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Firqat-ul-Ghuraba vs. Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham
The insurgent-held areas of Idlib and its environs in northwest Syria continue to be dominated by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, whose core of Jabhat al-Nusra originated as an affiliate of the Islamic State of Iraq before declaring itself an al-Qa‘ida affiliate and then breaking ties with al-Qa‘ida in forming Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham in January 2017. In turn, this hegemonic approach leads to conflict between Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and more independent-minded groups and individuals, especially those that feel Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham has deviated from an ideologically purist Islamic line in favour of ‘nationalist’ sentiment. For its part, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham treats such groups and individuals as ‘threats’ to ‘public security/public order.’
One such group that has been at odds with Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham is the French group Firqat-ul-Ghuraba (/Firqatul-Ghuraba; see my interview with the group in 2020), which is not currently affiliated with any particular faction on the insurgent scene. However, in January 2023, one of its fighters- Abu Hamza- was killed as a ‘martyr’ on the military frontlines in the Jabal al-Zawiya area in south Idlib. According to what Firqat-ul-Ghuraba told me, Abu Hamza was born in Nice in France in 1994 to an Algerian father and a French mother. He worked in construction and electricity before arriving in Syria in Ramadan 2017, being part of Firqat-ul-Ghuraba from the outset. He was a sniper and had several other responsibilities in installing surveillance materials. He fought in Ma‘an in Hama province and performed frontline manning duties in Jabal al-Turkoman and Jabal al-Akrad (Latakia) and Aleppo province. He was eventually killed by a bullet in the head, being at the time in the ranks of the independent jihadist group Ansar al-Tawhid (which is tolerated by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham).
More recently though, Firqat-ul-Ghuraba has released a statement condemning Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham for arresting a certain member of its group called ‘Abu Siddiq’, which I translate from the original French below.
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
As-salam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa baraktuhu
We express our profound indignation regarding the arbitrary and unjust arrest of he mujahid Abu Siddiq by the authorities of HTS [Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham]. Their excessively zealous and suspicious behaviour led to their placing of a sly trap aimed at our comrade, who was simply on his way to buy the necessary material for his mission of surveillance and protection of the ribat points [frontline-manning points]. This is one of his responsibilities as a committed member of our group, who devotes himself to the surveillance of the frontiers of this liberated area.
In any case, the acts of repression and intimidation cannot be justified against some mujahidin devoted to the defence of their community. We issue the reminder that our group does not represent any threat to public order.
We demand the freeing of our brother Abu Siddiq, and call on the authorities to stop this repressive campaign. It is essential that they work instead to regain the trust of the people, which is being eroded in the face of the acts of injustice that are being committed.
We call for general solidarity towards our unjustly arrested brothers, and the restoration of their rights and freedoms, for which they revolted against the Assad regime.
With the help of God, we will continue to work with determination and responsibility for the protection of our community.
6 Dhu al-Qa‘da/26 May 2023.