Guardian of the Religion leader Abu al-Humam al-Shami (al-Nusra video)

Split Among al-Qaeda’s Supporters in Syria Stoked by Zawahiri Disputes

At the end of February 2018, six local groups of jihadists operating in northern Syria announced their withdrawal from the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham and the establishment of a new organization called the Guardians of the Religion Organization. The new organization is headed by Abu al-Humam al-Shami, a veteran Al-Qaeda senior operative who fought with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and was sent to Iraq where he joined forces with Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi (the founding father of ISIS). Prominent among the leadership of the new organization is a group of Jordanian Al-Qaeda operatives who oppose the independent line of Abu Mohammad al-Julani, leader of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham (formerly the Al-Nusra Front).

In the background of the (additional) split in the ranks of Al-Qaeda supporters in Syria is a fierce dispute between the leadership of Al-Qaeda and its leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, on the one hand, and Abu Mohammad al-Julani, leader of the Headquarters for the Liberation of Al-Sham, on the other. The dispute focuses on the question of the nature of the connection between Al-Qaeda and its branch in Syria: is the Al-Qaeda branch allowed to conduct its own independent “Syrian” policy, which adapts itself to the severe constraints imposed on it, or is it subject to the instructions of Ayman al-Zawahiri, whose perception of the situation in Syria (from afar) and set of considerations regarding the organization’s conduct in Syria are completely different.

Read more at the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center

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