For prior parts in this series:
This post features a statement by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's Abu Malek al-Shami and a response by Abu Humam al-Shami (aka al-Faruq al-Shami), who used to be the general military official for Jabhat al-Nusra.
For more information on Abu Malek al-Shami, see this post. It is Abu Humam al-Shami's statement that is of greater interest. Reports that he was killed in March 2015 turned out to be erroneous, but there was some biographical information provided about him at the time that he partially affirms in his statement.
According to Orient News, he travelled to Afghanistan in the late 1990s and gave allegiance to Osama bin Laden, but after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, he was entrusted with operations in Iraq a little before Baghdad fell in 2003. During his time there, he supposedly met both Abu Hamza al-Muhajir and Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. The Iraqis then arrested him and turned him over to the Syrian authorities, who released him. But following a 2005 crackdown on jihadists by the Syrians, he fled to Lebanon, then returned to Afghanistan and was entrusted by Atiyat Allah al-Libi to operate in Syria. Detained in Lebanon for 5 years, on his release he joined the budding al-Qaeda wing in Syria, becoming Jabhat al-Nusra's general military official.
In his statement, Abu Humam al-Shami affirms that his loyalty to al-Qaeda dates back to the days Osama bin Laden was alive, and he did in fact travel to Afghanistan. Among other points/claims of interest that he makes:
- The discussion of the possibility of replicating a Hezbollah model in Syria. His point is not that the Sunni jihadist project should become a client of Iran, but rather that there is little prospect of securing something viable along the lines of a 'state within a state,' as Hezbollah's status in Lebanon is widely characterized. In any case, he argues that the model for the Sunni jihad should not be Hezbollah, but rather the Prophet's example. I have heard speculation inside Syria (though not from within Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham itself) that Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham may be aiming for a jihadist 'state within a state'-type project through the cover of the Turkish intervention in northwest Syria securing the supposed 'de-escalation' zone centred on Idlib. That is, the Turks might help to bring a more regularized security and governance structure to the area, but Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham would become a key part of that system and in parallel to it.
That interpretation might help explain the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham coordination with Turkey over surrounding Afrin. More generally, as a former key member of Jabhat al-Nusra and then Jabhat Fatah al-Sham still inside Syria put it to me, "The Turks and the commission [Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham] are agreed on one policy in the region." Indeed, there is no real sign of a Turkish confrontation of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham in the way it fought the Islamic State in north Aleppo countryside to create the Euphrates Shield Zone, contrary to some hopes before the Turks entered into the northwest.
- Abu Humam al-Shami has little confidence that Russia and Iran will actually adhere to the 'de-escalation' concept as agreed for Idlib. Right now a number of forces and militias have mobilized for the Syrian government's push against the insurgents in the Hama and Aleppo countrysides, beginning to push into Idlib, while the Islamic State is also putting pressure on Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham in the area. It is reasonable to note that more forces will likely be deployed once the eastern campaign is finished and the East Ghouta pocket is dealt with.
- Meetings with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham to try to resolve differences, but impeded by the organization's arrest of Dr. Sami al-Oraidi and others (though as of the time of writing this post, Oraidi was released from jail four days ago).
- The advice Abu Humam al-Shami offered to Abu Malek al-Shami on fighting Islamic State in west Qalamoun. Abu Humam al-Shami's point on Abu Malek al-Shami's reluctance to fight Islamic State in the area is corroborated by evidence from the time. Whereas Jabhat al-Nusra joined with other Syrian rebels in most areas in fighting the Islamic State at the turn of 2014, west Qalamoun was a notable localized exception for some time. For instance, note this part of an apparent 'Jabhat al-Nusra in Qalamoun' statement in January 2014 that disavowed infighting: "Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham are on one manhaj even if politics differ."
- The claim that a large proportion of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's fighters remain with the group on the basis that there is still a secret allegiance to al-Qaeda as their amirs convinced them that the breaking of ties was only a media cover.
Below are the texts of both statements with translation. All explanatory notes of my own are in square brackets.
Abu Malek al-Shami's statement
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
God will bring ease after difficulty
Praise be to God who supports the religion, and gives might to the monotheists, and prayers and peace be upon the Imam of the Mujahideen, his family, companions and whoso has gone on his path till the Day of Judgement. As for what follows:
God blessed the believers when He opened for them a door from the doors of jihad in the blessed land of al-Sham, and mobilized men for it who bore the banner with honesty and blessed them with conquests. Then God- Exalted is He- willed that the field should pass through great fitnas in which many of the believers are tested.
The jihad movement was able and for the first time in the contemporary history of jihad to move to a movement that lives through the pains and sufferings of the people, and exerts efforts to convey the zeal of supporting the religion to the Muslim masses, and the success of this particular move clearly appeared in the land of al-Sham and praise be to God.
From the outset, our allegiance was to the Qaedat al-Jihad organization as we knew that this group was only ever interested in supporting the religion of God according to the Book of God and the Sunnah of His Messenger (SAWS), and this is what we heard and read from most of the leaders and mashaykh of the organization, and when the Ahl al-Hall wa al-'Aqd in al-Sham considered that the interest of the jihad requires that no name of the organization should appear, coinciding with the directives of Dr. Ayman (may God protect him) in a number of interviews that we should place our loyalty to the religion and not the organization, and his words on breaking ties with the organization to realize bringing together the Muslims' power in al-Sham.
The move from Jabhat al-Nusra to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham was within that which does not contravene the principles of our hanif religion, for our loyalty is to God's religion and our love for this organization is dependent on its obedience of the guidance of our Prophet, upon whom be the best prayers and most complete salutations. And after that the circle of jihad broadened for the project of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham was in the coming together of most of the factions under this group, and here there was a true breaking of ties with the organization, but the group did not break its tie with the manhaj of the Ahl al-Sunn, for it is still implementing and will continue to implement by God's permission the rule of God's law and this is what cannot be bartered, for our blood and souls are in sacrifice to support this religion.
And what happened today is the product of a past stage, in which we have tried by different means to put out this fitna but the brothers did not respond to our suggestions, and the one who considers the interest of the field and the interest of the Ahl al-Sunna in al-Sham knows that the calamity is great, so we will work striving to extinguish this fitna if God wills. Oh God, make the outcome of our affair easy and grant our mashayakh success in what is best and successful for Your servants.
Oh soldiers of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham:
Be patient for by God you are on truth by God's permission, and don't pay attention to the one who casts doubts upon you, and protect yourselves from falling into passions, and beware of negligence, for it is a great malaise, and heed the call 'Oh horse of God, ride,' for the calamity is great, and your brothers are in the greatest need of you on the fronts, for the paths of kufr, people of innovations and people of desires and whims have ganged up against you. For they are as my Lord- Exalted and Almighty is He- described them: 'And they will not cease fighting you till they turn you away from your religion if they can.'
May your slogan be:
'I care not when I am killed as a Muslim, in any case my death was in God's hands.'
Call to come together
The Almighty has said: 'Whoever clings to God has been guided to a straight path.'
I call on my mujahideen brothers in all factions- leaders and soldiers- to cling to God the Exalted's rope, and adopt the covenant of implementing the ruling of the hanif law, and translate it into steps on the ground in which we bring together the ranks of the mujahideen far removed from factionalist apportionments and quarrels.
The suffering is not abandoning from my Ummah: until it disappears, it [the Ummah] is separated and ruined.
My mujahideen brothers. Our enemies here have gathered on their falsehood striving to benefit from our separation, and striving to light the fire of fitna and disagreement, for we are distracted away from fighting them as one rank, despite the fact that what brings us together from the brotherhood of religion and creed is greater and larger than what separates us. And the Sunnah of God is not partial to anyone, so let our aim always be to realize the highest interest even if it is realized at the hand of the one who disagrees with us from our brothers ('and do not quarrel, for you will fail and your strength will vanish, so be patient. Indeed God is with the patient').
My muhajireen brothers in the land of al-Sham:
I praise God that He made possible your path to the blessed land of al-Sham: the best abode of the Muslims on the day of the epic battle, the land of jihad and ribat. You have offered many sacrifices in the path of supporting God's religion, and you have lost lives, blood and bodies to support the people of al-Sham. Mya God reward you best on our behalf, and I remind you:
The path that you have gone on is surrounded with adversities, filled with difficulty, and you have today become an indivisible part of this blessed jihad, so be firm and patient. The Almighty has said: 'Oh you who believe, be patient, endure, remain stationed and fear God. Perhaps you will succeed.'
And praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds.
Abu Humam al-Shami's statement
Statement from the poor servant Abu Humam al-Shami
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds and prayers and peace be upon our Prophet Muhammad and all his family and companions. As for what follows:
The Almighty has said: 'Oh you who believe, fulfil your pacts.'
We have remained on our pact and our fulfilling of our pacts and our allegiance to our leaders and our mashayakh at whose hands we have learnt jihad and loyalty, so we have not changed or altered [our pacts] or split a rank or separated a group, and here I clarify to every honest person to whom the matter be dubious, thus I say:
I- the poor servant- mobilized to jihad before knowing the brother Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani, for I gave allegiance to Sheikh Osama bin Laden- may God have mercy on him- by the handshake, so I bore on my neck the allegiance to the Qaedat al-Jihad organization that remained steadfast on its manhaj that the years and tribulations did not alter. And this is what the issuing of witness testimonies before the mubahala established from the production of al-Basira foundation affiliated with Jabhat al-Nusra, the branch of the al-Qaeda organization in al-Sham, whereby it presented sufficient lines of evidence that I am from the organization. So I have not and will not do away with my allegiance as far as I can by God's permission, and I renew it today to Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri (may God protect him).
Our disagreement with the brother Jowlani over the strategy of operation has been for more than a year, and we have not wished for that to appear in the media lest we allow the enemy to gloat over our misfortune and sadden the Muslims who expect us to support them and remove oppression from them, as we were set on the same day that Dr. Sami al-Oraidi was arrested to meet with the brother Jowlani in order to reach an agreement to bring together and not cause division, and unite the ranks to participate in resisting the campaign that had commenced against the Hama countryside and Idlib that is still in its beginnings but will multiply in intensity on Idlib after the Rafidites [Shi'a] and Russians are done with capital belt [i.e. East Ghouta area] and seizing the rich eastern area. And considering that Iran will not comply with the nuclear agreement with the powerful states (P5+1), will Iran and Russia comply with their agreement with Turkey regarding Idlib?! For Russia has bombed the bases of the factions of the Astana agreement who are allied to Turkey, and has bombed after the agreement Atarib, Harem and Armanaz and they are among the villages considered to be under Turkish protection. And it has bombed Douma- the HQ of Jaysh al-Islam! And we see that the extremist international system has not even been content with the secularist coalition [i.e. the Syrian National Coalition], and the regime has been negotiating with the regime (Riyadh II conference, Moscow and Cairo conference). All this makes clear the impossibility of impossibility of replicating Lebanese Hezbollah's project in Idlib (a powerful militia ruling in an apparent government). We add to that:
1. Hezbollah is not our model, but rather our model is the Messenger of God (SAWS), who did not deceive when he (SAWS) said: 'A sect from my Ummah will continue fighting on Truth and overcome.' So they are a sect that overcomes, not concealed.
2. Hezbollah is supported by nuclear states like Russia, China and Iran on the path. As for other western states, they prefer the Shi'a to control the Sunni areas, for here is secularist Turkey, which recently faced a coup that almost succeeded- because the Zio-Crusaders remember the history of the Ottomans. Even if the commission's [Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's] origin were Sufi or Ikhwani it would be difficult to accept it in this extremist system, so how will it be accepeted if its origin is Salafi jihadi? That will only be for being made use of temporarily, then to strike it just as they left alone the Dawla group temporarily then struck it.
So we are in one boat where we must advise each other. The Messenger of God (SAWS) says: 'The similitude of the one observing God's hudud and the one transgressing them is as a people who have boarded a ship by lot, for some of them have gone on the upper deck and some on the lower deck. And when those on the lower deck require water, they go to those above them and say: 'If we were to make a hole in the bottom of our ship, we would not harm those above us.' But if they let them do as they wish, they will all be destroyed, but if they stop them, they will all be safe'- narrated by Bukhari.
We had been trying to bring together the youth who abandoned their factions and encourage them to go to the fronts, but regrettably the recent and hasty developments from the arrest of the doctor [Sami al-Oradi] and his brothers before the meeting pained us and saddened us, for they are the people of precedence and jihad, thus overstepping all initiatives of conciliation and calming tensions, and cutting off any means for dialogue and discussion, in the shade of a fierce attack from the Rafidites, Nusayris, and Khawarij [Islamic State, which has an enclave in Hama countryside].
Brother Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani: wasn't Dr. Sami al-Oraidi- may God free him- a legitimate source of authority among you? Why has your heart not opened up to him and his brothers just as it opened up to others besides him from those the field is filled with from groups and factions? Are not your brothers closer than those besides them?
The tie with the al-Qaeda organization is a crime among the governments of man-made laws, so has it likewise become so with you? You were proud of the al-Qaeda name, not caring for all the accusations and criticisms, until God brought you to what you are on today! So what is it that has changed?! Did you not say on your disagreement with Baghdadi: 'I thus respond to the call of Baghdadi- may God protect him- by referral from lower to higher, and I say this is an allegiance from the sons of Jabhat al-Nusra and their general official that we renew to the sheikh of jihad, Sheikh Ayman al-Zawahiri, may God protect him.' So may you know and may all who accused me of defecting from the commission (among whose soldiers I have not been for a day since its establishment) know that I never rebelled against my amir who was Sheikh Osama bin Laden- may God have mercy him- and is then Dr. Ayman (may God protect him) since the time I gave allegiance to him, neither in the battles nor fields, and not in the prisons under the threat of the tyrants.
And in response to the statement of Sheikh Abu Malek al-Shami on 10 Rabi' al-Awal 1439 AH, I say:
We met with you and with the brother Jowlani before you and I clarified to both of you that we are your brothers and will be with you in one hand to push back the aggressor enemy but without conditions or sub-ordination [to you]. And I asked you to be like the Taliban to al-Qaeda, with the great difference being that that the favour of al-Qaeda towards you is greater than its favour towards the Taliban and most of al-Qaeda in Syria are from the ansar [local fighters] whereas most of them in Afghanistan are muhajireen. The Taliban has not considered al-Qaeda as a competitor project or destructive project for Afghanistan, and it has not considered the fall of its regions and bombing of its towns as being due to the presence of the al-Qaeda organization in its land, for it knew that there are two paths and not a third for the two:
The path by which they enter the international system that has come to be known for certain as being aimed at destroying Islam, and the end of this path is well-known and it is to destroy every last mujahid capable of bearing arms as is the condition of the Arab states that collaborate with the West.
The other path is that by which they enter might and tamkin [establishment of control in the land] and it is the path of jihad, martyrdom and sacrifice in God's path, for the bombing and destruction in al-Sham won't stop until America and the Zionist entity are pleased with us, whether one likes it or not. God Almighty has said: 'And the Jews and Christians won't be pleased with you until you follow their path.'
As for your words: 'We tried by different means to put out this fitna but the brothers did not respond to our suggestions.' I say: the commission rejected through you the initiative of the Ahl al-'Ilm ('And conciliation is best') and your pretext was unconvincing, while I demonstrated my readiness for that initiative and I authorized the Ahl al-'Ilm on my behalf to make amends. And your words: 'But the brothers did not respond to our suggestions.' Yes, when they are pre-imposed suggestions to come down with no space except to respond affirmatively to them, otherwise arrest and being wipedout!!
Where is the role of conciliating 'ulama who bring together points of view and subdue the obstacles? Why this disdain for the 'ulama and students of 'ilm? Some of your leaders in leaked recordings attacked some of your mashayakh and the one who attacked moved from one amir position to another, and you rejected the conciliation initiative that a group of the 'ulama and students of 'ilm launched and supported previously, rejecting them and their initiative with no regard for the fact that you will lose them and you are losing your support base [hadhina]. I warn you and myself of God Almighty's words: 'And do not quarrel, for you will fail and your strength will vanish.' And the Almighty's words: 'So let those who dissent from his [the Prophet's] order beware, lest fitna strike them or a painful torment strike them.'
As for your words in the statement rejecting the conciliation: 'We also wish from all to go forth and raise readiness to resist the campaign the Nusayris and Rafidites are launching in the countrysides of Aleppo and Hama.' I say: you put a stranglehold on us when we received the points of ribat, and you prevented the Turkistani brothers [Uyghurs of Turkestan Islamic Party] from helping us, and you prevented any attempt to put in order our union, and despite that we encouraged our youth to go to ribat as individuals without showing forth our name, and we did not accept at the time from any mujahid that he should defect from the commission or take away arms from it while filling a front. So we wish that you do not engage in point scoring against us, for it is well known about the al-Qaeda organization that it is a people for fighting, jihad, support and heeding the call, for al-Qaeda was the precursor to mobilize to support the oppressed Muslims in Afghanistan whose language was a hindrance for us and whose cold tore apart our limbs, so what of the people of al-Sham who are our people and our brothers in kinship?! Indeed a large proportion of the commission's soldiers are still with you on the basis that you are secretly affiliated with al-Qaeda, so on the breaking of your ties, your amirs convinced their soldiers that it is just a media cover and that the allegiance remains secretly, but after the recent developments your mistakes and wrong-doing against your brothers became clear to all, so hurry to correct the mistake before the situation becomes critical and gets out of your control, and thus you lose what you gained and you fall from grace in the eyes of the mujahideen.
And I say to you oh Sheikh Abu Malek: you acted very slowly in fighting Baghdadi's organization in west Qalamoun despite the advice and directives I sent you, saying that they would betray you when they had the chance, and this is what happened! But you had a view to delaying confrontation with them. Some excused you while others accused you of being Da'esh [Islamic State]. Why have you not endured us with the tenth of your endurance for the Dawla organization? For your endurance of us will not go in vain, for the manhaj of the al-Qaeda organization is well known to all: a people of fulfilment and support, not a people of treachery. And we will be together in all difficulties that will face us especially if your experiment in the national salvation government fails or a political ally betrays you!
A message to every mujahid on the blessed land of al-Sham:
Be patient and endure, for it is a tribulation that will not take long to disappear, so embrace your fronts, so let every Muslim among you on a front wage jihad and strive to work for his religion and Hereafter. Beware of Islam being undermined by you, for God has supported us so long as we are on Truth and you are shaped by the manners of the Messenger (SAWS). And beware of name-calling with your brothers in the commission even if they have disagreed with you, for they have upon us the right of brotherhood in God. The Messenger of God (SAWS) said: 'The blood, wealth and honour of every Muslim is sacrosanct on the Muslim.' And I place you in God's protection lest the hadith of the Messenger of God (SAWS) should come upon you: 'And when he quarrels, he is abusive.'
I direct my words to every sheikh and student of 'ilm in the commission:
Make great the law you claim affiliation with and let this law be the ruling and judge between us and you. Even if the opposing party were from among the just, it has not been permitted for him to be the judge by the consensus of the Muslims, for how was it that God Almighty said in Surat Yusuf: 'I do not acquit myself. Indeed the soul enjoins evil except on those my Lord has mercy. Indeed my Lord is forgiving, merciful.' So if the path of the majority of 'ulama is not to permit that the judge dispense justice by his own knowledge lest there be bad thought in him and the door be opened to judges of evil, so how is it allowed for the judge to be the opposing party?
As for the campaign of arrests against our brothers and cadres, it will not prevent us from continuing our jihad against the enemies of God, and it will open upon you a door you will wish that you did not knock, and we continue to be prepared to sit and work with our brothers in the commission, but there must be release of the brothers and restoration of rights to its owners as the first steps of the path, for it is not reasonable that we should sit for conciliation and the best of our brothers are arrested and powerless.
And in conclusion: in my name and my brothers' name I say: we are agreeable on any initiative for conciliation the 'ulama of the Ummah thoroughly familiar with 'ilm: the divinely-inspired 'ulama who do not purchase a cheap price with the verses of God, who convey the messages of God and fear him and do not fear anyone besides God. And God suffices for them. The Almighty has said: 'Oh you who believe, obey God and obey the Messenger and those of authority among you. If you quarrel in something, refer it to God and the Messenger if you believe in God and the Last Day. That is better and best in result.'
Your brother, the poor servant Abu Humam al-Shami
Friday 13 Rabi' al-Awal 1439 AH.