On July 27, 2021, an Al-Qaeda supporter calling himself Haydarah Al-Qandahari posted an article on Telegram titled “A Call to the Lions of Monotheism in the Syrian Arena”. In this article, written in Arabic, Al-Qandahari urges Al-Qaeda-aligned mujahideen in Syria to form small, independent groups consisting of three to five fighters, and to focus on targeting U.S. and Russian forces. It appears from the article that Al-Qandahari is located in Syria and his pen name probably indicates that he is a veteran of the Afghan jihad who spent time in the Kandahar area before coming to Syria.
Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, Hurras Al-Din, and other Al-Qaeda-aligned groups in the country, have been continuously persecuted by rival jihadi group Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) since June 2020, which has severely hampered their functioning and despite some notable exceptions, effectively prevented them from carrying out military activity. Hurras Al-Din’s official leadership has largely remained silent in the face of this harassment and has issued only vague, general guidance to its fighters.
Believing that Hurras Al-Din can no longer function effectively, several Al-Qaeda supporters have advised the group’s remaining fighters to seek new methods to wage jihad, including fighting as individuals. The suggestions provided by Al-Qandahari are quite similar to those proposed in July 2020 by an Al-Qaeda supporter calling himself Ibn Al-Gharib.
Al-Qandahari begins by noting that “the mujahid youth in Syria – those of them who belong to the factions and who are independent” are beset with questions concerning the way forward after the “setbacks, surrenders, and alliances” in the country which have confused many mujahideen and led them to “accept the deviations and submit to the ideologies and shams which appear a success and are really a devastating failure.” The Al-Qaeda supporter writes that although many of these fighters are aware of the problems, they “avoid thinking of solutions,” adding that only someone who is present on the ground in Syria can accurately assess the situation, not one who relies on mainstream or social media to ascertain the facts.
Al-Qandahari notes that many of the “elites” who traveled to Syria and joined Al-Qaeda and other jihadi factions did so with the goal of “gaining skills and conveying jihad to their countries and to other areas,” while others hoped to attain martyrdom. However, he adds, those mujahideen who remain alive “no longer know where to sacrifice themselves and for what.”
He adds that Al-Qaeda fighters and supporters in Syria have become “strangers” and their sacrifices have been squandered, while others advise them to “patiently accept needless oppression, unrepelled injustice, and refraining from jihad with no argument or proof.” He bemoans that jihadis who were inspired by the speeches of Osama bin Laden and Abu Mus’ab Al-Zarqawi to travel to Syria and target the “Crusaders and their followers” have now “lost their compass” and follow orders to refrain from operations outside of Syria or behind enemy lines, while having no banner to unite them other than the “banner of those allied with NATO,” i.e. HTS, which has ties with NATO member state Turkey.
In response to this situation, Al-Qandahari provides some “strategic tips” to help “alleviate the severity of this painful reality” and answer some of the questions posed by the mujahideen. He urges the “qualified platforms and sincere, dedicated voices” to work together and unify their efforts to help revive the fighting spirit of these mujahideen, by publishing “documented studies and analyses to explain events and their true nature to them.”
Al-Qandahari asserts that at this stage, large groups of fighters are a danger to themselves, and advises mujahideen to form groups of no more than five and to meet infrequently. He writes that it is not difficult to arm and finance groups of three to five fighters which can move around, hide, communicate, and train with ease. Such small cells, he continues, can meet in one room, travel in a single vehicle, and are difficult to target or infiltrate.
Warning the mujahideen that once they form these cells they must exercise extreme caution in their dealings with outsiders, Al-Qandahari states that “some of those who claim to be sincere are great hypocrites awaiting the opportunity to expose your secrets and betray you,” or to sow doubts. He therefore exhorts the mujahideen to trust only those whom they know personally and to publicly expose anyone whom they discover to be a collaborator with HTS or a traitor. He also recommends that if they are captured, they should refrain from provoking their jailers, assuring them that “the day will come when the balance changes.”