The flag of al Qaeda flies over Hazm’s 46th Brigade in Aleppo
The US-backed Hazm Movement, or Harkat Hazm, has officially disbanded after suffering a major defeat by al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria. The most recent fighting between the Al Nusrah Front and Hazm Movement began last week after Al Nusrah declared war on Hazm. The declaration of war came after Hazm arrested and killed at least one Nusrah commander in Syria’s Aleppo province. According to a Dutch fighter in Al Nusrah, Hazm killed a commander named Abu Isa Tabqa.
Over the weekend, Al Nusrah launched an offensive on several Hazm positions in the Aleppo countryside. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has reported that Al Nusrah took over the “46th Brigade, Meznaz, Kafar Nouran, al-Mashtal, and Ref al-Mohandsin” in Aleppo. According to SOHR, around 80 people were killed in the fighting, with 50 of those being from Hazm. As a result of the defeats, the Hazm Movement released a statement yesterday saying that the group has been dissolved.
In the same statement, Hazm also said that its fighters will join Jabhat al Shamiyya, or the Levant Front. The Levant Front is a coalition of groups in Aleppo which includes the al Qaeda ally Ahrar al Sham, and the Jaysh al Mujahideen and Harakat Nour al Din al Zenki, as well as other smaller groups. Two of these groups, Jaysh al Mujahideen and Harakat Nour al Din al Zenki, have previously been supported by the US with BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles.
In a statement also released yesterday, the Al Nusrah Front said that the group will “continue to pursue the heads and leaders of that criminal gang [referring to Hazm] so they can receive the penalty of their injustice and oppression,” according to a translation by SITE Intelligence Group. Al Nusrah goes on to say that affiliation with Hazm is not a crime and that Hazm fighters should turn themselves into a sharia or Islamic court for judgment. The jihadist group is also demanding that Hazm “Hand over the corpses of Sheikh Abu Issa al Tabqa and the two brothers Abu al Jarrah and Abu Malik al Homisiyin to any party [of] their wish; otherwise, we will not rule out that they were handed over to external parties.” Additionally, the jihadist group is demanding that Hazm disclose the fate of several other missing Al Nusrah fighters.
The Al Nusrah Front and the Hazm Movement have clashed in the recent past. In January, the Al Nusrah Front released a video in which it accused Hazm of targeting civilians, as well as torturing its prisoners. The groups then fought each other at the Sheikh Salman camp in Aleppo. After this, Hazm called Al Nusrah “takfiris” while the Islamic Front tried to act as an intermediary. [For more information on this round of infighting, see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front battles Western-backed rebels outside Aleppo.]
The Al Nusrah Front has targeted other US-backed rebel groups in the past. Last November, Al Nusrah and its allies in Jund al Aqsa, a group composed largely of foreign fighters, overran the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF) in Idlib province. Al Nusrah captured the SRF stronghold of Deir Sonbol, forcing the SRF’s leader, Jamaal Maarouf, to flee. Al Nusrah and its allies also targeted the SRF throughout the Jabal al Zawiya area of Idlib. [For more on the infighting with the SRF, see LWJ report, Al Nusrah Front forces Western-backed rebel group to flee base in Idlib.]
Prior to the internecine fighting that broke out this year, the two groups had cordial relations and often allied with each other on the battlefield against the Syrian regime. In September of 2014, a Hazm fighter was quoted by the Los Angeles Times as saying that “Nusrah doesn’t fight us, we actually fight alongside them. We like Nusrah.”
The Hazm Movement has also fought alongside several al Qaeda allies inside Syria. Last October, Hazm released a video showing its fighters using one of its US-supplied TOW missiles on a Syrian Army tank. The missile was fired as multiple rebel groups battled government forces in Handarat, Aleppo. One group was the Chechen-led Jaish al Muhajireen wal Ansar, which considers itself the Syrian branch of the al Qaeda-allied Caucasus Emirate.