Abu Maria al-Qahtani: Dismissing leadership role sparks conflict within HTS

The second man and one of the founders of Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Nusra Front) in Syria, Abu Maria al-Qahtani (Edited by Enab Baladi)

The second man and one of the founders of Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Nusra Front) in Syria, Abu Maria al-Qahtani (Edited by Enab Baladi)


Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim

The winds of “collaborating, infiltration and communication with internal and external hostile parties” struck the ranks of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which controls Idlib militarily, to overthrow Abu Maria al-Qahtani, the HTS’ second man and a member of the Shura Council.

Tahrir al-Sham, led by Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, issued on August 17 a statement stipulating the freezing of the tasks and powers of Maysar bin Ali al-Jubouri, or al-Harari. Such a blow for al-Qahtani kept him out of the Tahrir al-Sham accounts, albeit temporarily, and showed a deep rift in the faction’s hierarchy, followed by reports of a struggle between movements and components of the first ranks. 

The statement carried a “nice and mild” tone, compared to the HTS statements against former senior commanders, following previous disputes with them or their objection to the policies of Tahrir al-Sham, such as the former Sharia jurist Talha al-Maysar, known as “Abu Shuaib al-Masri.”

An unknown fate surrounds al-Qahtani, 47, after his powers were frozen, especially since he is one of the founders of the Tahrir al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front) and a decision-maker in it. He manages the file of its fight against the Islamic State group and participates in the files of Tahrir al-Sham’s expansion towards the northern and western countryside of Aleppo.

Freezing the tasks of al-Qahtani was the most prominent and major episode revealed in the “collaborating with the enemies” series, and the presence of senior commanders of the Tahrir al-Sham in its prisons for the same accusations contradicts the HTS narration that the “infiltrators” were from the new members.

What’s the story?

Al-Qahtani’s arrest came after months of talking about major breakthroughs in the HTS ranks and dealing with external and internal parties, including the regime, Russia and the US-led International Coalition, and the Tahrir al-Sham disclosed some of them and concealed others.

On August 17, Tahrir al-Sham issued a statement stipulating the freezing of the powers and duties of Abu Maria al-Qahtani because of “his mistake in managing his communications without regard to the sensitivity of his position,” but experts covering HTS said that al-Qahtani “had been dismissed from his leadership roles due to unsanctioned external communications and allegations of contact with foreign intelligence.”

The HTS said that it had frozen the powers and duties of al-Qahtani after summoning him because his name was mentioned in some investigations and stated that it had questioned him with “transparency and clarity” in appreciation of it to ward off suspicions and remove confusion.

The investigation committee found that al-Qahtani made a mistake in managing his communications without regard to the sensitivity of his position or the necessity of seeking permission and clarifying the purpose of these contacts, according to the statement.

The HTS did not clarify any details about the nature of these communications nor the parties with whom he contacted.

Enab Baladi confirmed the arrest of some of the names mentioned by media outlets and dissident HTS commanders a few months ago, including senior figures who hold sensitive positions at the level of administration and militarism and are close to the leaders of the first ranks and HTS’ Sharia men.

Tahrir al-Sham did not mention the total number of “spies and infiltrators” and the nature of the leaked information, while their number reached 220 detainees, according to the former HTS commander and dissident Saleh al-Hamwi through his account on Telegram.

Al-Hamwi pointed out that not every detainee is involved, but there are liquidations and internal rivalries.

In another post, al-Hamwi said that about 72,000 personal card files were leaked from the new cards issued by the HTS-run Salvation Government to the Syrian regime.

HTS contradicts itself, al-Qahtani as well

Freezing the duties and powers of Abu Maria al-Qahtani proves the opposite of Tahrir al-Sham’s story, that the “infiltrators” within its ranks are new elements who joined it, and it proves the opposite of what al-Qahtani himself said, that the presence of “collaborators” in a group is “not shameful.”

On July 30, Dhiaa al-Omar, spokesperson for Idlib’s General Security Apparatus, said that the “collaborators cell” that he arrested are internal members, including figures affiliated with Tahrir al-Sham, as well as civilian figures, military factions, and the Salvation Government.

Al-Omar mentioned that those involved belong to the Russian and regime intelligence and receive orders directly from them, and some of them have contact with external parties (which he did not name), pointing out that the investigation is still ongoing.

For his part, al-Qahtani considered that it is not shameful that “the people of faith uncover an agent of their enemies in their armies, and that purifying any group of its ranks from an individual around whom suspicions revolve is evidence of purity and honesty,” according to what he said via Telegram on July 10.

Reports of internal struggle, discords

Digital accounts of former HTS commanders and dissidents stated that Tahrir al-Sham is witnessing a struggle between two movements within it, the first supporting al-Qahtani, including the blocs of the eastern region, headed by Sharia jurist Mazhar al-Wais.

As for the second movement, it is resentful of al-Qahtani and includes the leaders of the first row, “Abu Ahmed Hudood,” and the head of the Sharia Council in Tahrir al-Sham, Abdul-Rahim Atoun (known as Abu Abdullah al-Shami).

For its part, Tahrir al-Sham considered in the statement of freezing powers that the news reported on al-Qahtani was exaggerated and was in the context of “disinformation and organized field and media targeting” against the revolution.

Tahrir al-Sham formed an investigation committee, which it described as “private,” according to the statement. A military source in Tahrir al-Sham told Enab Baladi that the committee included security personnel, military leaders, and administrative figures.

The source refused to disclose it or to determine whether the HTS commander, al-Jolani, was in it.

HTS-defected commanders and Sharia men mentioned that “Abu Obeida Mnazmat,” a senior commander, was the head of the investigation committee and had broad powers.

The thing that fueled the dispute is that the al-Qahtani supporters’ movement believes that “Mnazmat” is affiliated with the second movement (hatred of al-Qahtani). They accused the head of the committee of tampering in order to convict al-Qahtani.

The HTS dissident, Saleh al-Hamwi, said a day before the statement of freezing powers that what is happening is internal liquidations that are out of the control of al-Jolani.

“If al-Qahtani had anything to do with the cells of the (US-led International) coalition, he would have fled months ago when the first (spy) cell was uncovered.”

Al-Hamwi stated that the Tahrir al-Sham bloc in Binnish city prepared a file containing confessions of some elements affiliated with al-Qahtani, most of which were fabrications to entrap him, and this was what was done, but the Eastern Sector (loyal to al-Qahtani) abandoned it.

‘Consequences are dire’

Tahrir al-Sham did not disclose the date of al-Qahtani’s arrest or interrogation or whether he was detained or outside the walls of its prisons or under “house arrest.”

Whereas, al-Qahtani has been absent from publishing through his personal accounts since August 12, when he published that he was ill, after an absence of 15 days from publication, which is unusual for him.

Al-Hamwi confirms that the arrest news of al-Qahtani is correct, and it took place on August 15.

Al-Qahtani suffers from leukemia, and his condition has recently worsened, according to leaders and according to Charles Lister, the senior fellow at the Middle East Institute and the director of the MEI-Syria program.

Lister said on August 16 via X (formerly Twitter) that “Abu Maria al-Qahtani is not dead, though his health has deteriorated significantly in recent days, amid his internal problems with the HTS and dismissal from leadership roles…His fate is not known, but the consequences are disastrous.”

Hassan I. Hassan, founder and editor-in-chief of the US-based New Lines Magazine and co-writer of the 2015 New York Times bestseller ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror, commented on X that “ISIS is celebrating today. It’s an excellent time for ISIS after wasting his blood and the blood of al-Jolani a week ago.”

Hassan added, “The HTS is embarking on a new and dangerous adventure, restricting and excluding its most prominent men. It is taking risks because of an important reason for the success of its policy in recent years and the reason for the stability of its affairs in the north and even internationally.”

ISIS did everything to reach him (al-Qahtani), and the organization blamed the HTS for the killing of its fourth leader in early August, according to Hassan.

Who is Abu Maria al-Qahtani?

“Abu Maria” or “Abu al-Hamza” is Maysar bin Ali al-Jubouri al-Qahtani, nicknamed “al-Harari” in reference to the Iraqi village of Harara, to which he moved from the village of al-Raseef after his birth there in 1976.

Al-Qahtani participated in the founding of Jabhat al-Nusra (now Tahrir al-Sham) in October 2011, after eight years of his work within al-Qaeda in Iraq, and he became deputy to its leader al-Jolani.

Al-Qahtani worked as a Sharia jurist of “al-Nusra” and “Emir” of the eastern region of Syria with the beginning of the armed conflict in 2012.

Al-Qahtani, who holds a diploma in Administration from Baghdad University and a BA in Islamic Sharia, is known for his hostility to the Islamic State group, which constantly attacks him through its loyal digital platforms.

Al-Qahtani was taught by Sheikh “Abu Abdullah al-Mayahi” and Sheikh Fares Faleh al-Mosuli and by Sheikh Abdul-Razzaq al-Mahdi, who defected from Tahrir al-Sham and then worked independently in January 2017.

Since 2016, despite being Iraqi, al-Qahtani has been a prominent advocate of “reforming Jabhat al-Nusra and localizing it.”

Not only did he maintain his outspoken hostility to the Islamic State group, but he also became an outspoken critic of al-Qaeda.

After the battles of Daraa in southern Syria, al-Qahtani headed to northern Idlib region in a mysterious transition process that surprised many, because there is no road between the two governorates except by passing through the regime-held areas.

At the time, activists said that the road passed through the town of Izraa, then the city of Daraa, to Idlib in a deal mediated by people from Deir Ezzor and Damascus.

In the past years, al-Qahtani participated with the HTS senior commander Jihad Issa al-Sheikh (Abu Ahmed Zakkour) in leading the so-called “secret effort” to expand HTS grip in the Aleppo countryside through negotiation and mediation with the “flexible” factions in the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA).



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