So-called moderate rebels in Syria that have been vetted and previously armed by the U.S. government and its allies have officially partnered with al-Qaeda’s rebranded local affiliate in a new organization called Tahrir al-Sham.
Among the umbrella group’s members is the Bin Laden Front—named for Osama bin Laden, the late jihadist financier who oversaw the 9/11 attacks. The Bin Laden Front is among the smaller fighting bands that helped comprise Jabhat al-Nusra, perhaps the most powerful rebel force on the ground in Syria.
In 2015, al-Nusra released a 40-minute propaganda video called “The Heirs of Glory” that celebrated the 9/11 attacks. The video confirmed the Syrian group’s abiding ties to al-Qaeda’s international network and its commitment to an extremist ideology.
A year later, al-Nusra rebranded as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, insisting with little credibility that it had broken its ties to al-Qaeda’s external leadership.
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham announced this week that it was merging with four rebel factions: Nour al-Din al-Zinki, Liwa al-Haq, the Jabhat Ansar al-Din, and Jaish al-Sunna.
Nour al-Din al-Zinki has long been described as a major “moderate” rebel group. It was approved by the CIA and received TOW anti-tank missiles from the U.S. Al-Zinki entered the public spotlight in July for releasing a video in which it beheaded a teenager with a knife.
The new alliance, which is led by former heads of extremist militias Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham, calls itself Tahrir al-Sham (Arabic for “liberation of Syria”).
“In view of the plots shaking the Syrian revolution… we announce the dissolution of all groups mentioned below and their total merger into a new entity named ‘Tahrir al-Sham’,” the militants said in a statement quoted by AFP.
They added that the group was created “in order to unite our banners and to preserve the fruits and the jihad of this revolution,” according to a translation by the jihadi Syrian opposition outlet Bilad al-Sham Media.
Extremist cleric Abdullah al-Muhaysini, who is from Saudi Arabia but has established himself as a leading warlord in Syria, also joined Tahrir al-Sham, along with five other Salafi scholars.
The announcement of the new rebel alliance went largely unnoticed in the Western media. International news agencies Reuters and Agence France-Presse (AFP) published stories on Tahrir al-Sham, but the news wires were only reprinted by a small handful of outlets.