Hayat Tahrir al-Sham intensifies marketing campaign towards al-Qaeda affiliate in Idlib

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Mar 1, 2021

ALEPPO, Syria — Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which controls Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib, this month launched a marketing campaign of wide-scale arrests towards outstanding leaders and members of Hurras al-Din (Guardians of Religion Organization), which is affiliated with al-Qaeda.

It seems that the arrests towards the jihadi group are a continuation of the safety marketing campaign Hayat Tahrir al-Sham launched some time in the past to weaken Hurras al-Din and maybe even get rid of it.

On Feb. 20, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham arrested Abu Abdullah al-Souri, Hurras al-Din’s chief in Aleppo, at his residence in Salqin within the Idlib countryside. He is the son of a former outstanding chief in Jabhat al-Nusra, Radwan Namouss. Namouss, also called Abu Firas al-Souri, was killed in an airstrike in 2016 within the Idlib countryside. 

On Feb. 15 in Maarrat Misrin in north Idlib, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham arrested Abu Hreira al-Masri. He is the son of former Hurras al-Din Sharia official Abu Dharr al-Masri, who was killed in an airstrike in west Idlib on Oct. 15, 2020.

Also in February, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham additionally arrested international fighters and folks affiliated with Hurras al-Din in Salqin and Jisr al-Shughur within the Idlib countryside, together with Abu Youssef al-Faransi and Seif Allah, who has Morroccan roots and holds French citizenship. Allah’s private bodyguard, two Turkish fighters impartial of the group and French journalist Moussa al-Hassan additionally had been detained.

On Feb. 10, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham arrested Abu Abdul Rahman al-Ourdouni,  a Sharia chief of Hurras al-Din, at a brief checkpoint whereas he drove his automobile round a residential neighborhood within the middle of Jisr al-Shughur in west Idlib. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham additionally detained a Frenchwoman known as Umm Asia together with her two kids in a raid of her home in Atma in north Idlib. Umm Asia is the spouse of jihadi Shamel al-Faransi, a frontrunner of the French jihadi group Furkat-al-Ghuraba in Idlib. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham had arrested Faransi alongside with the commander of Furkat-al-Ghuraba, Frenchman Omar Omsin, and two different folks in August 2020.

Tensions between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Hurras al-Din had escalated since December 2019 as a consequence of mutual arrests between the 2 teams. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham has continued its brawl towards and encroachment of Jurras al-Din in Idlib; Hurras al-Din is extra engaging for extremist figures. It seems that the efforts of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham — which is designated by the US and the UN Security Council as a terrorist group partly due to its former ties with al-Qaeda — are a part of the Syrian group’s coverage to steer away from jihadism and paint itself as a average Islamist group and a part of the Syrian nationwide opposition. Even its chief, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, was not too long ago interviewed by PBS correspondent Martin Smith in Idlib.

On Feb. 21, Hurras al-Din revealed a message by senior Sharia chief Sami al-Oraydi; this adopted an earlier message launched within the wake of a US announcement about its monetary reward of as much as $5 million for anybody with details about Oraydi. 

In his four-page message Feb. 21, Oraydi known as for higher cooperation to protect the unity of Muslims and obtain victory. “Muslims must cooperate, support each other and encourage righteousness and mercy. Muslims must unite in the war against polytheism and they must mobilize all their resources and energy to fight the Americans and the Zionists. They must avoid side battles and rise above minor disputes, while directing their battle against the infidels,” he added.

The new message appears vital because it coincides with the weak spot of Hurras al-Din in Idlib as a consequence of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s ongoing safety marketing campaign towards Hurras al-Din’s leaders and officers.

A navy chief within the National Front for Liberation (affiliated with the Free Syrian Army in Idlib) advised Al-Monitor — on situation of anonymity for of safety considerations — that the marketing campaign of arrests by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham towards Hurras al-Din leaders exhibits Hayat Tahrir al-Sham “is still afraid of the organization and wants to weaken it further and scatter its leaders before disintegrating it through its campaigns.”

The military official said, “The recent arrests targeted prominent first-rank figures in the organization, in addition to jihadi figures close to the organization rather than affiliated with it.”

He said, “I expect the campaign of arrests to continue in the coming phase. Even if [Hayat Tahrir al-Sham] could not annihilate the organization, its constant pressure and encroachment will push the remaining leaders to consider escaping outside Idlib. Hurras al-Din is currently weak, and its leaders and members are moving cautiously for fear of arrests or being killed.”

Istanbul-based researcher at the Jusoor Center for Studies, Abbas Sharifeh, told Al-Monitor, “The recently published message by Oraydi is directly linked to the situation of Hurras al-Din in Idlib due to the security pursuits and arrests by [Hayat Tahrir al-Sham] against the organization. Oraydi’s message reflects the weakness of the organization and the fear its leaders have of arrest. Oraydi, who is in hiding, has been taking security precautions and posting written messages to avoid appearing in person.”

Sharifeh added, “The tone of Oraydi’s message seemed tempered, in what appeared to be an indirect attempt” at reconciliation with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, whose name was not mentioned. “Oraydi said the organization’s priorities do not include engaging in battles with other Islamist groups unless they were fighting apostates. This constituted a direct message to [Hayat Tahrir al-Sham] and its soldiers that Hurras al-Din has no intention of fighting with them.”

Sharifeh said he did not expect Hayat Tahrir al-Sham “to take Oraydi’s message severely or react positively to it.” He said Hayat Tahrir al-Sham will continue its security operations and arrests against the organization in Idlib because “Golani merely doesn’t need any opponents in Idlib, particularly from a jihadi present affiliated with al-Qaeda, which it’s making an attempt to keep away from by all means.”