19, 2019, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/09/19/2019-20251/designation-of-hurras-al-din-as-a-specially-designated-global-terrorist. 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.“Statement from U.S. Central Command on Strike against al-Qaida in Syria,” U.S Central Command, June 30, 2019, https://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/STATEMENTS/Statements-View/Article/1891697/statement-from-us-central-command-on-strike-against-al-qaida-in-syria/; “About 8 Persons Mostly Commanders of Non-Syrian Nationalities Were Killed in Aerial Bombardment Believed to Be Caused by the International Coalition Warplanes That Targeted a Headquarters of Hurras Al-Din Organization in the ‘Putin – Erdogan’ Area,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 1, 2019, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=133022; Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda Veteran Reportedly Killed in Idlib,” Long War Journal, August 22, 2019, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2019/08/al-qaeda-veteran-reportedly-killed-in-idlib.php; “Syria’s War: US ‘Targets al-Qaeda Leaders’ in Rebel-Held Idlib,” Al Jazeera, September 1, 2019, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/08/syria-war-targets-al-qaeda-leaders-rebel-held-idlib-190831185353770.html; Alexander Sehmer, Jamestown Foundation Terrorism Monitor 16, no. 16 (August 10, 2018): 1–2, https://jamestown.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/TM-Aug.-10-2018-Issue-.pdf?x28725. 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.Thomas Joscelyn, “U.S. reportedly targets 2 senior al Qaeda figures in airstrike in Syria,” Long War Journal, June 14, 2020, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2020/06/u-s-reportedly-targets-2-senior-al-qaeda-figures-in-airstrike-in-syria.php. However, a spokesman for the U.S.-led international coalition stated that the coalition “has not conducted any airstrikes in northwestern Syria in recent weeks.”“Drone Strike in Syria Kills Two Jihadist Leaders: Monitor,” Defense Post, June 15, 2020, https://www.thedefensepost.com/2020/06/15/syria-jihadist-leaders-killed/. U.S. officials believe that, given enough freedom to plan and prepare, HaD will carry out attacks against American interests domestically and abroad.Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Sees Rising Threat in the West from Qaeda Branch in Syria,” New York Times, September 29, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/29/world/middleeast/syria-qaeda-terrorism.html.

The United States continued to carry out airstrikes against HaD members in the second half of 2020. On September 15, 2020, the U.S. launched a drone strike in Idlib, targeting and killing Sayyaf al-Tunsi, a former HaD leader. Al-Tunsi was targeted due to his alleged responsibility for the 2015 massacre of 20 Druze villagers in Idlib province when HaD was operating under the banner of the Nusra Front. Additionally, al-Tunsi was allegedly a senior planner of al-Qaeda attacks against the West. U.S. military officials believe al-Tunsi’s death will disrupt the operational capacities of HaD.“Syria Drone Strike Kills Top Tunisian Jihadist Sayyaf al-Tunsi,” Defense Post, September 15, 2020, https://www.thedefensepost.com/2020/09/15/drone-strike-kills-al-tunsi/; Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Commandos Use Secretive Missiles to Kill Qaeda Leaders in Syria,” New York Times, September 24, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/24/us/politics/missiles-al-qaeda-syria.html.

Doctrine:

The United Nations assesses that al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri is the “defining authority” for HaD and that the group has a “more international outlook” compared to most other opposition groups in Syria, which have directed their efforts against each other and the Syrian regime.“Twenty-Fourth Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team Submitted Pursuant to Resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities,” UN Security Council, June 27, 2019, 7, https://undocs.org/S/2019/570. International Crisis Group profile of HaD states the group “embraces an uncompromising global jihadist worldview.”The Best of Bad Options for Syria’s Idlib, International Crisis Group, March 14, 2019, 18, https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/197-the-best-of-bad-options%20.pdf. The hardline faction of HaD leaders follow the ideological outlook of al-Qaeda–linked scholar Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, one of the most prominent Salafist figures worldwide.“Hardliner Wing of ‘Hurras al-Din’ Loses Its Most Influential Figures,” Enab Baladi, July 4, 2018, https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2019/07/hardliner-wing-of-guardians-of-religion-loses-its-most-influential-figures/#ixzz65J3MS9o5. According to Syrian-based Islamist figures, HaD leaders have repeatedly expressed a desire to conduct external attacks against the United States.Charles Lister, “The Syria Effect: Al-Qaeda Fractures,” Hudson Institute, December 11, 2019, https://www.hudson.org/research/15533-the-syria-effect-al-qaeda-fractures.

Organizational Structure:

In mid-2019, analysts estimated that HaD consisted of 16 local factions that together comprise between 700 and 2,500 fighters, half of whom were foreigners.“Twenty-Fourth Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team Submitted Pursuant to Resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities,” UN Security Council, June 27, 2019, 7-8, https://undocs.org/S/2019/570; The Best of Bad Options for Syria’s Idlib, International Crisis Group, March 14, 2019, https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/197-the-best-of-bad-options%20.pdf; Charles Lister, “The Syria Effect: Al-Qaeda Fractures,” Hudson Institute, December 11, 2019, https://www.hudson.org/research/15533-the-syria-effect-al-qaeda-fractures. 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.“About 8 Persons Mostly Commanders of Non-Syrian Nationalities Were Killed in Aerial Bombardment Believed to Be Caused by the International Coalition Warplanes That Targeted a Headquarters of Hurras al-Din Organization in the ‘Putin–Erdogan’ area,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, July 1, 2019, http://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=133022; “Twenty-Fourth Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team Submitted Pursuant to Resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities,” UN Security Council, June 27, 2019, 7-8, https://undocs.org/S/2019/570. The group’s factions operate in Aleppo, Latakia, Idlib, and north Hama. 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 Hayat Tahrir al-Sham.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Huras al-Din: The Overlooked al-Qaeda Group in Syria,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 24, 2019, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/huras-al-din-the-overlooked-al-qaeda-group-in-syria.

In October 2018, HaD allied with HTS and pro-al-Qaeda groups Ansar al-Din and Jamaat Ansar al-Islam to form the Incite the Believers (Wa-Hardh al-Muminin) Operations Room.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Huras al-Din: The Overlooked al-Qaeda Group in Syria,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 24, 2019, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/huras-al-din-the-overlooked-al-qaeda-group-in-syria; “Military Groups Calling Themselves ‘The Finest Factions of the Levant’ Form Joint Operations Room,” Syria Call, October 15, 2018, http://nedaa-sy.com/en/news/9078. However, as HTS began to assert its power in northern Syria through seizing territory from rival rebel groups, on June 12, 2020, HaD formed a new operations room alongside four other small, hardline militant groups in Idlib. The new operations room is called “Be Steadfast” and includes the previous HaD operations room “Incite the Believers.” In 2020, HTS began cracking down on HaD and has arrested many of its leaders.Elizabeth Tsurkiv, Twitter Post, June 12, 2020, 2:58pm, https://twitter.com/Elizrael/status/1271517276307697668; “Syria group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and al-Qaeda legacy,” BBC News, May 22, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-48353751; Sultan al-Kanj, “Syrian extremist group in Idlib breaks with jihadist ideologue,” Al-Monitor, October 21, 2020, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/10/syria-hayat-tahrir-al-sham-relations-al-qaeda-jihadis.html#ixzz6cx8tDwBS.

Syrian activists have accused HaD is of running four secret detention centers where it holds at least 113 prisoners, including local aid workers.“Hurras al Din Group Is Responsible for Kidnapping and Forcibly Disappearing Six Activists Working for Relief Organizations in Idlib,” Syrian Network for Human Rights, March 19, 2020, http://sn4hr.org/blog/2020/03/19/54770/.

Financing:

Despite the harsh rhetoric between the leaderships of HTS and HaD, the former does provide some limited material support to the group, especially when the two groups participate in joint combat operations.The Best of Bad Options for Syria’s Idlib, International Crisis Group, March 14, 2019, 18, https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/197-the-best-of-bad-options%20.pdf. HaD also raises funds through online campaigns, stating that “money is the backbone of jihad, and the abilities of the mujahedin would be weakened without it.”Aaron Y. Zelin, “Huras al-Din: The Overlooked al-Qaeda Group in Syria,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 24, 2019, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/huras-al-din-the-overlooked-al-qaeda-group-in-syria. Prospective donors are given details for bank accounts in which they can deposit funds.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Huras al-Din: The Overlooked al-Qaeda Group in Syria,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 24, 2019, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/huras-al-din-the-overlooked-al-qaeda-group-in-syria.

Recruitment:

Most of HaD’s members appears 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.“Twenty-Fourth Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team Submitted Pursuant to Resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities,” UN Security Council, June 27, 2019, 7-8, https://undocs.org/S/2019/570; The Best of Bad Options for Syria’s Idlib, International Crisis Group, March 14, 2019, 17, https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/197-the-best-of-bad-options%20.pdf; Aymenn al-Tamimi, “Hurras al-Din: Interview,” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi’s blog, July 11, 2019, http://www.aymennjawad.org/2019/07/hurras-al-din-interview.

HaD also conducts 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.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Huras al-Din: The Overlooked al-Qaeda Group in Syria,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 24, 2019, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/huras-al-din-the-overlooked-al-qaeda-group-in-syria.

Training:

HaD operates at least four military-training camps in the greater Idlib area, three of which are named after prominent al-Qaeda loyalists who died in Syria: Abu Khalad al-Muhandis, Shaykh Abu Firas al-Suri, and Shaykh Abu Islam.Aaron Y. Zelin, Twitter Post, November 20, 2018, 9:02 a.m., https://twitter.com/azelin/status/1064881577468006400; Aaron Y. Zelin, Twitter post, December 2, 2018, 9:27 a.m., https://twitter.com/azelin/status/1069236694539530240; Aaron Y. Zelin, Twitter post, November 6, 2019, 9:33 a.m., https://twitter.com/azelin/status/1192087673684549632.

Khaled al-Aruri (a.k.a. Abu al-Qasim al-Urduni)

Overall leader, deceased

Bilal Khuraysat (a.k.a. Abu Hudhayfah al-Urduni, a.k.a. Abu Khadija al-Urduni)

Shura Council member, deceased

Faraj Ahmad Nanaa

Shura Council member

Abu Abd al-Karim al-Masri

Shura Council member

Abu Abdullrahman al-Maki

Senior religious figure

Abu al-Bara’ al-Tunisi

Senior religious figure

Iyad Nazmi Salih Khalil (a.k.a. Abu Julaybib al-Urduni)

Unidentified role, deceased

Abu Omar al-Tunsi

Sharia judge, deceased

Abu Thar al-Masri

Senior figure, deceased

Abu Yahia al-Jaza’aeri

Senior figure, deceased

Abu Dujanah al-Tunissi

Senior figure, deceased

Abu Khalad al-Muhandis (a.k.a. Sari Shihab)

Senior figure, deceased

Bilal al Sanaani

Senior commander, deceased

Sayyaf al-Tunsi

Senior leader, deceased

Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Makki

Senior leader, Shura Council member

 

Designations by U.S. Government:

September 10, 2019: The Department of State designates Hurras al-Din as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist.“Designation of Hurras al-Din as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist,” U.S. Department of State, September 19, 2019, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/09/19/2019-20251/designation-of-hurras-al-din-as-a-specially-designated-global-terrorist.

Ties to Extremist Entities:

Al-Qaeda

HaD is explicitly loyal to al-Qaeda and the U.S. government considers it part of al-Qaeda in Syria.Aymenn al-Tamimi, “Hurras al-Din: Interview,” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi’s blog, July 11, 2019, http://www.aymennjawad.org/2019/07/hurras-al-din-interview; The Best of Bad Options for Syria’s Idlib, International Crisis Group, March 14, 2019, 17, https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/197-the-best-of-bad-options%20.pdf; Nathan A. Sales, “Keeping the Pressure on al-Qaida,” U.S. Department of State, September 12, 2019, https://www.state.gov/keeping-the-pressure-on-al-qaida. HaD leaders and rank and file repeatedly make statements reiterating their support for both the Taliban and al-Qaeda.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda-Linked Group in Syria Praises Taliban, Shabaab Operations,” Long War Journal, March 14, 2019, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2019/03/al-qaeda-linked-group-in-syria-praises-taliban-shabaab-operations.php; Aymenn al-Tamimi, “Hurras al-Din: Interview,” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi’s blog, July 11, 2019, http://www.aymennjawad.org/2019/07/hurras-al-din-interview. Furthermore, HaD views al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri as its “defining authority.”“Hardliner Wing of ‘Hurras al-Din’ Loses Its Most Influential Figures,” Enab Baladi, July 4, 2018, https://english.enabbaladi.net/archives/2019/07/hardliner-wing-of-guardians-of-religion-loses-its-most-influential-figures/#ixzz65J3MS9o5; “Twenty-Fourth Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team Submitted Pursuant to Resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities,” UN Security Council, June 27, 2019, 7-8, https://undocs.org/S/2019/570.

HaD’s leadership has close ties to al-Qaeda. HaD’s current leader, Khaled al-Aruri, is a long-time al-Qaeda member, released from an Iranian jail in a prisoner swap with AQAP.“Twenty-Fourth Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team Submitted Pursuant to Resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities,” UN Security Council, June 27, 2019, 7-8, https://undocs.org/S/2019/570. HaD shura council members Iyad Nazmi Salih Khalil (now deceased), Sami al-Oraidi, Bilal Khuraysat (now deceased), and Faraj Ahmad Nana’a are also all veteran members of al-Qaeda.“Twenty-Fourth Report of the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team Submitted Pursuant to Resolution 2368 (2017) concerning ISIL (Da’esh), Al-Qaida and Associated Individuals and Entities,” UN Security Council, June 27, 2019, 7-8, https://undocs.org/S/2019/570.

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham

HaD’s core leadership and fighters are comprised of defectors from the former Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front, now known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).The Best of Bad Options for Syria’s Idlib, International Crisis Group, March 14, 2019, https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/197-the-best-of-bad-options%20.pdf. The two groups have a contentious relationship, often hurling accusations at one another while also cooperating on the battlefield. According to interviews carried out by Syria expert Aymenn al-Tamimi, HaD’s disputes with HTS are largely at the leadership level and center on HTS’s disavowal of al-Qaeda and HaD’s loyalty to al-Qaeda.Aymenn al-Tamimi, “Hurras al-Din: Interview,” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi’s blog, July 11, 2019, http://www.aymennjawad.org/2019/07/hurras-al-din-interview.

On November 27, 2017, Nusra Front leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani ordered the arrests of Sami al-Oraidi, the former head of the group’s Sharia Council; Abu Julaibib al-Urduni, former Nusra Dara’a commander; Iyad Nazmi Salih Khalil, former Jabhat Fateh al-Sham commander; Abu Khadija al-Urduni; and Abu Mussaab al-Libi. All four were prominent Nusra leaders with strong ties to al-Qaeda.Mona Alami, “HTS Continues to Evolve,” Syria Source, December 1, 2017, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/syriasource/hts-continues-to-evolve. Following these arrests, several members of HTS, the current incarnation of the Nusra Front, resigned, and several large factions threatened to break away, prompting Golani to renew negotiations with al-Qaeda that ultimately led nowhere.“Weekly Conflict Summary, November 30–December 6, 2017,” Carter Center, December 6, 2017, https://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/peace/conflict_resolution/syria-conflict/weekly-conflict-summary-2017.11.30-12.05.pdf. On December 4, 2017, HTS released Urduni in a bid to ease tensions within the group. Urduni immediately renewed his pledge to al-Qaeda upon release.“Weekly Conflict Summary, November 30–December 6, 2017,” Carter Center, December 6, 2017, https://www.cartercenter.org/resources/pdfs/peace/conflict_resolution/syria-conflict/weekly-conflict-summary-2017.11.30-12.05.pdf.

Subsequently, several subgroups of devoted al-Qaeda supporters defected from HTS. On December 5, 2017, HTS faction Jaish al-Badia defected, creating a new Telegram channel devoted to al-Qaeda.Tore Refslund Hamming and Pieter Van Ostaeyen, “The True Story of al-Qaeda’s Demise and Resurgence in Syria,” Lawfare, April 8, 2018, https://lawfareblog.com/true-story-al-qaedas-demise-and-resurgence-syria. Jaish al-Malahem followed three weeks later, also indicating support for al-Qaeda in its new Telegram channel, while on February 7, 2018, a new al-Qaeda-supporting group, Jund al Shariah, announced its formation.Tore Refslund Hamming and Pieter Van Ostaeyen, “The True Story of al-Qaeda’s Demise and Resurgence in Syria,” Lawfare, April 8, 2018, https://lawfareblog.com/true-story-al-qaedas-demise-and-resurgence-syria. On February 28, 2018, these three groups, along with three other small militant factions, announced a merger under the name Hurras al-Din, or Guardians of the Religion, and declared themselves an unofficial affiliate of al-Qaeda.Tore Refslund Hamming and Pieter Van Ostaeyen, “The True Story of al-Qaeda’s Demise and Resurgence in Syria,” Lawfare, April 8, 2018, https://lawfareblog.com/true-story-al-qaedas-demise-and-resurgence-syria. Oraidi and Urduni both joined HaD’s Shura council and have reportedly begun talks with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri to make HaD the official al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. HaD remains at odds with HTS.Tore Refslund Hamming and Pieter Van Ostaeyen, “The True Story of al-Qaeda’s Demise and Resurgence in Syria,” Lawfare, April 8, 2018, https://lawfareblog.com/true-story-al-qaedas-demise-and-resurgence-syria.

Despite this severe ideological divide, the two groups formed a joint operations room in October 2018.Aaron Y. Zelin, “Huras al-Din: The Overlooked al-Qaeda Group in Syria,” Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 24, 2019, https://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/huras-al-din-the-overlooked-al-qaeda-group-in-syria; “Military Groups Calling Themselves ‘the Finest Factions of the Levant’ Form Joint Operations Room,” Syria Call, October 15, 2018, http://nedaa-sy.com/en/news/9078. HTS and HaD militants use this room to conduct offensive and defensive military actions against Syrian regime forces in Latakia, Idlib, Hama, and Aleppo.Aymenn al-Tamimi, “Hurras al-Din: Interview,” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi’s blog, July 11, 2019, http://www.aymennjawad.org/2019/07/hurras-al-din-interview; Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda-Linked Operations Room Continues to Attack Assad Regime,” Long War Journal, November 19, 2018, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/11/al-qaeda-linked-operations-room-continues-to-attack-assad-regime.php.

ISIS

There has been much debate about the nature of the HaD-ISIS relationship following the U.S. killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.Martin Chulov, “Nowhere Left to Run: How the US Finally Caught Up with Isis Leader Baghdadi,” Guardian (London), October 27, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/27/nowhere-left-to-run-how-the-us-finally-caught-up-with-isis-leader-baghdadi. The New York Times’ Rukmini Callimachi claimed to have received receipts proving that ISIS paid HaD for the explicit purpose of harboring Baghdadi in Idlib.Rukmini Callimachi “Experts Divided on Authenticity of Islamic State Receipts,” New York Times, November 14, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/14/world/middleeast/islamic-state-receipts-debate.html. If so, the al-Qaeda affiliated group cooperated with ISIS, the terrorist organization famously denounced by al-Qaeda in February 2014.Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda’s General Command Disowns the Islamic State of Iraq and the Sham,” Long War Journal, February 3, 2014, http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2014/02/al_qaedas_general_co.php. Aymenn al-Tamimi, the premier expert on ISIS documents, was allowed to assess half of the documents used by the Times and raised serious issues regarding the legitimacy of the receipts, stating that there were glaring problems with basic naming and format conventions that would not appear in any real ISIS document. Aymenn al-Tamimi, “The New York Times and Alleged Payments to Hurras al-Din: Clarification,” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi’s blog, October 31, 2019, http://www.aymennjawad.org/2019/10/the-new-york-times-and-alleged-payments-to-hurras. Rather, it appears that a former HaD senior figure, Abu Mohammed al-Halabi, had harbored Baghdadi himself after being expelled from HaD for his pro-ISIS sympathies. HaD regularly conducts anti-ISIS operations within Idlib alongside HTS.Martin Chulov, “Nowhere Left to Run: How the US Finally Caught Up with Isis Leader Baghdadi,” Guardian (London), October 27, 2019, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/27/nowhere-left-to-run-how-the-us-finally-caught-up-with-isis-leader-baghdadi.

Sami al-Oraidi, 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.”“Commander and general sharia official in al-Qaeda-affiliated “Hurras al-Din” warns jihadi groups of being subject to “international understandings”,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, https://www.syriahr.com/en/?p=166281.

Hurras al-Din 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.”Aymenn al-Tamimi, “Hurras al-Din: Interview,” Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi’s blog, July 11, 2019, http://www.aymennjawad.org/2019/07/hurras-al-din-interview.

Official Hurras al-Din 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.”Thomas Joscelyn, “Al Qaeda-Linked Group in Syria Praises Taliban, Shabaab Operations,” Long War Journal, March 14, 2019, https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2019/03/al-qaeda-linked-group-in-syria-praises-taliban-shabaab-operations.php.

Daily Dose

Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.

Fact:

On July 26, 2018, Boko Haram fighters attacked a Nigerian military base and a police station in Jakana, a village close to Maiduguri, leaving hundreds either dead, captured, or missing. 

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