Hayaat Tahrir al-Sham or as formerly called “Al-Nusra Front” is a Salafi jihadist organization affiliated with al-Qaeda. It seeks to overthrow Al-Assad regime and establish an Islamic regime in “Bilad al-Sham.” The focus of this study is on the organization, as it has the heaviest weight among the jihadist organizations operating in Syria.
The beginning of militarizing the Syrian revolution had been a turning point for Al-Qaeda, as it became immersed in the Syrian events through the Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s military arm. Al-Nusra isolated itself from the rest of the armed opposition factions through its agenda, work strategies, and tools, and its scheme about the narratives of shaping the form of Syrian map began to crystallize; it was seeking to define its role in the Syrian revolution.
In the fall of 2015, the year of Russian military intervention; Al-Nusra faced indoor and outdoor challenges that was clearly represented in the internal dialogue led by Dr. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the general leader of Al-Qaeda. The aim of the dialogue was to change Al-Nusra’s structure as it led to the decision to disengage Al-Nusra from the mother organization. Whereas the conservative wing of al-Nusra managed to seize the Consultative Assembly, al-Julani remained the commander-in-chief of “Fatah al-Sham”, formerly al-Nusra as well.
The establishment of Fatah al-Sham organization was introduced by the conservative circle in control of al-Qaeda after imposing international restrictions on the organization, rather than as a result of Pressured popular demands that considered al-Nusra a pretext for aggression, which led to the disruption of the organization’s internal structure. This imbalance was perfectly embodied in al-Julani’s call for partnership with the rest of the armed opposition factions to form a large military alliance under the name “Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.” The Syrians were the affiliated majority, but it failed to present itself as a popular revolutionary organization that adopts a comprehensive approach towards society. Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham remained a classic model for al-Qaeda.
However, the reasons behind the failure of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, formerly al-Nusra, are due to the defect in its structural fabric. On the one hand, it presents itself as a jihadist base organization, and then starts to get involved in political work to confront other local players in the geographical sphere of influence of the Syrian opposition. On the other one, Tahrir al-Sham is getting turned over from being a jihadist organization seeking to change the secular system to a group seeking to gain power through a network of regional and international alliances.
Over the years of its inception, al-Nusra Front has always been able to achieve Al-Julani’s goals, the founder, because of his discard of Al-Baghdadi who was occupying the command of the jihadists in Iraq and the Levant, as well as his announcement about the disengagement from the mother organization Al-Qaeda.The events of the Syrian revolution in 2011 acted as a valuable opportunity for Al-Julani to announce his revolution against everyone in stages; jihadists and revolutionaries. He realized that circumstances were waiting for him to unilaterally gain power over what was called “the Levant Square.” Then, in that period, he tried to show flexibility with the armed factions in order to work to achieve the goals of his organization by Expanding the circle of youth inclusion in the Sunni-majority liberated areas.
Al-Nusra has been subject to different developments that explain the circumstances of its emergence, and it can be summarized in two aspects:
The frustrating social aspect including corruption and unemployment, as well as dropping the level of education, health and the judiciary to the lowest level.
politically; There is a minority regime that, in addition to the monopoly of power, inherited all forms of tyranny with a historical record over half a century of destruction, killing, detention, exile and abuse of Syrians
The ideological reference of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham
Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham is based on the rules of global jihadist thought with all of its origins and branches. These rules include establishing an Islamic rule according to God’s law, which can only be achieved by jihad. From this peremptory origin, all the concepts, details, and procedures, established by the Salafi movement in the Levant, were born.
It can be said that the circumstances of the Iraq war in 2003 made Syria a safe passage for jihadists to go to Iraq. Many indications show that Al-Assad regime considered the influx of jihadists as a real interest in fighting US forces as well as fighting the jihadists and al-Qaeda in Iraq. In addition, the United States, which was hoping to achieve security stability in Iraq at the time, was compelled to open channels of communication and cooperation with Al-Assad regime.
Therefore, Al-Julani was based on the theses of Abu Musab al-Suri as theoretical references. His theses were built on decentralization, “Vulnerable war” and the establishment of cells that have thought and belief in common without a coherent structural organization. These aspects were adopted and emphasized in Abu Musab al-Suri’s famous book ” Call to Global Islamic Resistance.”
The founders of Al-Nusra Front are considered part of the “Jihad Base in Mesopotamia” organization led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. A group of this organization has moved to be under the command of Aws al-Mawsili, an unknown young man, the youngest of them all. Aws al-Mawsili is the name by which “Al-Jolani” was known in Bucca prison. Nothing about al-Mawsili was known at the time except that he was a former fighter in Iraq. While his comrades are being pursued by Arab intelligence, such as the Jordanians Abu Julaybib and Abu Anas al-Sahaba, brother-in-law and companion of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi the leader of the famous “Al-Qaeda” organization, and the Iraqi Abu Maria al-Qahtani. As it was Al-Qaeda organization that sent them with the mission of establishing a branch of al-Qaeda in Syria, some of them became part of the Islamic State of Iraq organization, under the leadership of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi.
On January 24, 2012 AD, Abu Muhammad al-Julani issued a statement announcing the formation of a Front that stem of the Mujahideen of Levant to Support the People of the Levant. The statement specified the goal of establishing the front by saying that it came in an effort by its founders to “restore the authority of God to his land, to avenge the violated honor and the bleeding blood, and to restore the smile to the infants and widows.
On the same dramatic and violent scene, al-Nusra Front has emerged and developed in Syria, where it managed to impose its will and control over large areas in northern Syria. Al-Nusra has become a military force to be reckoned with as it forced most of the armed opposition factions to take a neutral position, while its influence has been being expanded from day to day through bloody debates against the Free Syrian Army since 2014. Later, the Islamic factions, such as Ahrar al-Sham Movement and all the warring parties have incurred heavy human and material losses, so that Al-Nusra put itself between two eras; An era in which it was a faction affiliated with Al-Qaeda and faced by the power of the factions, and an era in which it became the one who controls all the liberated areas.