Al-Qaeda’s former affiliate in Syria aimed to escape US-led air strikes by dissolving itself into a new rebel alliance, Tahrir al-Sham, according to jihadist sources, although such a move may drag those groups now allied with Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly Nusra Front) towards blacklisting and targeting by US-led coalition bombing.
Last Thursday, the Tahrir al-Sham alliance announced its formation from a coalition including several factions based in northern Syria, most prominently Fateh al-Sham and the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement.
International actors concerned with Syrian affairs have so far remained silent about how they will deal with this new formation, as some fear that a new formation will be included on the terrorist blacklist.
The source told Zaman al-Wasl that Fateh al-Sham hurried to establish the new group after the US-led coalition forces targeted a fighter training camp at the Sheikh Suleiman base in Aleppo’s western countryside. The coalition attack conducted on January 20 resulted in the deaths of over 100 Fateh al-Sham fighters.
The announcement of the new formation came as an effort to reduce fears from Fateh al-Sham militants regarding the coalition’s surveillance of their actions in northern Syria. Previous airstrikes on key leaders and locations prompted many Fateh al-Sham commanders to retreat into hiding, and to refuse any interviews or appointments for fear of being targeted.
Fateh al-Sham lost several commanders to coalition drone strikes in January alone, most prominent of which were Abou Aisha al-Tunisi, Abou Mousab al-Jazairi, and Abou al-Hasan Tiftnazi.
The source explained that the meeting which led to the announcement of this new formation was different to previous merger meetings. Abou Mohammed al-Joulani was discussed as a possible commander for the merged military project while Sheikh Toufiq Shahab al-Din from the Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement was considered as head of the Shura Council. The source indicated that Jabhat Fateh al-Sham had no desire to take on any leadership positions in the new alliance.
According to the source, the meetings that preceded the announcement were restricted to a limited number of actors from the factions united under its flag, including Joulani, Sheikh Shahab al-Din, Abou Abdullah al-Shami (commander of the Ansar al-Din Front), as well as representatives for Liwa al-Haqq and Jaish al-Sunna.
This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.