Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (Formerly Jabhat al-Nusra)

FormedDecember 2011
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackDecember 23, 2011: Two Al-Nusra suicide bombers attacked military intelligence facilities in the city of Damascus. This was Al-Nusra’s first official attack (44 killed, 150+ injured). [1] [2]
Last AttackFebruary 25, 2017: Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham fighters carried out a suicide attack in the city of Homs. The attack killed General Hassan Daabul, a senior military intelligence advisor who was close to Syrian President Bashar Assad, and critically wounded Ibrahim Darwish, the head of the State Security Branch (40 killed, 50+ wounded). [3] [4]
UpdatedMarch 27, 2017

Narrative Summary

Leadership

  1. Muhsin al-Fadhli (Unknown to July 21, 2015): Fadhli, also known as Muhsin Fadhil ‘Ayyid al Fadhli, Muhsin Fadil Ayid Ashur al Fadhli, Abu Majid Samiyah, and Abu Samia, was a Kuwaiti national who allegedly commanded the Khorasan Group, an Al Qaeda (AQ) cell reportedly harbored by Al-Nusra. Fadhli moved to Syria after the United States State Department identified him as the leader of AQ in Iran in 2012. He was killed by a U.S. drone strike in July 2015. [5]
  2. Maysar Ali al-Juburi (2011 to 2014): Juburi, also known as Abu Maria al-Qatani helped found Al-Nusra and was its top religious official. Juburi first came to Syria in 2010, after he was wounded in a fight in Iraq with American forces as a member of the Islamic State. Though he had clashed with AQ’s Iraqi leadership, he was chosen to help create Al-Nusra. He served as Al-Nusra’s top religious official until he was replaced by Sami al-Oreidi in 2014, and was demoted to a standard member.[6]
  3. Saleh al-Hamawi (2011 to 2015): Hamawi, also known as Abu Mohammed, is a Syrian national from the Hama governorate. Hamawi allegedly helped found Al-Nusra and held a leadership position in Al-Nusra’s Shura Council until he was expelled from his leadership role in 2015. Hamawi claims that tensions erupted between him and the rest of the council after he was branded a “regionalist” for prioritizing victory in Syria over the global jihad movement. [7]
  4. Abu Muhammad al-Julani (January 2012 to Present): Julani is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s (Tahrir al-Sham) current military leader. Julani is a Syrian national, and he became a close associate of Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi after moving to Iraq. Julani briefly left Iraq after Zarqawi was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2006, and after he was released from a U.S. military camp known as Camp Bucca, he resumed militancy work with future Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Julani was later dispatched to Syria to connect with local AQ networks, and founded Al-Nusra in 2012. In 2017, Julani abdicated his role as the group’s leader (a position now held by Sheikh Hashim al-Sheikh) and became Tahrir al-Sham’s military leader.[8]
  5. Abdul Mohsen Abdullah Ibrahim al-Sharikh (2013 to Present): Sharikh is a Fatah al-Sham leader and strategist. Before he traveled to Syria in spring 2013 to become a senior leader in the group, Sharikh coordinated AQ financial networks in Pakistan and Iran. Sharikh is on Saudi Arabia’s list of most wanted terrorists, and is on the U.S. Treasury Department’s Specially Designated Global Terrorists list.[9]
  6. Sami al-Oreidi (2014 to Present): Oreidi, also known as Abu Mahmoud al-Shami, is Fatah al-Sham’s top religious figure and second in command. Before he replaced Juburi as the group’s top religious figure in 2014, Oreidi served as the second highest Shariah authority under Juburi.[10]
  7. Sheikh Hashim al-Sheikh (January 28, 2017 to Present): Sheikh, also known as Abu Jaber, became Ahrar al-Sham’s interim leader after Hassan Abboud’s death. Prior to the Syrian civil war, Sheikh was imprisoned by the Assad Regime in 2005 for transferring foreign fighters to Islamic insurgents in Iraq but was released in September 2011. Before he joined Ahrar al-Sham’s Shura Council, Sheikh commanded units in the Free Syrian Army and then Ahrar al-Sham battalions in Aleppo. Under his leadership, Ahrar al-Sham launched a successful military campaign in Idlib and moderated its rhetoric in an attempt to appeal to the West. In September 2015, Sheikh stepped down as commander in order to found Jaysh Halab, an umbrella organization of Aleppo-based militant groups that includes Ahrar al-Sham. In late 2016, Sheikh formed a sub-faction with Ahrar al-Sham known as Jaysh al-Ahrar in response to contested leadership elections. After Jaysh al-Ahrar merged with Tahrir al-Sham, Sheikh became Tahrir al-Sham’s leader.[11]

Ideology & Goals

Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (Tahrir al-Sham) seeks to overthrow the Assad Regime and establish an Islamic state in the Levant that is governed by Shariah law. [12] [13] However in 2014, Abu Muhammad al-Julani clarified that the group would not declare such a state until it had consensus from "the sincere mujahideen and the pious scholars." [14] Though Tahrir al-Sham stresses its Syria focus, it still supports establishing multiple Islamic Emirates and an Al Qaeda (AQ) caliphate over time. Initially, the group operated as an AQ affiliate. [15] In mid 2016, analysts have argued that the group’s decision to end its affiliation AQ and change its name from Jabhat al-Nusra to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham did not indicate an ideological split with AQ but was part of a strategy to increase the group’s appeal within Syria. [16]

Tahrir al-Sham follows a brand of Salafi-Jihadism that is espoused by religious ideologues such as Marwan Hadid and Abu Musab al-Suri. [17]  

Name Changes

Size Estimates

Designated/Listed

Resources

Tahrir al-Sham, formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Nusra), receives funding from a variety of sources. A large portion of its resources and funding initially came from foreign donors, such as Kuwaiti national Hamid Hamad Hamid al-Ali, also known as Hamid bin Hamad al-Ali. [24] [25] Before the conflict between Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and Al-Nusra, the group received half of its operating budget from AQI. [26] Overtime, the group began to finance its arms and attacks by gaining control of oil fields that generated income. [27] [28] The group’s increased dependence on oil fields led to a financial crisis in mid-late 2014 when the Islamic State began capturing Al-Nusra’s oil fields. The loss of the Conoco gas field alone cost Al-Nusra $5 million in February 2014. [29] To supplement its income, the group also secures funding through ransoms for kidnappings, and usually receives between $4 million and $25 million for hostage releases. [30] These releases are usually mediated by Qatar, who was accused of facilitating Al-Nusra’s rise to prominence after it paid the group $150 million for the release of nine Shiite Iranian pilgrims in 2013. [31] 

Tahrir al-Sham became one of the best-equipped Syrian opposition groups by purchasing weapons from Iraqi arms dealers and by converting munitions from existing Syrian military equipment in Syria. [32] [33] [34] [35] Tahrir al-Sham also targets U.S.-backed groups in order to capture their weapons. In 2014, the group allegedly captured 10 Tanks and 80 TOW missiles from the U.S.-backed Syrian Revolutionaries Front. [36] Additional reports indicate that some U.S. trained fighters have surrendered machine guns, ammunition, and vehicles in exchange for safe passage through Tahrir al-Sham controlled areas. [37] [38] 

Second only to the Islamic State, Tahrir al-Sham attracts the most foreign fighters among opposition groups. These fighters mostly come from the Middle East, but Tahrir al-Sham has also accepted recruits from Chechnya and European states, as well as a few fighters from more distant countries like Australia and the United States. As of June 2015, Julani claimed that the group’s fighting force was about 30% foreign. [39] [40] Private financiers, such as Hamid Hamad Hamid al-Ali, often provide funding for foreigners to travel to Syria and join Tahrir al-Sham. [41]

Due to its intensive recruiting process, Tahrir al-Sham receives highly skilled fighters. With the exception of fighters from groups already allied with Tahrir al-Sham, all recruits must receive a personal recommendation from an existing member of Tahrir al-Sham in order to be accepted to the group’s training program, where they receive religious, physical, and military instruction for six to eight weeks. [42] From February to June 2016, the group added 3,000 fighters from northern Syria. [43]

Tahrir al-Sham is among a number of Syrian opposition groups, including the Islamic State and Ahrar al-Sham, that employ child soldiers. [44]

External Influences

Qatar usually facilitates hostage negotiations between foreign countries and Tahrir al-Sham. [45] In 2015, the U.S. Treasury designated Sa’d bin Sa’d Muhammad Shariyan Al Ka’bi, a Qatari national who had negotiated hostage transfers with Al-Nusra, as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist after discovering his fundraising campaign for Al-Nusra. [46]