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memri
June 8, 2018 No.
7514

Following HTS Decision To Grant Turkey A Military Presence In Idlib, Al-Qaeda Supporters Accuse It Of Abandoning Its Principles, Seeking To Ingratiate Itself With The Enemies Of Islam

The following report is now a complimentary offering from MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM). For JTTM subscription information, click here.

In late May 2018, Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS, formerly known as Jabhat Al-Nusra and Jabhat Fath Al-Sham), headed by Abu Muhammad Al-Joulani, announced that, although it wasn't party to the understandings achieved at the Astana talks between Turkey, Russia, and Iran about the de-escalation agreements, it would help to facilitate implementation of the agreement and the establishment of Turkish military positions in the Idlib area, most of which is under its control. In an interview with the Qatari Al-Jazeera channel, HTS Political Bureau Chief Yousuf Al-Hajar said that his organization has a close relationship with Turkey, which he described as an "ally."[1]

Supporters of Al-Qaeda (AQ) in Syria, who have had a long-standing dispute with Al-Joulani ever since he declared that he was severing his connection to AQ in July 2016,[2] rushed to capitalize on the announcement by the senior HTS member and attack the organization. Articles written by AQ supporters declare that history will never forgive HTS for its decision to perpetrate "the greatest crime of all," i.e. to grant the Turkish forces safe passage into Syria. The writers claim that HTS has openly declared itself a tool in the hands of Turkey, which they label "secular" and "apostate." They write that HTS's efforts to dissociate itself from AQ in order to improve its image vis-a-vis the international community have failed, and the most recent evidence of this is the U.S. decision from May 31, 2018 not to remove HTS from the list of designated terror organizations.[3]

The following are translated excerpts from three articles by three AQ supporters criticizing HTS's current policies.

Adnan Hadid: HTS Assists In The Eradication Of The Jihad In Syria

On May 30, 2018, AQ supporter Adnan Hadid published an article on his Telegram channel (t.me/H_D_H45) under the title "The Fig Leaf Has Fallen," in which he reviewed the loyalties of the various Syrian rebel organizations to countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the U.S., as well as the changes in Al-Joulani's position, which he said transformed the HTS from an independent organization to one that is subservient to Turkey. Hadid also mentioned the establishment of the Hurras Al-Din organization by operatives who opposed Al-Joulani's moves, claiming that Hurras Al-Din was established in coordination and consultation with the AQ leadership in Khorasan.

According to Hadid, the revolution in Syria was originally a non-violent protest, but due to the violent reaction of the regime the protestors turned to military action. At first the rebels relied on independent resources and donations from individual Muslims, as opposed to government bodies, but gradually they began to respond to the overtures of the American, Jewish, and Arab security apparatuses, which were interested in controlling them. The "secular" factions joined the U.S. at a very early stage, he says, hoping to receive significant assistance, including military aid, and to replace the regime in Damascus. Some of the Islamist factions, on the other hand, such as Jaysh Al-Islam, received political, military, and economic support from Saudi Arabia. Hadid writes, "We would not be exaggerating if we said that [Jaysh Al-Islam] has become a division of the Saudi army that follows the orders of the ruler of Najd [Saudi Arabia]." As for factions whose outlook is similar to that of the Muslim Brotherhood, such as Faylaq Al-Sham, they have a direct connection to Turkish intelligence, according to Hadid. He refers to all the factions that are subordinate to foreign forces as "traitors."

Eventually only two rebel groups in Syria remained independent, according to Hadid: Jabhat Al-Nusra and the Islamic State (ISIS), the latter of which has become a liability for the Muslims. In response to the tremendous pressure brought to bear on Jabhat Al-Nusra, its leader Al-Joulani  decided to break the oath of allegiance to the emir of AQ, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and by degrees this organization too began to lose its independence. Following harsh disagreements between HTS and Turkey, HTS eventually capitulated and agreed to the establishment of Turkish outposts on the borders of the liberated territories. "This," says Hadid, "means that it effectively agreed to bury the jihad alive. HTS cleric Abd Al-Rahim Atoun justified the decision in a closed meeting, saying that one must bend in the storm and weather it quietly until it is possible to take action again. In this way he greatly curtailed the independence of the organization, which now finds itself just steps away from the camp of traitors."

Hadid states that the operatives in Syria who opposed the changes in Al-Joulani's position and remained loyal to AQ approached the AQ leadership in Khorasan and, "following the communication with the general leadership in Khorasan and the exposure of the truth about [Al-Joulani's] breaking of his oath of allegiance [ to AQ] and the satanic steps taken by the leadership of Jabhat Al-Nusra in the past, and by HTS at this time, the Hurras Al-Din was established as the blessed nucleus that would unite the faithful who want to walk the path of jihad to its end within one framework that will unite them."

Hadid added that, today, the rebel groups in Syria fall into two groups: "those of the firm stance," who will fight the infidel forces until the word of Allah is supreme, and the "traitors,"  including the secular factions, the Islamists, and also HTS, that is fighting the first group so that the word of Turkey will be supreme.

At the end of his article Hadid addresses the HTS operatives: "This may be the last time that I address my dear brothers, the HTS soldiers. Allah knows how sorry I am for you and your fate… Today you are but pawns in the chess game of the ruler of Ankara, and behind him the ruler in the White House, [helping them] to attain their aspirations in the Muslims' lands. Do you remember the day when you fought the apostate factions supported by the U.S.? Why do you fight today to establish the NATO army [i.e. Turkey] that banished your brothers from Afghanistan and Somalia? Today the traitor stands with nothing to conceal his naked shame, now that the last fig leaf has fallen."[4]


Cover illustration of Adnan Hadid's article. Part of the text reads: Criticism among Al-Qaeda Supporters in Syria Following the HTS Decision to Grant Turkey a Military Presence in Idlib: HTS Has Abandoned Its Principles; Seeks to Ingratiate Itself with the Enemies of Islam

Basir Al-Shami: HTS Has Committed The Greatest Crime, Which History Will Not Forgive

On June 1, 2018, the operative known as "Basir Al-Shami" published an article titled "Al-Joulani and the Flight from the Designation [as a Terrorist Organization]," in which he reviewed the efforts of Abu Muhammad Al-Joulani to sever all connections between his organization and AQ in an attempt to improve its image in the eyes of the international community. According to Al-Shami, for Al-Joulani "the will of the people" and "fear of inclusion on the list of terror [organizations]" take precedence to promises, beliefs, and oaths of allegiance." In the context of these efforts Al-Joulani established the Syrian Salvation Government[5] and significantly altered the general policy and the media discourse of HTS, which has begun to adopt a national revolutionary image. Al-Shami stresses that "the greatest crime of all… which history will never forgive" is that Al-Joulani permitted the "apostate" Turkish army safe passage into Syria.

Al-Shami notes that, despite these efforts, intended to convince the international community to remove its name from the list of designated terror organizations, the U.S. again included HTS on these lists, sending it a clear message that it has not made sufficient concessions. Al-Shami also mocks the HTS's "pleading reaction" to the American decision,[6] in which it maintained that it does not threaten or endanger other countries.[7]


Cover illustration of Basir Al-Shami's article: "Joulani and his Flight from the Designation"

Al-Ansari Al-Barqawi: HTS Is An Organization With No Principles

On June 3, 2018, another AQ supporter who calls himself Al-Ansari Al-Barqawi published an article on his Telegram channel (t.me/berqawi9) titled "A Path with No Principles," in which he too claimed that Al-Joulani and his followers have renounced their principles in an effort to ingratiate themselves with Turkey and the international community. He says that, as part of these efforts, Al-Joulani supporters called the clerics of the jihadi stream extremists who espouse the positions of ISIS, and renounced their oath of allegiance with no religious justification, based on worldly considerations. He goes on to say that they also changed their position with respect to Turkey, and now Al-Joulani is allowing the "secular" Turkish army, which has fought monotheism in Islamic lands such as Somalia, to safely enter Syria. Al-Barqawi writes that "the unprincipled path which they have adopted has led them even further, to a situation in which the attempt to be liked by the enemies of Islam and by the chief among infidels [the U.S.] has become permitted [behavior] and a policy to be adopted, and the fear of being designated [as a terror organization] has become a religious obligation… [HTS's] public distancing of itself from AQ… has become a religious obligation that must be practiced openly so as to prevent aggression on the part of the infidels. Demonstrations of hostility and battling the 'Khawarij or the extremists' among the Muslims has become proof of moderation."

At the conclusion of his article Al-Barqawi addresses his "brothers, the loyal Al-Qaeda soldiers," and urges them not to be influenced by Al-Joulani's promises and not to abandon their principles.[8]


Cover illustration of Al-Ansari Al-Barqawi's article: "The Path of No Principles"

 

[1] Enabbaladi.net, May 27, 2018.

[3] See state.gov, May 31, 2018.

[4] T.me/H_D_H45, May 30, 2018.

[5] The Syrian Salvation Government, formed in late 2017, is an alternative government of the Syrian Opposition seated in Idlib Governorate, an area largely controlled by the HTS.

[7] T.me/Base_1er, June 1, 2018.

[8] T.me/berqawi9, June 3, 2018.