Mon 22 Jul 2019

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Hardliner Wing of Guardians of Religion Loses Its Most Influential Figures

Personnel of the al-Tawhid wal-Jihad Brigade, under Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, rural Idlib – April 2019 (Ebaa Agency)

Personnel of the al-Tawhid wal-Jihad Brigade, under Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, rural Idlib – April 2019 (Ebaa Agency)

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Similar to other Islamic and Jihadist groups in Syria, the Guardians of Religion Organization’s (GOR) internal structure is composed of two variously different currents, speaking of vision and intellectual, as well as methodological referentiality.

The first is moderate and is led by Abu Humam al-Shami, the prince of the organization, and Sami al-Eraidi, Sharia official. The second is the hardliner current, under which several names of jihadist leaders went viral, on top of whom are Abu Yahia al-Jaza’aeri, Abu Thar al-Masri and Abu Omar al-Tunissi.

Within the organization, each of the two currents refers to a separate school of thought. While the moderate current, led by Abu Humam, follows that of Jamal Ibrahim Ashityawee al-Musratti, dubbed Attiatallh al-Libi, the hardliner current, in terms of thought and methodology, leans to Issam Taher al-Barqawi, known as Abu Mohammad al-Maqdesi, a Jordanian from a Palestinian origin who is considered a key theorist of the Salafi Jihadism.

The GOR is al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, even though the latter has not officially announced having any military roots in the Syrian territories.

In January 2019, the General Command of al-Qaeda made a statement, which implicitly stressed the spread of its militants in Syria, for the first time since al-Nusra Front, broke its affiliation with it.

Back then, the al-Qaeda-affiliated-As-Saham Foundation published the statement titled “and incumbent upon Us was support of the believers”, through which the organization addressed its militants, spreading around the world, with a dedication to those in “Sham of Jihad”, in an indication to Syria.

 

According to information obtained by Enab Baladi, the GOR includes the following formations: Jaysh al-Malahim, Jays al-Sahel, Jaysh al-Badia, Kabul Brigade, Jund al-Sharia and the remnants of the Jund al-Aqsa, which are led by the former HTS leader Abu Humam al-Shami.

 

 

 

In addition to the al-Qaeda leaders in the Shura Council, which includes Abu Jlaibeeb Toubass, Abu Khadijah al-Aurduni, Sami al-Eraidi, Abu al-Qasem and Abu Abdullrahman al-Maki, along with several former leaders of al-Nusra Front, who refused to break their association with al-Qaeda.

US-led Coalition Takes Advantage of the Currents’ Dispute

On Sunday afternoon, June 30, the US-led coalition announced targeting a meeting of al-Qaeda-affiliated GOR leaders, which they held to resolve the faction’s outstanding problems.

In a statement, the Coalition reported targeting a facility in Reef al-Mohandeseen al-Awwal, western Aleppo, causing the death and injury of GOR leaders.

The coalition’s strike on the GOR leaders followed the dispute that emerged among its two currents, concerning the intention to fight alongside the factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in combating Assad forces’ attacks on areas in rural Hama and Aleppo.

The initial repercussions of the dispute were manifested in the rejection of the two leaders Abu Thar al-Masri and Abu Yahia al-Jaza’aeri of the decision providing for the participation in the battles in the rural parts of Hama and Aleppo with the Turkey-backed FSA factions. This rejection triggered Abu Humam al-Shami to issue the decision of their dismissal. The two leaders, however, refused the decision, as it was not made by the domestic judiciary.

More than 300 GOR personalities supported the two leaders’ decision and position, as they demanded resorting to the Judiciary System as to resolve the conflict over dissolving the faction’s Sharia Committee and the dismissal of a number of sharia officials.

 

Being the Judge of Borders and Reinforcements, Abu Omar al-Tunissi called the two sides to a session to resolve the dispute. Nonetheless, Abu Humam al-Shami and Sami al-Eraidi refused to attend. Latter on, Abu Humam made the decision providing for the dismissal of Abu Omar al-Tunissi as well.

On “Telegram,” Abu Omar al-Tunissi published a voice recording, in which he considered the GOR leaders’, Abu Humam al-Shami and Sami al-Eraidi, refrain from answering a judiciary order as the “source of injustice and one-sidedness.”

The decision of dismissing the tow sharia officials “is not effective, as I am concerned, unless the judiciary ratifies it. This has been stated by the leadership itself,” al-Tunissi said.

Only a few days after the GOR underwent this dispute and disagreement, a US-led coalition’s warplane initiated the air raid on the meeting of the hardliner current, which caused the death of its key figures.
The GOR made a statement following the incident, mourning the dead without explicitly mentioning the names of the leaders.

Prominent Figures

Among the dead are Abu Omar al-Tunissi, Judge of Borders and Reinforcement, as an informed source told Enab Baladi, in addition to leaders Abu Thar al-Masri and Abu Yahia al-Jaza’aeri, as well as Abu Dujanah al-Tunissi.

The incident cost the GOR’s hardliner current its symbols and influential figures, which competed with the moderate current that Abu Humam al-Shami leads, who is known for being close to HTS and its leader Abu Mohammad al-Julani.

The hardliner current was not, however, limited to the persons mentioned above, as it also included the tow leaders Abu al-Yaman al-Wazani and Abu Musa’ab al-Libi, who were not covered by the dismissal decision that came after the refusal of the GOR’s participation in battles alongside the FSA factions.

The GOR is considered a defector from HTS, for its leaders refused the latter’s disengagement from the al-Qaeda, and it is also one of the formations under the Rouse the Believers operation room, which military action focuses on the western part of Idlib governorate, as far as northern rural Latakia.

It is also the first military faction operating in Idlib to reject the Russian-Turkish deal on Idlib, which the two sides signed in September 2018.

The repercussions of the air strike initiated by the US-led coalitions on the meeting of the GOR hardliner current have not yet clarified. For it is so far unknown if the faction is planning to follow another methodology, mimicking that of HTS, in which the latter became inclined to its interests on the ground, regardless of the ideology it held to since its formation under the name al-Nusra Front.

The repercussions might also be manifested in the emergence of a new jihadist mass, to be run by the leaders who remained under the hardliner current and who might work on attracting the militants and leaders of the moderate current through playing the Crusader-Zionist alliance card and the risk that the alliance might pose in the upcoming phase, according to what the GOR statement, in which the leaders in western rural Aleppo were mourned, has mentioned.

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