Abu Ahmad Zakour leaves Tahrir al-Sham, disavows its actions

The leaders in Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Jihad Issa al-Sheikh (Abu Ahmad Zakour), and “Abu Maria al-Qahtani” (Local networks)

The leaders in Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, Jihad Issa al-Sheikh (Abu Ahmad Zakour), and “Abu Maria al-Qahtani” (Local networks)

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Jihad Issa al-Sheikh, known as “Abu Ahmad Zakour,” has announced his departure from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the military group in control over Idlib, administratively and politically, and has disavowed the faction’s actions.

Zakour stated through the X platform, December 14, that the leadership of Tahrir al-Sham gradually changed its policy, specifically focusing on four points: control, domination, encroachment on other factions, and dismantlement. It also aimed to achieve military, security, and economic control over the areas controlled by the Turkey-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) in Aleppo countryside.

He added that Tahrir al-Sham operated independently, carrying out kidnapping operations and other acts without coordinating with any party or his knowledge, and falsely accused anyone who deviated from its leadership’s approach, tarnishing his reputation, whether he was from inside or outside the group. 

Zakour disavowed all the actions of the group, indicating that he had left Tahrir al-Sham in 2017 when it was known as “Jabhat Fateh al-Sham” due to its policy of marginalization and domination over revolutionary factions. He issued a statement at the time expressing his rejection of those policies.

He later returned for undisclosed reasons and took charge of the relations file with the Syrian National Army. He was tasked with resolving the conflicts and building new relationships between the National Army and Tahrir al-Sham (a state of hostility prevails between the two factions).

He also stated that he returned to work on assisting the factions in improving their military capabilities and transferring his expertise to them as part of a collaborative project that includes everyone without exclusion or marginalization. However, Tahrir al-Sham changed its policy.

Al-Qahtani’s friend

Abu Ahmad Zakour is the third man in Tahrir al-Sham, and his departure from it came four months after the removal of the second man in the faction, Abu Maria al-Qahtani, and the freezing of his powers due to “his improper communications,” according to a statement by the HTS. The faction is led by Abu Mohammad al-Jolani.

The disagreements gradually emerged months ago, mainly related to the issue of “collaborating with enemies,” significant infiltrations within Tahrir al-Sham, and dealing with external and internal parties, including the Syrian regime, Russia, and the International Coalition.

After al-Qahtani’s powers were frozen on August 17, social media accounts affiliated with opposition leaders and defectors from Tahrir al-Sham mentioned that there is a conflict within the group between two currents. The first supports Abu Maria al-Qahtani, while the second holds grudges against him.

Zakour tends to support al-Qahtani and has shared a photo with him on November 2, 2022. The details of the time and place of the photo were not provided, except that it was taken on snowy grounds.

The photo shows them both in an outfit that Tahrir al-Sham abandoned, as its rhetoric has changed over the years. This indicates that it may have been taken during the era of al-Nusra Front, which was established in Syria at the end of 2011 and later dissociated itself from al-Qaeda in 2016 and formed with other factions the structure of today.

Zakour accompanied the photo with a prayer for steadfastness on the path of “dawa and jihad” with “the companion sheikh Abu Maria,” according to his expression.

HTS’ arm in Aleppo countryside

Despite his limited media appearances, Abu Ahmad Zakour, who hails from the Nairab area in Aleppo countryside, managed the most significant and sensitive files and issues in Tahrir al-Sham (formerly al-Nusra Front). He enjoys popularity within the Bou Assi clan of the Baggara tribe.

His roles varied, including Director of Public Relations, former head of the economic file, and commander of the Abdul Rahman Brigade affiliated with Tahrir al-Sham. He previously played a role in stabilizing and maintaining the presence of HTS in areas and villages that were dissatisfied with its practices and policies.

For the past two years, Zakour has been managing relations and communication with the factions of the Syrian National Army supported by Turkey in the Aleppo countryside. He is known to possess financial wealth and is accused of managing Tahrir al-Sham’s investments through individuals who operate them under a different identity, far from his own and the group’s name.

On May 2, the US Treasury Department announced that it had worked with Turkey to impose sanctions on individuals accused of facilitating financial transactions for “terrorist groups” located in Syria.

The sanctions targeted Omar al-Sheikh (Abu Ahmad Zakour), also known in the region as Jihad Issa al-Sheikh, who considered the sanctions as “meaningless.” He stated that he does not have any money outside Syria, and he is not a financial or economic official within the group, referring to Tahrir al-Sham.

Tahrir al-Sham and al-Jolani

Tahrir al-Sham emerged in Syria at the end of 2011 under the name of “al-Nusra Front for the People of the Levant.” It was a faction distinguished by its departure from al-Qaeda, one of the major “jihadist” groups globally. Later, it declared its separation from any organization and considered itself a local Syrian force.

The most prominent expansion of Tahrir al-Sham and its control over Idlib came after battles against Ahrar al-Sham Movement, Nour al-Din al-Zinki Movement, and the Sham Falcons faction during the years 2017 and 2018.

HTS currently controls Idlib governorate, part of western Aleppo countryside, Latakia, and the al-Ghab Plain in northwestern Hama. It is still listed as a “terrorist” organization and has been used as a pretext by Russia to advance in northwestern Syria.

The faction is led by Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, who is still listed with the organization on the terrorist lists and is wanted by the United States, with a reward of up to ten million US dollars for anyone who provides information about him.

 

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