Qatar recently secured the release of Qatari hostages, including members of the royal family. But its diplomatic victory was marred by reports that a multi-million dollar ransom was paid to a US-designated terrorist group and al Qaeda’s joint venture in Syria.
The US Treasury Department designated Muhammad Hadi al-‘Anizi as an al Qaeda terrorist earlier this month. He was detained in Afghanistan in late 2001 at the age of 15. Al-‘Anizi was freed and thanked Kuwait’s leadership for his repatriation. He is now based in Kuwait.
Jihadists, Islamists and rebel groups affiliated with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) launched a new offensive against Bashar al Assad’s regime in northern Hama province earlier this week. Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, al Qaeda’s joint venture in Syria, is playing a prominent role in the fighting, dispatching several suicide bombers and its “special forces.” Upwards of 10 or more FSA-branded groups are participating as well.
Abu Jaber (also known as Hashem al Sheikh), the leader of Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), has released a message commemorating the sixth anniversary of the Syrian revolution. He portrays HTS as a popular revolutionary force and calls on other rebel groups to join it for the sake of “unity.” He also promises to “escalate” operations against Bashar al Assad’s regime.
The US bombed what it says was a suspected al Qaeda “meeting location” in Syria. The airstrikes were immediately controversial, as Syrian activists and others said that the building hit was a mosque. The US has stepped up its air campaign in Syria since the beginning of the year by going after larger facilities suspected of being run by al Qaeda.
Five groups, including al Qaeda’s rebranded branch, have announced the creation of a new group in Syria. The move comes after weeks of reported disagreements and clashes between the insurgents in northern Syria.
In a statement released last week, Abu Muhammad al Maqdisi, an influential jihadi ideologue aligned with al Qaeda, criticized Turkey’s cooperation with Russia against the Islamic State. Maqdisi warned jihadists and Islamists in Syria to rethink their decision to work with Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield, which has captured significant territory from the so-called caliphate in northern Syria.
The Pentagon is still assessing the results of airstrikes on Jan. 1 and Jan. 3 in northern Syria, but it is believed that 20 al Qaeda “militants” were killed in the bombings. The airstrikes are likely among the most significant carried out against al Qaeda in Syria since Sept. 2014. President Obama reportedly authorized a more robust air campaign against al Qaeda in Syria late last year, after the administration had previously defined down the threat.