Thursday, February 9, 2017

Tracking Al-Qaeda's Evolution

Updated July 2017

Earlier this year, I posted this article on H.R. 258, the bill introduced in the 115th Congress by Rep Tulsi Gabbard which has the purpose of ending United States government funding of terrorist groups including al-Qaeda and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.  Part of this has been necessitated by the confusing situation in the ongoing hostilities in Syria with the CIA funding Fursan al Haqq, a group that is fighting with an al-Qaeda-affiliated group which is trying to overthrow the Syrian government.  With that in mind, I recently stumbled across this article on which shows us how complex the geopolitical situation has become in the Middle East and how the evolution of groups results in a situation where "today's friend/ally" is "tomorrow's enemy":

"Following the meeting at Astana during which Turkey’s position became closer to the positions taken by Russia and Iran, and the meeting at Moscow during which pro-Turkish opposition engaged in discussions with the republican opposition, an internal war is unfolding among armed groups.

In this context, Al-Qaeda has reorganized its forces and announced that Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (the Assembly for the Liberation of the Levant) has been established.

This new denomination is an umbrella organization bringing together the following organizations: Jabhat Fath al Sham (formerly known as Front Al-Nusra), Harakat Nour Al-Din Al-Zanki (CIA), Liwa Al-Haqq, Ansar Al-Din and Jaysh Al-Sunnah (also associated with the CIA).

The operation has been supported by the MI6 which composed the logo of the new organization:"

The new group includes members of Ahrar al-Sham (the Islamic Movement of the Free People of the Sham) including Saudi Sheikh Abdullah al-Muhaysini, (former head of the moderates of East Aleppo and an al-Qaeda affiliate who has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury as a terrorist), About Saleh Tahan, the group's number two man and Abu Yusuf Muhajir, the group's former military spokesman

Here is a document showing the high profile members that have joined/founded Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham:

Sheikh Abdul Razzaq al-Mahdi and Sheikh Abu Yusuf al-Hamawi were both members of Ahrar al-Sham.  

Let's go back to the aforementioned Ahrar al-Sham whose key members have joined the new organization, Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham.  Ahrar al-Sham is an anti-Assad group which coordinates attacks against the Syrian Army with Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the al-Qaeda affiliate in the area.  It's goal is to establish a Sunni Islamic state in Syria.  The U.S. Director of National Intelligence considers these two groups as the most effective Syrian opposition forces.  Ahrar al-Sham had worked with the Islamic State until January 2014 when ISIS killed one of its fighters after the group's leader criticized IS commander Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

I realize that this is terribly confusing, however, if you think that this small part of the Syrian situation is confusing, here is a graphic showing the relationship between all of the groups in Syria, both pro- and anti-Assad and how the relationships have evolved over time:

Now, let's look at who is funding this group.  Ahrar al-Sham makes most of its money by charging trucks a toll to cross from Syria into Turkey.  Its foreign funding is sourced from Persian Gulf Islamic networks that are linked to the Qatari government.  Saudi Arabia and Turkey also began to fund the group with both weapons and money in 2015 in an effort to bolster Syrian opposition forces.  As well, according to this paragraph in the aforementioned press release announcing the formation of Hay'at Tahrir al Sham, we can see who else was involved in Ahrar al-Sham, the organization that has supplied key members to the newly minted al-Qaeda affiliate:

"Ahrar al-Cham is/was a terrorist group funded by Saudi Arabia and its relations are shaped by the United Kingdom. Its “Minister for Foreign Affairs”, Labib al-Nahhas, is a British member of the MI6. He moves about freely in Europe and published a year and a half ago an opinion page in the Washington Post." (my bold)

Here's a link to the article from July 10, 2015 by Labib al-Nahhas in the Washington Post in which he claims that the Obama Administration's response to the Syrian conflict was an "abject failure".  Here's a brief quote:

"The group to which I belong, Ahrar al-Sham, is one example. Our name means “Free Men of Syria.” We consider ourselves a mainstream Sunni Islamic group that is led by Syrians and fights for Syrians. We are fighting for justice for the Syrian people. Yet we have been falsely accused of having organizational links to al-Qaeda and of espousing al-Qaeda’s ideology.

Nothing could be further from the truth. We believe that Syria needs a national unifying project that cannot be controlled or delivered by a single party or group and should not be bound to a single ideology. We believe in striking a balance that respects the legitimate aspirations of the majority as well as protects minority communities and enables them to play a real and positive role in Syria’s future. We believe in a moderate future for Syria that preserves the state and institutes reforms that benefit all Syrians...

Stuck inside their own bubble, White House policymakers have allocated millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars to support failed CIA efforts to support so-called “moderate” forces in Syria. But these “moderate” groups have proved to be a disappointment on nearly every count, not least of all in confronting the Islamic State. Further, the self-defeating policy of regarding the war against the Islamic State as being fundamentally different from, and in some cases diametrically opposed to, efforts to remove Assad from power has brought no end to either battle."  (my bold)

Labib al-Nahhas, who brands himself as the Chief of Foreign Relations for Ahrar al-Sham which has supplied key members to the new al-Qaeda affliliate, was born in Madrid to a Syrian father and Spanish mother and graduated from Birmhingham University with a degree in telecommunications engineering in 1999.  He  has this Twitter feed which he uses as part of his rebranding efforts for one of Syria's most prominent opposition groups.   Interestingly, according to this report, Labib al-Nahhas has visited the United States:

As we can readily see, the situation in Syria is particularly fluid with groups disbanding, merging, rebranding, reaffiliating and resurrecting themselves and with a cast of characters that moves from group to group, depending on the circumstance.  This makes it impossible for a mere mortal, let alone an American politician, to actually determine the real agenda/motivation/belief of the group, particularly over the long-term.  Sometimes it's wisest to stay out of situations that you have no hope of understanding, even though you want the leader of Syria to disappear.

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