Some observers may recall that on 3 May 2020 the independent jihadist group Ansar al-Tawheed based in northwest Syria published a statement affirming its independent status and lack of affiliation with any operations room. The group also declared that it used to be in a coalition/alliance but today considers itself to be in a state of absolution from it. Though no other faction was explicitly mentioned by name, it is clear Ansar al-Tawheed was referring to its previous alliance with the al-Qa'ida-loyalist group Hurras al-Din.
It may be asked why Ansar al-Tawheed issued this statement. Here I provide a translated account that gives a detailed explanation for the reasons behind the statement. I first came across it in a post on a pro-Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham Telegram channel in late May 2020. Though this account, which is apparently dated to 5 May 2020, was not issued as an official statement by Ansar al-Tawheed, a member of Ansar al-Tawheed confirmed to me that the account was written by someone with the group and that its content is authentic.
The account explains that the early May 2020 statement was issued for multiple reasons. First, Ansar al-Tawheed has been falsely accused of having an allegiance to Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State: these accusations have even been made by other jihadists in northwest Syria. Second, the group has been wrongly portrayed as being part of one operations room or another. Here, the account makes clear that Ansar al-Tawheed does not consider it forbidden to fight in the ranks of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham as it is a Muslim faction though it disagrees with the group on some policies and opinions. However, Ansar al-Tawheed does consider the Turkish military to be apostates.
Most importantly, the account gives an explanation for why the alliance with Hurras al-Din came to an end. Ansar al-Tawheed considers that Hurras al-Din broke the terms of the original alliance, such as through engaging in a war of words and dispute with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham over weapons ownership in early 2019, without recourse to Ansar al-Tawheed on the matter from the outset. The account also relates an incident involving theft of weapons from Faylaq al-Sham, which Ansar al-Tawheed worked to resolve whereas Hurras al-Din did not make the effort. This incident finally ended the alliance between the two groups.
This account should illustrate that Ansar al-Tawheed is indeed what it says it is: an independent group. Even if individual members have somewhat differing opinions and sympathies on certain topics of debate among jihadists, Ansar al-Tawheed is neither secretly Islamic State nor a Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham front group. However, it clearly operates with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's approval and abides by the general policies and restrictions imposed by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham on the jihadist groups in northwest Syria.
Below is the account translated. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds and prayers and peace be upon the trusted Messenger of God.
As for what follows:
The reason for the publishing of the recent statement of Ansar al-Tawheed
A number of reasons:
1. This faction has been accused of being affiliated with or having a secret allegiance equally on one occasion: to the Hay'a [Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham]- this claim was made by the brothers in Ansar al-Din; while the other accusation of having the secret allegiance to the Dawla organization [Islamic State] was made by the brothers in Ansar al-Islam. And this accusation was declared openly in a private meeting when we were invited by the 'And Rouse the Believers' operations room.
And the strange thing is that the accusation in the same meeting and the clear inconsistency in between were witnessed by the brothers in al-Hurras [i.e. the contradictory claims that Ansar al-Tawheed is affiliated with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and the Islamic State were declared in the same meeting, and the people in Hurras al-Din were present and heard those claims].
And the picture was clarified later to the brothers in the room and praise and thanks be to God as the accusation was withdrawn.
2. The accusation by some of the media and the falsified picture that we are affiliated with operations rooms in the field, whether the Hay'a or others besides them of the rooms. Note that we do not assert it is forbidden to fight in the ranks of the Hay'a as it is a Muslim faction that has what it has correct opinions and is what it is upon from incompatible policies and deviant opinions.
3. The accusation that burned our hearts is that we fight under a secular banner in an operations room of the apostate 'Turks' and we did not see or hear some of our beloved people who have associated with us over many years and known our manhaj and belief defending us. Rather when we wanted to convey to them the idea and that we should clarify the matter that occurred and the confusion that arose, they merely snapped at us with their words: 'We think well of you' without hearing from us or about us.
4. And it is the main reason and as the saying goes 'the straw' that broke the camel's back.
We were in an alliance with the brothers in 'Hurras al-Din' and it was a conditional alliance.
Among those conditions:
a) Ban on amni operations or aiding that.
b) No issuing of statements concerning the factions in the field without recourse to the alliance and its view of it after the contracting of the alliance.
And other conditions.
Naturally the agreement was that whoever should commit a violation on the contracted clauses, the other party would be in a state of absolution from it.
But thus it was from the brothers that they issued a statement against the Hay'a after mobilizations by both sides regarding the 'weapons of Jabhat al-Nusra' and who had more right over controlling them. Regardless of whether they were right in the statement or wrong in that, they nonetheless violated the agreed upon condition and the Prophet (SAWS) said- 'The Muslims remain on their conditions.' This is especially so if (God forbid) fighting occurs as a result of that statement.
And this matter occurred around a year ago or more.
The other issue is that two months ago a group carried out amni work against a faction affiliated with the Free Army. Among those who helped in it were two brothers from Ansar al-Tawheed. They were held to account by the jama'a [i.e. Ansar al-Tawheed] and what was in their hands from stolen weapons was returned to that faction so we should not harm the brothers or the jama'a. And these measures were carried out in an appropriate way in which there is no harm or malice.
Among the stolen weapons was a multiple rocket launcher that was purchased by al-Hurras.
And they made admissions to an official in Faylaq al-Sham- 'Abu Abdo Kaf'- as they knew that they [the weapons] were taken through 'amni work.'
And they said: we bought it [the multiple rocket launcher] from Ansar al-Tawheed.
So when 'Abdo Kaf' came to al-Ansar he said that so-and-so from Hurras al-Din says he bought it from you so we sent a message to that brother asking: who of the brothers sold it to you? He said: I did not say I bought it from Ansar al-Tawheed.
So the brothers returned to 'Abu Abdo Kaf' and he swore by God that what he mentioned is what he heard from the brother who is from al-Hurras and he did not mislead him.
Note that the 'multiple launcher' was bought by the brother from that contingent that is not affiliated with Ansar al-Tawheed, which prompted the jama'a- led by the group's amir 'Abu Dhiyab'- to hurry to send a message to al-Hurras so that they should strive with us to resolve the problem and that should be through returning the multiple launcher. But the brothers in al-Hurras did not care, so al-Hajji [the amir of Ansar al-Tawheed] informed them that the jama'a would be in a state of absolution from that alliance and those words were five days ago approximately and that was because of the breaching of the conditions.
So the brothers did not issue the statement until they had an excuse, explained and clarified.
And there is no power or force except in God the Lofty and Almighty.
And there is no doubt that dissolving the alliance has in it outwardly a cause of joy for the contrarians and weakening of the honest people.
But the obligation on the amirs of the jama'a is that they should work to preserve the blood of the brothers and repel the reasons that give rise to their extermination or excess towards them, so the brothers left by the principle that 'repelling the causes of corruption is to be given precedence over fetching the interests.'
As for not mentioning who are the people of the alliance:
1. So we should not discourage the brothers.
2. Not revealing the motives of the statement, in the hope that they might make amends for the matter before it is too late (God forbid).
And God knows best and is most wise.
And God's blessings and peace be upon our Prophet Muhammad and all his family and companions.