On January 10, the Al-Qaeda General Leadership confirmed its new branch is operating in Syria’s Idlib governorate in an official statement released by the al-Qaeda news agency Al-Sahab Foundation. In the statement, al-Qaeda called on all of its fighters to support other radical groups in Syria against the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) and its allies.
Syrian oppositions sources said that al-Qaeda officially announced its new official branch in Syria after it reached an agreement with the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the old branch of the terrorist organization in Syria. According to the alleged agreement, HTS accepted the new al-Qaeda branch and in return the new branch will work with the group and will not aid ISIS in Idlib governorate.
The Al-Qaeda effort to establish a new branch in Syria was first revealed by a report of the UK-based Al Quds Al Arabi newspaper on October 11, 2017. According to the report, the name of new branch is “Ansar Al-Furqan Fi Bilad al-Sham” and its led by Osama bin Laden’s son, Hamza bin Laden.
Later, tensions between al-Qaeda and HTS increased, as HTS arrested several leaders of al-Qaeda in Idlib governorate on November 27, 2017. Syrian opposition activists said back then that еру HTS leadership was trying to reduce the influence of the foreign al-Qaeda bodies in its areas.
In response to the arrests, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri accused HTS and its leader Abu Mohammad al-Julani of betraying their oath of allegiance (bayat) to al-Qaeda in an official audio message and stressed that al-Qaeda didn’t release HTS from its allegiance to it yet.
Facing huge pressure from the al-Qaeda leadership and its own fighters and commanders, HTS released all al-Qaeda leaders on December 2, 2017 and started negotiations with al-Qaeda to share power in its own areas.
Now with al-Qaeda officially announcing its new branch in Syria, observers believe that HTS influence will shrink even more. Especially after the recent HTS defeats in the southeastern Idlib countryside.