Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri speaks in a video to mark the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (As-Sahab)

HTS and al-Qaeda in Syria: Reconciling the Irreconcilable

On June 14, the U.S.-led international coalition targeted the car of Abu al-Qassam al-Urdini, a senior leader of al-Qaeda (AQ) affiliate Hurras al-Din (HAD), and his fellow jihadi Bilal al-San’ani on the outskirts of Idlib. Two days later, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Idlib’s dominant jihadi group, arrested a former senior commander, Abu Salah al-Uzbeki, who had defected from HTS to join Ansar al-Din.[1] A week later, HTS also arrested a former member of its Shura council, Abu Malik al-Tali, who had formed a new faction called Liwa al-Muqatileen al-Ansar without announcing his defection from HTS.[2] The common denominator between these four men is their affiliation with the newly established operations room, “So Be Steadfast” (SBS), which is an extension of the “Incite the Believers” operations room of HAD and the like-minded groups Ansar al-Din and Ansar al-Islam, along with two other groups: Liwa al-Muqatileen al-Ansar and Tansiqyet al-Jihad.[3] Disaffected with HTS leader Abu Muhammad al-Jolani’s realpolitik, these SBS factions are HTS’s most threatening rivals.

HTS launched multiple raids on SBS, forcing its factions to close their military bases and banning the formation of any new factions or operations rooms.[4] In doing so, HTS has killed two birds with one stone: demarcating new redlines for its rivals and demonstrating its usefulness to its Turkish “partner” and the international community in their war on terrorism. Nevertheless, SBS, which is spearheaded by HAD and blessed by AQ’s central command, is unlikely to reconcile with HTS, nor will it accept giving up the fight.

Read more at Middle East Institute

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