The Syrian civil war has seen the rise of a number of prominent rebel commanders, among them Abu al-Abd Ashidaa, who used to be involved with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham. On 15 April 2020, I conducted an exclusive interview with him about his career as a rebel commander as well as his assessment of the current situation in northwest Syria.
1- Can you talk about your biography and your jihad work since the beginning of the revolution? What year were you born and what was your job before the revolution and what positions did you hold during the revolution? With what factions did you work? Currently are you an independent leader?
By the name of Allah, praise be to God, prayer and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah. As for what follows: My name is Abd al-Mu'in Kahhal, although I am known by the name Abu Abed Ashidaa. Before the revolution began I was working as a trader. With the outbreak of the revolution I called on my peers to protest. I then told them that there is no further use in protesting and there must be armed action. I know this criminal regime and my father and relatives told me about their criminality in the eighties. I also had my own observations of the government before the revolution witnessed their brutality and war on religion, values, manners and social customs.
Indeed, when the armed struggle began in my native city of Aleppo, I used to work with charities and humanitarian organizations while at the same time I was the imam of the al-Abbas mosque. I joined the Aleppo based resistance group of Suqoor al-Shaam. At that time I was in the role of religious advisor. In the year 2012 I and Abu Ahmad al-Halabi formed the Ashidaa battalion. In 2013 we joined Ahrar al-Shaam until the second siege of Aleppo in 2016. In the last days of the siege of Aleppo we were being pounded from the air and there was a major call for unity amongst the ﬁghting groups. I was selected to lead all the defensive forces in the territory to safeguard the civilians.
Soon after leaving Aleppo in late 2016 HTS was formed and Ashidaa announced their joining of them in the hope of working in a project that meets the ambitions and freedoms sought by Muslims. I had many responsibilities within the group that included leading defensive forces in the countryside of Aleppo. All of that came to an end when I was imprisoned in September of last year. by HTS's security apparatus. This was because of a video I recorded which was advice to the Ummah and the leadership of HTS & its soldiers. It was entitled: "So that the Ship Doesn't Sink".
Earlier this year, after the regime wrested control of a large amount of territory from the resistance, including the strategic town of Mara Numan, they released me from prison. After that I paired up with some virtuous people and I formed the group "Tansiqiyya Jihad" which means "Jihad coordination". It is a completely independent entity that is working to improve the current situation we are facing in the freed territories.
2- How do you evaluate the general situation in the ٍShaam arena on the military, administrative and economic sides?
The military and administrative situation now in these territories Levant is in a state of breakdown and retreat. The enemies of the Syrian people have gathered and there are nation-states conspiring against us. We at Tansiqiyya feel that the answer to our current problems lie in the verse of Quran wherein Allah Almighty said: "And Allah had certainly fulﬁlled His promise to you when you were killing the enemy by His permission until [the time] when you lost courage and fell to disputing about the order [given by the Prophet] and disobeyed after He had shown you that which you love. Among you are some who desire this world, and among you are some who desire the Hereafter."
Economically there is also much that needs to be addressed. For example in the freed territories there is ﬁnancial activity, some jobs, and access to supplies and such and that is something positive praise be to Allah. However the reality of the situation lies in the fact that many of the strings of that ﬁnancial activity sit in the hands of external organizations. Self suﬃciency is a cornerstone for any revolution that wants to achieve its goals. This is a major issue that needs to be attended to.
3- Why did the factions lose a lot of areas during the recent campaigns?
Among the most important reasons for the loss of territory is due to a major lack of preparation and the reliance on deescalation agreements. In addition to that, our reliance on international politics for protecting the region has been a debilitating factor as well. We have also been negligent in shoring up popular support in recent times. All of these factors have contributed in a big way to our loss of territory.
4- How do you evaluate the Turkish role in the region? Now we see a large number of Turkish soldiers in Idlib and its surroundings. Will this affect the future of the region and its management positively or negatively?
Our recent losses have complicated our situation and jeopardized the revolutionary Jihad struggle. The Turkish role in the region, according to what the Turks declare, is to proceed towards a political solution between the murderous regime and the opposition and the negotiation of a certain border strip. This doesn't remotely address the reasons the Syrian people revolted against this murderous regime. Furthermore, the Russian occupation continues its policy of gnawing away areas piece by piece. Our intelligence sources reveal that they are planning a new attack very soon. Therefore it is obligatory upon us not to rely on so called "red lines". Aleppo was a red line as well and the regime and its helpers destroyed the city and killed thousands of its inhabitants. It is upon us to trust in Allah Almighty, renew the milestones of the revolution and the Jihad and work to change the current trajectory.
5- If all factions dissolved would that be good for the region? How can factions ﬁx the path?
What is required is reform and adjustment to change the trajectory. By repenting to Allah Almighty and putting forward competent and trustworthy people into suitable roles we can change the direction of this struggle God willing. We also need to continue our military preparations, take advantage of our opportunities and work hard to shore up popular support. All of our efforts must, of course, be in alignment with Islam as this will be our true source of power and will help expose the political and non political tricks of the enemies of the Syrian people.
Finally, it is of maximum importance to inject new blood into the leadership of this revolution and for its soldiers to learn from past mistakes.
6- What is the future of Jihad in the Shaam arena?
The expected future of the arena changes from day to day! What was expected a year ago is not what was expected four months ago. What was expected four months ago is not what was expected after the spread of the Corona virus! After having said all of that, I fully expect that the revolution will recover, reclaim its losses and move forward God willing.
7- What do you think about the outbreak of Corona? Is it a punishment from Allah Almighty on the disbelievers?
I think it is a serious trial. However, a trial can be broader than just on disbelievers. It is clear in the Word of Allah Almighty, and the words of the Prophet peace be upon him. Allah Almighty said: "Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned so He may let them taste part of [the consequence of] what they have done that perhaps they will return [to righteousness]."
He also said: "And of his signs is the creation of the heavens and earth and what He has dispersed throughout them of creatures. And He, for gathering them when He wills, is competent. And whatever strikes you of disaster - it is for what your hands have earned; but He pardons much. And you will not cause failure [to Allah ] upon the earth. And you have not besides Allah any protector or helper.
And on the authority of Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, that she asked Allah's Messenger ﷺ about plague. Allah's Messenger ﷺ informed her saying, "Plague was a punishment which Allah used to send on whom He wished, but Allah made it a blessing for the believers." Narrated by Bukhari.