Osama bin Laden foresaw how this would fool the establishment Infidel counterterror “experts”: “In the years immediately after 9/11, bin Laden knew worldwide sentiment fell in favor of the United States so he spread al Qaeda’s mission of hate — all while avoiding using the words ‘al Qaeda,’ said terror analyst Ali Soufan. “So each one of the affiliates we start seeing calling themselves a totally different name that al Qaeda is not even part of the sentence.”
And look how well it worked. Lord, what fools these kuffar be.
The Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, currently calling itself Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), has succeeded in getting itself off Canada’s list of designated terrorist entities following its latest identity shift.
That complicates the task of prosecuting Canadians who travel to join the group, send it money or propagandize on its behalf.
It also illustrates the pitfalls of Canada following the lead of the U.S. in designating terror groups.
HTS escapes being listed at a time when it is absorbing other jihadi groups and attracting more recruits, even as the Islamic State retreats on multiple fronts.
HTS has a history of renaming itself and altering its structure to confuse outsiders, and the Syrian population, about its true affiliations. But until now, few observers have accepted its claims to have distanced itself from its parent organization.
Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (the Organization for Conquest in the Levant) began life as an expeditionary force called Jabhat al-Nusra (the Support Front), despatched into Syria in 2011 by the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, now “caliph” of the Islamic State (ISIS). Jabhat al-Nusra was led by Syrian jihadist Abu Mohammad al-Jawlani.
The United States put the group on its terrorist list in 2012, as the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, and Canada followed suit.
Al-Baghdadi soon crossed into Syria himself, renouncing his allegiance to al-Qaeda and founding ISIS in April 2013.
Al-Jawlani’s group remained loyal to the mother organization founded by bin Laden, and Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS have been at each other’s throats ever since. Meanwhile, the U.S.-led coalition focused its bombing on Islamic State, not al-Nusra.
Rebels from al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front wave their brigade flag as they step on the top of a Syrian air force helicopter, at Taftanaz air base in 2013. As al-Nusra, the group was on the terrorist list, but al-Nusra has disappeared. (Associated Press)
While ISIS made headlines and enemies across the world, al-Nusra flourished.
It has carried out numerous suicide bombings, forced religious conversions, destroyed ancient shrines and enacted brutal punishments, including the stoning of women.
In early 2015, al-Qaeda’s international leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, thought to be hiding in Pakistan, set al-Nusra free of its formal subordination to al-Qaeda.
“The brotherhood of Islam that exists among us is stronger than any passing or changing organizational ties,” he said in a taped statement, instructing the group to integrate itself into the wider Syrian revolt. Al-Nusra changed its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Front for the Conquest of the Levant), and continued to gobble up other Syrian jihadi groups, often by force.
But the West wasn’t buying it. The U.S. and Canada simply added the new name as another alias of al-Nusra on their terrorist listings.
Both countries are normally careful to capture all the aliases of terrorist groups, including minor variations in spelling and punctuation. (Islamic State has 46 permutations of its name listed by Public Safety Canada; al-Nusra has six).
But then in January of this year, the group shifted again, nominally dissolving itself and joining with four other jihadi groups. It altered its name, changing the word “Jabhat” (Front) to “Hay’at” (Organization), and “Fateh” (Conquest) to “Tahrir” (Liberation).
The military commander of the group continues to be al-Jawlani, whom the U.S. has branded a Specially Designated Global Terrorist. On Wednesday, the U.S. government posted a $10-million reward for him. The reward notice states that al-Nusra is “at the core of HTS,” which is led by a triumvirate that also includes Egyptian Abu Khayr al-Masri, the number two of the global al-Qaeda organization.
And yet HTS has not been designated in the U.S. Canada, which usually follows the U.S. listing closely, has also not listed the group.
The change is significant, and the U.S. State Department confirmed to CBC News that HTS members are no longer considered terrorists.
The State Department did issue a statement in March, in Arabic only, branding HTS a terrorist group. But the State Department’s Nicole Thompson told CBC that was a mistake.
“Though closely affiliated with al-Nusra, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham is not a designated terrorist organization,” she said in an email. “The statement you found should have said al-Nusrah Front and has been corrected.”
Al-Nusra, however, no longer exists….