As rifts open up in Syria’s al-Qaeda franchise, secrets spill out

Aron Lund writes: In July, the al-Qaeda branch known as the Nusra Front expelled one of its founding members a man known as Saleh al-Hamawi. As described in Friday’s post, another founding member of the group, Abu Maria al-Qahtani, has reportedly been sidelined and stripped of power.

With the Syrian jihadis’ internal debates increasingly spilling online, one recent social media posting has revealed new details about the Nusra Front’s mysterious leader, Abu Mohammad al-Golani, and the self-proclaimed Islamic State’s “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

Hudheifa Azzam is the son of the legendary Palestinian Islamist ideologue Abdullah Azzam. The elder Azzam is often regarded as the founder of the modern jihadi movement, although it is not obvious he would have liked the direction it later took. Differences between Azzam and his junior associate in 1980s Afghanistan and Pakistan, a Saudi by the name of Osama bin Laden, were already apparent at the time of Azzam’s mysterious death in 1989.

As a young man, Azzam’s son Hudheifa worked with his father in support of the Afghan resistance against the Soviet Union, and he remained active on the jihadi scene. Recently, he left Jordan to settle in northern Syria, where he has presented himself as an independent scholar. He seems to work closely with Syrian Islamist hardliners like Ahrar al-Sham, but he is a strong opponent of the Islamic State and has been critical of the Nusra Front and al-Qaeda as well.

Like many other independent Islamist figures in Syria, Hudheifa Azzam has found Twitter to be an excellent means of broadcasting his opinions. On July 21, he fired off a series of tweets targeted at the Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The information in these tweets was vouched for by two Nusra Front dissidents, Saleh al-Hamawi and Abu Maria al-Qahtani, who were to varying degrees involved in the events he describes.

In short, Azzam’s story is as follows, with the addition of a great deal of context for clarity. Whether you think his information is to be trusted or not is up to you. [Continue reading…]

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