The Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham-al-Qaeda Dispute: Primary Texts (II)

13 December 2017

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

The previous post in this series looked at the testimony of al-Qaeda 'loyalist' Sami al-Oraidi, who directed his criticisms at comments by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's Abu Abdullah al-Shami (Abd al-Rahim Atoun) on the speech by Ayman al-Zawahiri entitled 'We will fight you until there is no more fitna' and released in October 2017. Atoun has responded to the criticisms by releasing a long post on his Telegram channel in two main parts.

The first part is a version of Atoun's comments on Zawahiri's 'We will fight you until there is no fitna' speech, which did not mention Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham or its predecessors by name but implied that they had broken the allegiance pledge to him. Atoun's comments were circulated for internal consumption in Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham but were leaked to Oraidi. Thus, the material that Oraidi had obtained at the time in October 2017 was authentic.

Atoun gives a history of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and its predecessors with a focus on the relationship with al-Qaeda. The following key points and claims arise from this history:

. There was no illegitimate breaking of the original allegiance to al-Qaeda in the transition from Jabhat al-Nusra to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (July 2016) and subsequently Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (January 2017)

. For around two years and ten months (c. November 2013-September 2016), the ability of Jabhat al-Nusra and its successors to communicate with Zawahiri was cut off. In 2015 however, Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, who was considered to be the 'first successor' to Zawahiri and on this understanding his deputy, came to Syria after being released from custody by Iran in a hostage swap.

. In the transition to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, the idea was that the connection and allegiance with al-Qaeda should be secretly maintained, similar to Jabhat al-Nusra's status before its leader Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani publicly declared a 'renewal' of the allegiance to al-Qaeda in response to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi's public attempt to subsume the group within the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham in April 2013.

. The transition to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham was overwhelmingly supported in the leadership of Jabhat al-Nusra, with around 60 out of 65 of the leadership agreeing to the idea. The project also had the blessing of Abu al-Khayr al-Masri. It should be noted that Oraidi's response seems to support Atoun's assertion of the level of support for the project here, in that Oraidi says many initially agreed with the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham project on the basis of a break in ties for media portrayal only.

. However, Zawahiri's other two 'successors' who were released from prison but barred from leaving Iran (Abu Muhammad al-Masri and Sayf al-Adel) rejected the idea. In particular, Sayf al-Adel (appears to be the 'third successor') supposedly got to communicate with Zawahiri first about the project, giving him a false impression of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham as marking a true break from al-Qaeda and being a fake merger initiative to break off from al-Qaeda.

. Zawahiri rejected the formation of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, supposedly on the basis of the false portrait he had been given of it by Sayf al-Adel. Jowlani's first message to Zawahiri on the nature of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham had apparently not reached him before the al-Qaeda leader wrote his response of rejection. In response, Jowlani and (allegedly) Abu al-Khayr al-Masri and Abu Faraj wrote letters to Zawahiri to try to explain that he had misunderstood the project. Here, there is a significant divergence from Oraidi's testimony, which claims that Abu al-Khayr al-Masri ceased to give his blessing to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and ceased to move forward with the project once Zawahiri's response of rejection came.

. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham was already involved in merger talks with other factions at the time Zawahiri's first message came (c. early September 2016). The basis of the thinking behind mergers was that it would bring about a more effective force that could realize an Islamic government project in Syria. It had also been presumed that mergers would lead to a real break of ties with al-Qaeda but in such a way as to be endorsed by Zawahiri. A decision was made by Jowlani to delay going forward with the merger at least until Zawahiri had a clearer understanding of the situation, fearing internal strife.

. The fall of Aleppo in December 2016 to the Syrian government and its allies gave rise to renewed energy for merger talks and initiatives. A second message had also come from Zawahiri, responding to Jowlani's first message on the nature of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. In his second message, Zawahiri indicated he rejected the idea of secret allegiances because of the experience with the Islamic State, something Jowlani, Atoun et al. had not been aware of. Zawahiri also said that he wanted resolution of the matter to be limited to himself, Jowlani and Abu al-Khayr al-Masri. He supposedly added that were a merger to come about, the problem would be resolved, and he might bless it publicly.

. Merger talks focused on a merger with Ahrar al-Sham, whose main leadership ultimately pulled out of the project that was supposed to embody a merger of most of the rebel factions. However, since Jabhat Fatah al-Sham had already committed to a merger project, it joined with whatever factions remained to form Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham. Abu al-Khayr al-Masri was supposedly pleased with this project, met with its leadership after its formation and then wrote to Zawahiri before he was killed. Similar to Oraidi's testimony though this time with a positive spin, the formation of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham is considered to mark the full break from al-Qaeda.

Atoun's historical account lays the ground work for the second part of his testimony: that is, a commentary on Zawahiri's most recently released speech entitled 'Let us fight them as a structured edifice.' This speech had in fact been recorded more than two months ago. Whoever had control over releasing it publicly likely put it out in light of the recent reports of arrests of al-Qaeda 'loyalists' by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, as Zawahiri makes a more general accusation along those lines against Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham.

Atoun's commentary is essentially a defense of the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham project, making the following key points:

. No allegiance pledge was illegitimately violated/broken.

. Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham was deemed to be a true merger project and in the 'interest' of the jihad in al-Sham, thus the decision to join it and the wholesale breaking of ties: something that Zawahiri should in fact approve of if he understood it correctly. The goal itself was not to do away with ties to al-Qaeda: otherwise, Jabhat al-Nusra would have joined the Islamic Front in 2013 and used that as a pretext to do away with ties, but Jabhat al-Nusra refrained from doing so as it was not deemed to be a true merger. Zawahiri had apparently approved of the Islamic Front on account of the covenant it espoused.

. The rapid progression of events in the field, contrasting with the long time needed to communicate with Zawahiri, means that it is too late simply to go back and return to al-Qaeda as it was before.

. It is absurd to tie the decline in fortunes of the jihad/insurgency in Syria to the breaking of ties with al-Qaeda.

. We did not take the steps we did out of fear of the U.S. We know the U.S. remains an enemy whether or not we are al-Qaeda.

. We do not arrest people simply for advocating for al-Qaeda. Rather, the people we arrest are stirring up trouble only in the name of al-Qaeda, and often have disputes with us going back to the time when we were affiliated with al-Qaeda. They are driven by personal agendas and psychological complexes.

. The breaking of ties does not mean we have changed our ideological program. We reject the idea that we are only committed to the region we operate in (Arabic: qatariyya). In fact we are still committed to a wider jihadist project. We still respect you and hope the differences between us can be resolved.

Below is the text of Atoun's testimony with translation. Any explanatory notes are in square brackets.

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Praise be to God and prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of God, his family, companions, and whoso is close to him. As for what follows:

I listened a little while before to the speech of Dr. Ayman- may God protect him- and there are many matters that need to be clarified and explained and commented on. I will clarify that in detailed form by God's permission.

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds and the most preferable prayers and complete salutations be upon our Prophet Muhammad and all his family and companions. As for what follows:

It pains me a lot to take a stance in which I may be suspected of responding to Sheikh Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri- may God protect him- and I had preferred in the last speech by the sheikh- may God protect him- that I should not clarify anything in the media, and I wrote an article clarifying the stages we passed through to clarify the matter and I noted that I was not through these words responding to the doctor- may God protect him. But one of the brothers- may God forgive him- sent my article to Dr. Sami [al-Oraidi] despite my warning that it must not be published outside the room so that we should not be compelled to respond, but Sheikh Sami narrated a group of witness testimonies. The weakness of proof and the deficiency of clarity did not prevent me at the time they were released from responding to them, but I decided not to enter into the maze of responses as I hoped that we would not reach the point of talking about the issue of allegiance and its circumstances in media, as I had concern for the jihad and the reputation of the mujahideen in general and al-Qaeda in particular.

And as Sheikh Ayman- may God protect him- has released a speech in which he speaks about the field of al-Sham generally and us in particular, it has become necessary to clarify from our side and hope this will be the last clarification in media, because the media increases the likes of this type of problems for their sensitivity, and the media is not the means of resolving them in our view, and God knows best.

I will begin my mentioning a clarification summary I had previously published internally following the last speech of the doctor, and I will explain in it the stages we passed through during out path in what serves the issue of breaking ties, then I will proceed to comment on most of the sections of the sheikh's last speech.

First: Did the Jabha [Jabhat al-Nusra] annul the allegiance?

Note: I will rely on transmitting what I had previously written for the internal rooms editing some of the names and nicknames.

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Praise be to God and prayers and peace be upon the Messenger of God, his family, companions and whoso is loyal to him. As for what follows:

Many of our brothers have come to have doubts regarding what came in the last speech (i.e. previous) by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri- may God protect him- that bears the name 'We will fight you until there is no more fitna.' And we here will clarify what our brothers have come to have doubts about through clarifying the matter, so that some of the contraveners do not exploit the sheikh's speech to realize specific desires, as their interpretation of the intentions and meanings of the doctor's words are what are creating doubt among some of our brothers so the matter requires a response and clarification for their doubts, with all respect and regard to Sheikh Zawahiri, may God protect him.

I will divide the discussion about this matter according to the historical context as follows:

. The stage before the coming of Sheikh Abu al-Khayr (may God have mercy on him) including:

- A very quick passing over the establishment of the Jabha.

- The announcement of the Islamic Front and Sheikh Zawahiri's position on it.

- The speeches of Sheikh Zawahiri and his messages to us in that time, especially the last message after the verdict message.

. The stage of the coming of the deputy Sheikh Abu al-Khayr (may God have mercy on him), including:

- The message of succession.

- The correspondences between Sheikh Abu al-Khayr and the mashaykh in Iran and the formation of the triumvirate committee and the consultation council.

- Our position on the committee and council.

. The stage of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, including:

- The truth of the project.

- The steps to establish the project and the positions on it: the 65 signatures and position of the mashayakh in Iran.

- The exchange of messages.

- Round of the merger [talks] before Aleppo fell (suspension of the round and the 25 signatures).

- Round of the merger [talks] after Aleppo fell when Ahrar signed then pulled back.

. The stage of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, including:

- The formation of the commission and the meeting of Sheikh Abu al-Khayr- may God have mercy on him- with its Shura council.

Round up and conclusion.

. The stage before the coming of Sheikh Abu al-Khayr- may God have mercy on him:

All our brothers know that Jabhat al-Nusra since its establishment was an undeclared branch of the al-Qaeda organization, but through the Iraq branch (the Islamic State of Iraq), then what happened, happened from the disagreement between us and the Dawla [Islamic State] group, as Baghdadi took to announce what he called 'the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham' and it is what we rejected at the time. And Sheikh Jowlani- may God protect him- announced the Jabha's affiliation with al-Qaeda following that and raised the matter to Sheikh Zawahiri to make a judgement on it, and what the Sheikh did at the time was to announce affiliation (renewal of allegiance) and not contracting allegiance, so whoever wishes to take from Sheikh Zawahiri's words in his last speech (the previous one) that there was an allegiance of compulsion, attacking us, he must know that we were not compelled to give allegiance at the time of the disagreement with the Dawla group, but rather we were compelled to announce the allegiance, as there is a distinction between the origin of the allegiance and its declaration.

Sheikh Zawahiri's decision on the issue of the disagreement came as all know through a written message, and the security situation for the sheikh was difficult so he sent a message clarifying to us in it that he was perhaps entering into a state of being cut off from connection for a period because of the security situation, and this is what the last of his messages before entering the period of being cut off contained:

- Appointing Sheikh Abu Basir al-Wuhayshi- may God have mercy on him- as his deputy in whatever new developments there might be in the issue between us and the Dawla group, and this deputization would benefit us in the forthcoming context.

- His consultation with us on changing the name of al-Qaeda entirely: as Sheikh Zawahiri had put forth the idea of changing the name of al-Qaeda entirely in view of the fact that the enemy succeeded in distorting its image and distancing the people from it, and the sheikh mentioned at that time that this idea (changing the name) was an old idea from the days of Sheikh Osama (may God have mercy on him), and that was came in the Abbottabad documents on this matter was true, and we told the sheikh that the idea is right, but its timing in the shade of the appearance of the project of the khawarij at that time was not appropriate, and that delaying for an appropriate time was more preferable, and the witnesses to this is that had we been as is spread now about us, we would have taken from this offer (changing the name) the opportunity to realize what we want.

- Sending a message to Sheikh Abu Khalid al-Suri (may God have mercy on him), Sheikh Jowlani and Sheikh Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi (may God have mercy on him) after the announcement of the formaton of the Islamic Front with the idea of the messages revolving around Sheikh Zawahiri's desire for Jabhat al-Nusra to join the Islamic Front and that Sheikh Abu Khalid al-Suri should work on this matter, as Sheikh Zawahiri had heard of the Islamic Front from the media and considered it a project appropriate for Jabhat al-Nusra to join because it was a wonderful project in the media, especially with its fine covenant, but the Jabha had its own reasonable reasons not to enter into this project, of which the most important reasons were that it was only a media project, taking the level of a front but not a merger. And detailing this matter has another context, but the aim of mentioning it here is to clarify that had the Jabha been trying to break ties, it would have taken this matter as an opportunity for that, especially with the delegation of authority given to Sheikh Abu Khalid (may God have mercy on him).

And before entering into the next stage we would like here to mention that the general sense from the doctor's numerous speeches that were broadcast by al-Sahab foundation, in addition to the messages that reached us, were revolving around directing us to unity and merging and that the organizational link would not be altered without unity and that the one the people of al-Sham woud choose would be the choice of a-Qaeda, and that al-Qaeda would sacrifice the organizational connection in the path of unity and coming together.

. The stage of the coming of the deputy Abu al-Khayr (may God have mercy on him):

An exchange deal happened between the brothers in Yemen and the Iranian government, as the mujahideen in Yemen had an Iranian hostage, and as per the deal Sheikh Abu al-Khayr (the deputy= first successor) and his companion an the brother Qassam [Abu al-Qassam al-Urduni] and his companion got out of prison and Iran, while the two sheikhs (the second successor and third successor) got out of prison but were barred from departing Iran.

The deputy sheikh Abu al-Khayr- may God have mercy on him) and his companion and the two brothers Qassam and his companion arrived in al-Sham, and as soon as the sheikh came, he showed us a letter making clear through it that Sheikh Abu al-Khayr was the successor to Sheikh Zawahiri (may God protect him), and it explained the succession at the time through deputization, and the explanation of succession through deputization is a true matter from the angle of language, knowledge, reason, logic, Shari'i matters and organization especially in the shade of the cutting off of the connection and the messages with the general amir that had lasted for more than a year until that time, and the explanation of succession through deputization is what we understood at that time, and it is what all members of the organization understood according to our knowledge at that time. And it is what Sheikh Abu al-Khayr himself, his companion and Qassam and the second and third successors understood and explained to us, and it is what the committee, mention of which will come later at the level of all its members, had affirmed for distribution.

And among the lines of evidence for the lack of our distinction at that time between the deputization and succession is that we had doubted that Sheikh Abu al-Khayr was a deputy because of the existence of a letter from Sheikh Zawahiri in which he named Sheikh Abu Basir as deputy as previously noted, and Sheikh Abu al-Khayr clarified to us at the time that Sheikh Abu al-Basir was appointed as deputy when Sheikh Abu al-Khayr was in prison, but as he had now got out he was the general deputy.

According to what we understood of this matter and its meanings, Sheikh Jowlani asked Sheikh Abu al-Khayr to assume the position of amir of the Jabha as he was the general deputy for Sheikh Ayman (may God protect him), but the sheikh refused, so Sheikh Jowlani proceeded to ask him to define the competencies of the deputy and the amir of the branch (Jowlani) as both of them were in one place (al-Sham). But Sheikh Abu al-Khayr rejected in laughter and said along the following lines: there will not be any disagreement between us. It is to be noted that the sheikh- may God have mercy on him- asked us to open a connections and relations office with states like Turkey so that we should not be tantamount to a locked black chest terrifying the states as they did not know of us, as he mentioned.

And he did not see value in launching external operations from al-Sham, and he was keen to convince the mujahideen in Yemen to abandon external operations and focus on repelling the Houthi aggression as he used to say: it is impossible for you to assemble a people in an organization, and unreasonable to meet with a doctor in a university or a medical doctor and engineer and tell them: come forth, give allegiance.

The sheikh- may God have mercy on him- began to acquaint himself with the Jabha, the field, the factions and all relating to the revolution and jihad in al-Sham, and we saw in him the compassionate father in every sense of the phrase, and we ask God to accept him and reward him best. Sheikh Abu al-Khayr- may God have mercy on him- used to connect in that time with the two sheikhs (the second and third successors) as regards forming a committee for the leadership in the shade of the absence of the doctor sheikh [Zawahiri] and the cutting off of connection with him, and after exchanges that continued for around 7 months between them, the three agreed to form:

- A leadership committee or leadership council
- Consultation council

The leadership committee was composed of the three successor mashayakh and Sheikh Abu al-Khayr was head of it, and this committee would take its decision by the majority of the three members in a binding sense and beneath it the consultation council comprising the companion of Sheikh Abu al-Khayr, Sheikh Abu Faraj (may God have mercy on him), the amir of every branch, the deputy amir of every branch, and whoever of the Muslims Sheikh Abu al-Khayr considered to consult his advice, as he was head of the committee. But this council did not bear any binding capacity, and its role was to be advisory. The three mashayakh agreed between themselves that the role of their committee should end by the return of connection with the general amir Dr. Ayman (may God protect him).

When the deputy sheikh displayed to us what the exchanges between him and the two successor sheikhs had brought about, we rejected it for many reasons, the most important being:

- The majority should be binding in the triumvirate committee but not in the council.
- Two of the members of the committee with binding power in their decisions were present in an enemy country (Iran), and though the two were excused by the fact they were detained in it, as for the two having the majority in the binding decisions, this matter was not right.
- The lack of consideration of the opinion of any branch as binding in anything, even what concerns decision making in wat concerns the field it operates in, so for example if the al-Sham branch considers to take up an opinion, it would have no right to that so long as at least two of the three mashayakh did not agree to it, even as two of them are not present in any field but rather detained in an enemy state (detention: in the sense of unable to depart).
- The organizational principles for al-Qaeda itself stipulate that no one can enjoy competencies so long as he is not in one of the branches.

At that time we offered the deputy sheikh- may God have mercy on him- numerous convincing alternatives such as:

- The decision being with the deputy as he is the deputy.
- The decision should be binding at the level of the triumvirate committee and the consultation council entirely: i.e. bringing the two together into one council or not binding in any of the two, but as for there being binding decision power in one without the other, this was not the right path.
- That the decision be advisory in nature in the triumvirate committee and the head of the committee be delegated with the power to take the final decision.
- That the number of members of the committee or leadership council be increased beyond three if the decisions were to be taken by majority, such as adding the two sheikhs Abu Faraj (may God have mercy on him) and the companion of Sheikh Abu al-Khayr, or that the amir of the branch and his deputy should enter into the binding counsel in what concerns one of the branches.

As nothing arose from this we informed Sheikh Abu al-Khayr that we would not be bound by what the committee would decide for the preceding reason.

The stage of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham

The idea of changing the name of the group was born for a number of reasons that in their general context do not differ from the very reasons that were pushing Sheikh Ayman and before him Sheikh Osama- may God have mercy on him- to change the name of the mother al-Qaeda, and at that time not one of the haters came out to say to the two sheikhs- 'You are intending to change the name to please America or fearing it'- as some of the contraveners have accused us.

Sheikh Jowlani met with Abu al-Khayr and his companion and in the presence of a number of the shura of the Jabha and at the head of them was the head of the tracking committee Sheikh Abu Faraj (may God have mercy on him), and the matter in all its faces was discussed.

The idea of the project as happened subsequently: changing the group's name, and announcing what would be understood in the media as a breaking of ties with al-Qaeda while maintaining the connection secretly rather than announced in a state resembling the prior status before the dispute with the Dawla group.

Sheikh Jowlani- who was dealing with Sheikh Abu al-Khayr as he was a deputy: 'This is the matter before you: if you agree we go forward, and if you don't agree, we will desist.' And the sheikh added: 'If we go forward in this matter, the new reality might pave the way for a true merger, and if the merger happens, the break will be true and not in media only.' The sheikh and his companion agreed to the project after their understanding of the reasons for it and its truth, and according to that, we began with the first practical steps and at the head of them displaying the idea for circulation and discussion to 65 of the leadership of the first and second ranks in the group and a section of the third, and the shura was broadened to this number despite the fact that the number of the shura in the group is less than this in view of the fact that it is among the crucial decisions at the level of the group, so the broadening of the shura in it was more conducive to the success of the matter if it realized the majority, and indeed the overwhelming majority agreed to the project, as around 60 of the original 65 (approximately) agreed, and preceding that was the agreement of the two sheikhs Abu al-Khayr and his companion and likewise Sheikh Abu Faraj.

When we displayed the matter to the brother Qassam and after conversing and seeking guidance he agreed on the following day. The project was then put forth to the two successor sheikhs but they rejected it, so Qassam went back on his agreement in rejection according to their rejection.

We met with Sheikh Abu al-Khayr and his companion again and said: 'What to do after the two sheikhs in Iran rejected it?' Sheikh Abu al-Khayr said: 'Let us try to convince them both.' So we made all possible attempts for that without success, so the deputy sheikh said: 'Fulfill the matter and do not trouble yourself with what is inside the committee, and I in my capacity as deputy permit this matter.' Then he recorded his well-known speech in this regard.

In this time came news to us of the return of connection with Sheikh Ayman, and we tried to confirm from the side of the deputy sheikh but he responded that nothing had reached him, and after that the truth of the return of the connection became clear as the third successor confirmed to us, when we asked about the content, he only said as Sheikh Abu al-Khayr mentioned to us: that they are just greetings and reassurances, nothing more, and in this connection ends the work of the triumvirate committee as the agreement between the three mashayakh stipulated. Sheikh Jowlani proceeded to write a lengthy message to the doctor sheikh explaining in it a number of matters particularly after a cut off that lasted around 3 years (2 years and 10 months) and among the things he spoke about in his message: the project of Fatah al-Sham and its reasons and truth etc. And after this we took the step and announced Jabhat Fatah al-Sham by the means that came out in the media with a speech by Sheikh Jowlani after the speech of Sheikh Abu al-Khayr in order for his agreement and blessing for this step to be understood. In this time the third successor sheikh from his side also wrote a message to Sheikh Ayman, and the third successor sheikh was in touch over the Internet with not a small number here in al-Sham, at the head of whom were the brothers contravening us, and he was drawing much of his information about us from them, despite his connections with us also. And his message reached Sheikh Ayman and our message was delayed or suspended for months, so a message came from the doctor according to the portrait he understood about the project from the message of the third successor, as a message or two arrived from the doctor to Sheikh Abu al-Khayr.

And among the most important things in the message directed to us:

- Considering the Fatah al-Sham project a true breaking of ties and annulling the pact.
- His view that Fatah al-Sham is an imaginary merger to do away with the connection with al-Qaeda. Let it be known that all know that Fatah al-Sham was not a merger with any faction.
- His demand to resolve the problem far from the media, in addition to another matters there is no reason to divulge here.

And among the most important things that came in the messages of the doctor sheikh to Sheikh Abu al-Khayr were his words to him: 'You are not a deputy, but rather a successor!!! And now I appoint you as a deputy!!!' He also asked him to participate in resolving the problem.

We were shocked at the message as we had committed no Shari'i or organizational violation, and if Sheikh Ayman was distinguishing between the deputy and successor, it is a matter that all understood as contrary to his understanding, and had the connection been available the matter would have been easy. As for the fact that the connection remained cut off for around three years and that then the successor had no right to take any decision, it is a matter that is utmost strange, and stranger than that is that the branch that has no connection with it originally in all those matters should pay the price for that matter, as its leaders began to be accused of annulling the pacts and allegiances and that they were going on the path of Mursi, and that they were trying by this creation of theirs to please America!!!

We met again with the deputy sheikh and his companion and in the attendance of Sheikh Abu Faraj and Sheikh Jowlani and a number of the brothers, and we told the three mashayakh- the deputy, his companion and Abu Faraj: 'You know the doctor closely, for you accompanied him for long periods and had contact with him, so what is your opinion?' So they affirmed to us their surprise at the sheikh's manner in his message as unusual, and said: 'An erroneous picture has reached Sheikh Ayman regarding the project so we must write a sufficient clarification in which we clarify to the sheikh the nature of the project, its truth and its reasons etc.' As the opinion agreed on this, Sheikh Abu al-Khayr wrote an independent message and likewise so did Sheikh Abu Faraj, as did the companion sheikh who asked us: 'Are you now hearing and obeying Sheikh Ayman?' We said: 'Yes.' He said: 'Shall I write that you still remain on your allegiance but secretly?' We said: 'Write.' Sheikh Jowlani also wrote another message despite the fact that the first message had not yet arrived, then we sent the four messages and with them an attachment with the signatures of the brothers entirely (65) to the project of Fatah al-Sham: among them those who agreed and those who didn't agree.

I'll stop here to return for a little while to the internal reality of the field: the step of Fatah al-Sham had actually prepared the ground for new rounds of merger talks and among the most important of these rounds was the round that preceded the fall of Aleppo that was the last official session on 9 Dhu al-Hijja (the day of Arafa in the year before the last) [i.e. 1437 AH], as we agreed with most of the factions at the head of them Ahrar al-Sham on a formula (present in the archive) and there remained some of the other points requiring to be resolved, especially as regards the nature and form of relations with states like Turkey. At this time the first message from Sheikh Ayman had already reached us- as I remember- and the atmosphere was prepared for internal fitna as going forth with the merger would be explained by the contraveners as ganging up against al-Qaeda or an act of trickery on our part or the like, and Sheikh Jowlani sought advice and held a shura [consultation] that included 25 brothers to make the final decision in going forward with the merger or delay for a time, and the response of 23 of the original 25 was to go forward. My response and that of Sheikh Abu Faraj- may God have mercy on him- was that no one can stop the merger or obstruct it as it is a Shari'i obligation, and even if the amir were to be prevented from it for argument's sake- God forbid- he should not be obeyed in that.

Following that, Sheikh Jowlani wrote a summarized messaged in which he made clear to the sheikh that he preferred to delay the matter of merging until the picture should become clear with him in fear of the arising of fitna, despite the majority not holding that opinion (23 out of 25) and sent that message and with it an attachment of the 25 signatures.

A note here: it is true that the sheikh delayed the matter of merging but this doesn't mean we abandoned what we have embraced with the others previously, and all that is in the matter is that the rush on our part to merge ceased for that time, even though we were criticized at the time for our delaying. This delay did not last long and we subsequently tried to finish from where we had left off.

At this time came the fall of Aleppo and demonstrations came out demanding the unity of the factions and many called for a new round of merger talks, and thus we returned to finish what had come before and what had been agreed in approximation, and this round ended with our signature with the most important faction as we were keen for it to be with us in the merger project: Ahrar [al-Sham]. And the Zinki faction signed, as also agreed all the factions of Jaysh al-Fatah, and discussion came about regarding bringing together the field through the entrusting of the Jabha [Jabhat Fatah al-Sham] to invite some of the factions to the next meeting, and Ahrar to invite some and likewise Zinki to invite some others.

A second message from the doctor- may God protect him- had arrived in response to our first message, in which he made clear he repented from secret allegiances after the issue of the khawarij [Islamic State], and this is what we did not know at the time, nor did any of the mashayakh who know the sheikh closely know. He also made clear in it the necessity of limiting the issue of resolving problems to three: the doctor, his deputy and Jowlani. He also made clear in it that were a merger to come forth from the breaking of ties, the problem would end from its foundation- without our forgetting that he considered Fatah al-Sham a true break and the matter from our perspective was not like that. And he added that he would perhaps come out blessing this merger in the media if it happened. He added other things. Ahrar's signature and those with them alongside us on the merger project after the fall of Aleppo represented a true merger and matching the characteristics through the likes of which Sheikh Ayman would permit a breaking of ties, and we had pledged before all to go forward with this merger in word and signature, then the stance of Ahrar began to change so we began pressuring for a part that they should not withdraw and despite all these attempts we did not succeed, and Ahrar withdrew from what they had signed. And at that time happened the defection of Jaysh al-Ahrar from them, and discussions happened for Jaysh al-Ahrar to join the project in the event that the Ahrar leadership decided to withdraw, and this was accompanied by the Astana talks following which we fought some of the Astana factions in an attempt to sabotage the agreement, and the matter ended with the formation of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham with the coming of the Jaysh al-Ahrar bloc and not all of Ahrar.

. The stage of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham

We have mentioned that the principle of the commission project represents the idea of most of the factions having come together, especially the factions of Jaysh al-Fatah, and that Ahrar went back on what they signed and that we would not go back on it as we were complying with what we had signed and pledged. Then arose the project of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham. At this time the deputy sheikh- who was very pleased with the project- demanded to meet with the commission's shura council and listen to them, and this actually happened. And Sheikh Abu al-Khayr wrote a message after that to Sheikh Zawahiri and the sheikh sent it as the last message from him as he was martyred a few days after it, may God Almighty accept him. It is to be noted that Sheikh Abu Faraj was also martyred days after that message of his as well: may God have mercy on him and accept him among the martyrs. And by the formation of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham the connection would have been truly broken according to what we told the deputy sheikh at the outset, and according to what Sheikh Zawahiri himself clarified in that were the break to give rise to a merger, the problem would end from its origin. And this is the path we were going on.

Therefore according to the preceding. We did not annul the allegiance or the pledge, and we proceeded in a Shari'i and organizational manner, and we are not responsible for the problems that happened, and among the most important reasons for the problems: organizational problems in the organization foundation, and the delay of establishing decisions because of the cutting off of connection, and because of the presence of some people causing disorder and confusion for any decision we take, besides casting doubts on and attacking it: bearing it in a way other than what we intend, and finding for themselves attentive ears among some of the leadership, and this is the most important reason for the problem. And had it been the case that these people disagreed with us from the basis of the al-Qaeda issue, the matter would have been insignificant, but the truth is that they have found in clinging to the al-Qaeda issue a cloak and wrap to cover themselves to realize what they desire, and among them is the one who describes us as serving global kufr [disbelief] by breaking ties, just as he has accused the commission of standing on the brink of kufr. This person does not know that Sheikh al-Turaifi- may God free him- had sent us advice before his imprisonment advising us to work to break the connection from al-Qaeda. Is the Sheikh likewise in the service of global kufr with it?

Among the things appropriate to discuss here is pertaining to the issue of the means of connection: as the delay in arrival of messages and their responses was among the most important reasons for the problems before, and it is not right in a field of rapidly progressing events like the al-Sham field that the decision should be dependent on a message requiring months to arrive and whose response requires another set of months as well, while the leadership of the field is not delegated with what they consider to be in the interest of the jihad and its people.

Another thing: there is a problem in the means of connection itself. As there are some correspondents who open the messages and send copies of them or keep hold of them, and these are great matters, so it is not allowed for this correspondent to open the message as he is entrusted with it, so if he opens it, he betrays the trust whoever he may be, just as it is not allowed for him to send a copy of it to one besides the one to whom it has been sent, just as he may not keep a copy of it after he knows it has arrived to its place.

And lest some think I am conjecturing, I remember that the first message that arrived from Sheikh Zawahiri to Sheikh Jowlani had reached Abu Julaybib days before reaching Sheikh Jowlani!! (clarification: it reached Abu Julaybib and he reviewed it before Sheikh Jowlani told him about it).

Likewise the second message reached the brothers in Deraa days before it reached Sheikh Jowlani as well!!

And this problem is long-standing and we had previously warned about it from the days of the dispute with the khawarij but it was not resolved, and there is no reason to go into more detail about it.

And likewise from the problems: the case of the greater imamate allegiance from Sheikh Ayman to the Taliban on behalf of all al-Qaeda in its branches is a matter about which we know nothing, and there is no reason to go into further detail here about it or the presence of other problems.

And before the conclusion I say: let us suppose the truth of all that the contraveners accuse us of, and let us suppose for argument's sake the truth of all the depictions that their stirring up of evil created with the al-Qaeda leadership: the reality of the jihad in al-Sham and the gathering of the enemies against its people is such that the commission is the jihadi faction that remains committed to the principle of continuing the jihad and desires to continue that, and it is the hope after God's success to make the burning log of jihad last, and in the world of reasons it represents the last fortress for the jihad of al-Sham. Thus that requires the mujahideen to keep it strong and held together without stirring up doubt against it here or attacking and creating suspicions there, and being preoccupied with the issue of ties or lack of them now is going out against the priorities that the battle demands from us. For the enemy that benefits from any internal fitna that may create a storm in the ranks- in so far as we do not rise to the level of responsibility- will not distinguish between the one who wants ties and the one who wants to break ties.

And we have an example in history: when Rakn al-Din Baybars decided to kill al-Mudhaffar Qataz- the vanquisher of the Mongols at Ayn Jalut- and there is no great doubt that he did it, but the Ummah at that time- in the shade of the imminent dangers- got behind him in jihad in God's path for what lasted more than a quarter century in confronting the Mongols and Crusaders. I say this for consideration- on the supposition of the truth of all that is said, but it is by no means the case!

It suffices for you oh mujahid brother that you are in a group of a Sunni manhaj that has not changed or been altered and remains on the path of jihad. We ask God to grant it steadfastness in leadership and soldiery, for steadfastness on the path of jihad, its line and manhaj is the standard measure on whose basis the group arises, and not individual judgments that cause harm and do things incorrectly as is the fate of men, and God forbid that we should lie or engage in trickery, and we have not done all that we have done out of disavowing al-Qaeda or hating it, but rather it is the assessment on our part for what we consider to be in the interest of the jihad and the mujahideen in the field of al-Sham that all the Ummah is watching, despite the insults against its mujahideen and characterization of them as regionalists, and regionalism is another discussion we will not dwell on now, but what a difference there is between the mujahideen and the manhaj of the advocates of regionalism.

In conclusion: we ask God to forgive us, have mercy on us, pardon us, support us, make right our path, and make us firm until we meet Him. Indeed He is a guarantor in everything fine, and He is our reliance and He suffices.

And praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds.

Friday, 23 Muharram 1439 AH corresponding to 13 October 2017 CE.


In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Second: Commentary on the sections that came in the speech of Sheikh Ayman (may God protect him).

Note: the last speech of Sheikh Ayman (may God protect him)- 'Let us fight them as a structured edifice'- is stamped with the 1438 AH date meaning that the date of its recording goes back more than two months, so it is not a response to the recent arrest incident as some thought, but it seems that the decision to publish it on the part of the one in whose hand is the issue of publishing these days was not a coincidence, and came to serve the dire situation.

The sheikh said: 'Oh Muslim brothers in every place, as-salam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa batakatuhu.'

Comment: wa alaykum as-salam wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuhu our dear virtuous sheikh.

The sheikh said: 'Because it- that is, the breaking of ties- is in its true nature a retreat before American pressure, and it will not stop the bombing or the terrorism classification.'

Comment: we did not take the step of Fatah al-Sham as a response to American pressure, and we knew before that it would not stop the bombing, and that it perhaps would not succeed in removing the classification, and we were emphasizing that the most important reasons for it was to prepare the way for coming together and uniting forces. And if that step and what followed it did not succeed in removing the classification, it nonetheless paved the way in a strong sense for the merger.

The sheikh said: 'Were unity to be realized, we would be the first to bless it, and do away with our connections to them, but all they did was establishing a new entity only, complicating the position further, and it has resulted today in killing, fighting, accusations, fatwas and counter-fatwas among the mujahideen.'

Comment: Portraying the matter in this way is a portrait far from reality, as there is no reality for the establishment of the new entity with the issue of fighting, accusations and fatwas, just it has no relation with our remaining with or abandoning al-Qaeda in those matters.

The sheikh said: 'While the enemy advances day after day, the forced displacement continues, the danger of Turkish invasion looms, the American project penetrates every day in Syria, and the Iranians and Hezbollah swallow up areas.'

Comment: the sheikh mentioned his preceding words in a context from which is understood that all this is among the results of the break- and I ask that I be mistaken- and in clarification of that I say: this thing would have happened in any case whether or not we remained Qaeda.

As for the Turkish invasion, it was expected to happen but God averted His servants from the evil of it through an evil that does not amount to one percent of the invasion, its results and outcomes. But those who have accused us of bringing in secularism and deviating and blessing an occupation: we did not see these people when we massed on the borders with the Turks, and we did not benefit either from their ribat [frontline duty] on the Internet seizing on every mistake and lapse by the commission to attack it on its religion and manhaj.

As for the American project in al-Sham, we continue to strive to thwart it as far as we can whether or not we are Qaeda, and we still resist and right in all our power against the region and its allies from Hezbollah and the Rafidite [Shi'a] militias regardless of our organizational affiliation.

The sheikh said: 'And the policy of disguising the followers has reinforced the notion that all that happens is with the agreement of the al-Qaeda leadership.'

Comment: we clarified to the brothers at the time that the matter was done with the agreement of some of the members of the al-Qaeda shura present with us in al-Sham and the disagreement of others from those outside al-Sham, and at the head of those agreeing was the first successor at the time who was the deputy sheikh Abu al-Khayr- may God accept him- and who was presented to us on the basis that he was the deputy, and the contrary of that was not clarified to us until months later, and we remain unconvinced until now of the difference between the deputy and first successor in particular in the shade of the cutting off of connection at the time between us and you, our Sheikh, for 2 years and 10 months.

The sheikh said: 'And the one who remains bound to his allegiance to al-Qaeda will be arrested if he mobilizes in the name of al-Qaeda.'

Comment: our dear sheikh, we did not deal with the one who is affiliated with al-Qaeda except with benevolence, but there is a difference between the one who works for jihad regardless of the party he is affiliated with and the one who strives to destroy the entity of the commission in the name of loyalty to al-Qaeda ventilating his psychological crisis and who portrays himself to you today on the basis that he is such and such, and attacks the religion and manhaj of the commission night and day.

The sheikh said: 'Then the policy of restriction began against the brothers adhering to the allegiance, and the matter reached the point of fighting, arrest of women and verification with children.'

Comment: oh sheikh, we did not impose restrictions on anyone for simply adhering to allegiance, and we did not fight anyone because of his allegiance, and all we did was impede Abu Julaybib in the incident you are pointing to- and it happened a number of months ago- for Abu Julaybib resolved to go to Deraa and sent his family without coordinating and arranging the matter and when she reached our checkpoint near the borders with the areas of the regime we turned her back and her children without any arrest or verification.

Then Sheikh Jowlani met with him and made clear to him his mistake in what he resolved to do, and we had made clear to him at the time we would prevent him from heading to Deraa simply because his going to Deraa would create a big problem and this matter has no relation with the al-Qaeda issue and it was since we had removed Abu Julaybib from Deraa in the days when we were Qaeda.

Then Abu Julaybib tried to go to Deraa again with his family and after he penetrated into the areas of the regime, the smuggler left him and had it not been for God's benevolence to him, the regime would have caught him and his family. And the third time, which was a few days ago, we caught him at the last checkpoint separating us and the PKK areas and he wanted to go to Deraa, and with him his family. So we arrested him and we left his family in the car for some hours then we restored them to their home. It is our right to arrest the one who tries night and day to split our rank in the name of al-Qaeda and disseminate the like, and attack the religion and manhaj, especially after repeated requests from us to stop these sorts of attacks, and for you, as an example, is to see what Dr. Sami writes on the channel of his fans, despite your directives to them stipulating not to do this, and from this basis we distinguished for all between what most of these people do- at the head of them the brother Qassam- and what is asked from them.

The sheikh said: 'And we have given opportunity after opportunity, and deadline after deadline, for more than a year, but we have seen that the matters have only become aggravated.'

Comment: our dear sheikh, it is true the matter has taken time amounting to more than the year, but we are not the cause of this issue, for the difficulty of connection and its delay, and the residing of one message for months to arrive and similarly the response to it means it is natural that resolving the problem should take a long time. I add to this that the messages do not match the events. For example our explanation for the step of Fatah al-Sham did not reach you until months after the project, while the distorted depiction of the step and its reasons had already reached you, as you thought that Fatah al-Sham was a merger, while the truth was the contrary of that, and it took months for us to clarify this matter, and on that basis it was pursued. The important point is that the delay of messages in corresponding with the events is the result of your situation- may God release your worries- which has made it difficult to resolve the matter quickly.

And the problem is that a message from you reaches us so we understand it in a specific way and we make judgments on that basis as we can, especially as there are a number of the mashayakh of al-Qaeda at this time with us and among us, so we work as per that judgment and understanding, and we send you word of it. The meaning of this is that we take a path for months and take practical steps according to that, and many of the issues change in the midst of the rapid progression of events of the field, so a response comes from you months later that our understanding was erroneous, but after what? After the state of affairs will have changed In such a way that we cannot revert to the understanding you would have clarified at that time, without verifiable harm resulting from it.

And thus we fall into confusion on every occasion, and among the most well-known examples of this: that after your first message came following 'Fatah al-Sham' we met with the three mashayakh: Abu al-Faraj, Abu al-Khayr (may God have mercy on them), and the companion of Abu al-Khayr- may God protect him- and we told them: 'You know better than we do the desire of the sheikh and his mindset as you are among those who had close contact with him for years, so what is the state of affairs in your view.' Then we worked exactly as per what they suggested to us, and months later the response came from you with the lack of agreement. And by God we did not think that this in particular with the abundance of your praise for the deputy sheikh Abu al-Khayr (may God have mercy on him), and whom you counselled us a lot to benefit from him and his skills and experiences. Our dear sheikh: by God besides whom there is none other if you were among us when any disagreement happened, we would not be to you except as we were before to Sheikh Abu al-Khayr (may God have mercy on him), but the level of distortion with the delay of messages of connection and the rapid progression of events that required from us a stance were among the reasons for what happened, and had you been among us or with us you would have excused us as your companions who were previously with us did.

The sheikh said: 'And the second matter: jihad in al-Sham is the jihad of the entire Muslim Ummah, so it is not said it is the jihad of the people of al-Sham, or the jihad of the people of Syria, or the jihad of the people of Syria, nor the jihad of the people of Idlib or Deraa or Damascus. Nor is it said to anyone: get out of al-Sham, for if you mobilize in it we will arrest you, for the interest is in expelling you, for this is incompatible with what the jurists decided: from the fact that the abode of Islam is considered as one land, and that the Muslims are one Ummah: the asylum offered by the lowest of them in status applies to them, and they are one hand against others.'

Comment: these words of yours are our manhaj that we will not diverge from by God's permission, and the battle of al-Sham is the battle of the entire Ummah and whether or not we are affiliated with al-Qaeda will not change this fact. And there we are not regionalists as some think but rather the issue is an issue of focusing on the a-Sham front not more. And what is the presence of the muhajireen in the field but among the lines of evidence for lack of regionalism? And we do not judge on the basis of the issue of regionalism regarding the angle of connections or lack of them, but rather the issue is broader than that and the matter has a lengthy detailing in which it suffices that we clarify that we are focused on our front now because we consider that the victory of al-Sham will spread over the Ummah, and from this basis we were keen to focus on it and on this meaning we do not consider the matter to be one of regionalism, and we do not consider that the standard measure in regionalism or lack thereof is the issue of ties. This is one thing.

Another thing: no one expelled any muhajir or threatened him with arrest simply for being a muhajir, and even the Free Army factions did not do this and did not say this, save for factions of clear treachery that are affiliated with America in all clearness and impertinence, while the customs and ethics of the people of al-Sham reject this. But there is a difference our dear sheikh between the one who does something bad like gather firewood for instance- when there is a holding to account or arrest, some set out here- for shame- to pretend to weep for the muhajireen- and the mujahireen innocent of this deed, and regrettably some of these people today cloak themselves under the name of al-Qaeda falsely.

The sheikh said: 'How can the people of al-Sham accept that this false proposition should occur among them repeatedly when it is their clear history in defending Muslims that sheds light? Who is Sheikh Izz al-Din bin Abd al-Salam? Isn't he from Damascus? He migrated to Egypt, and urged to fight the Tartars, so God granted victory to the Muslims over them in Ayn Jalut. And who is Suleiman al-Halabi? Did he not kill the General Kulaybir in Cairo? And who is Izz al-Din al-Qassam? Is he not from Jablah from the works of Latakia who went out to wage jihad in Palestine? And who are Abu Mus'ab and Abu Khalid al-Suri? Did they not make hijra to Afghanistan? Were Khalid bin al-Waleed or Abu Obeida bin al-Jarrah or Osama bin Laden al-Yemeni to come to the people of al-Sham, would they say to them: get out from al-Sham for you are not Syrians, and you will bring upon us bombing, [terrorism] classification and cutting off of aid?'

Our dear sheikh: all you have mentioned is true but there is no existence for what you mention among the factions of al-Sham and their people, and the general atmosphere for the people of al-Sham remains to accept muhajireen, have affection for them and defend them, let alone the commission, with the distinction as I clarified between the muhajireen and the one who deals in repulsive deeds in their name like gathering firewood which means among these people harbouring takfir [declaring to be disbelievers] some of the factions and arranging permission to rob them of their wealth and arms on the path of highway robbery, as those who do this have stolen arms from the points of ribat [frontline duty].

The sheikh said: 'Then what is an innovation: is not these external links to us?'

Comment: they are not an innovation our dear sheikh, and what Sheikh Jowlani (may God protect him) said in announcing Fatah al-Sham is a matter agreed on by your deputy at the time and his companion and Sheikh Abu al-Faraj- may God have mercy on him- and the overwhelming majority of the Jabha's leadership (around 60 people).

The sheikh said: 'Had Khalid bin al-Waleed- may God be pleased with him- come to the people of al-Sham, would they have said to him: get out, for you have external links with Abu Bakr al-Sadiq and Omar bin al-Khattab (may God be pleased with them both)?

Comment: this is an example that is different from more than one angle, including: that the type of allegiance in that case is an allegiance of a caliphate or greater imamate as opposed to our previous allegiance to al-Qaeda that is an allegiance of fighting and jihad. Also: we did not tell anyone: get out.

The sheikh said: 'The third issue: I would like to point out that bonds and allegiances are among the great matters that must not be played with in trickery, but rather the law has required to fulfill them.'

Comment: your words are correct and we preach it, but we affirm that we did not engage in trickery and we clarified before what we did from procedure we consider correct in law.

The sheikh said: 'And here I would like to affirm definitively: we did not release anyone from allegiance to us. We only expelled Ibrahim al-Badri and whoever with him from the group, but we did not release anyone from allegiance to us: not Jabhat al-Nusra or one besides it, and we did not accept that the allegiance of Jabhat al-Nusra should be secret, and we considered this among the fatal errors, and the allegiance between us and all who have pledged allegiance to us is a binding pact that is forbidden to be broken, and it must be fulfilled.'

Comment: our dear sheikh when we proceeded to the step of Fatah al-Sham the connection between us and you was cut off for years but your deputy was among us, and we did not take the step except by his agreement. And in the shade of your absence with the presence of the deputy it is permitted for us and him to take a decision in the shade of absence, as it is established in law that prolonged absence has rulings that are not hidden from the likes of you, may God protect you. And even if we were to admit to distinguishing between the successor and deputy, as you mentioned in your subsequent messages in what contradicts what we have from documents that were written in the handwriting of your majlis shura, so you cannot blame us with your long absence, for the likes of this absence justifies for us to adopt what we see as befitting the interest of the jihad so long as you do not accuse us in our religion and intentions. Then we did not do what we did to play tricks with the jihad but rather it is a judgment on our part to realize the interest of the jihad at the time and we sought the advice in it of the deputy on account of the amir's absence. Indeed were it the case that the caliph of the Muslims were absent for that time, it would have been permitted in the realm of authority rulings that a judgment be made to adopt decisions befitting the interest of the jihad so long as the intentions and desires are sound, and even if our judgment were in error- and we don't see it as such- the most that could be said at the time about us would be: we have made a judgment and erred, not that it could be said that we annulled, violated and disobeyed [/rebelled], especially as we said to the deputy sheikh= the successor: if you agree to the project of Fatah al-Sham, we will go forward. If you don't agree, we will desist from it.

You will say: 'Why didn't you go back after that?' I say: your first message came to us in which it was made clear that the depiction of Fatah al-Sham that reached you was not a correct depiction, for the opinion of the three mashayakh- the deputy, his companion and Abu al-Faraj as they are your companions- was that we should write to you in clarification and we did that and they did that. Then your second message came from which we understood that there is no problem with him in the principle of breaking ties, but rather the problem is in timing, and mentioned that the step of Fatah al-Sham did not realize the merger, and had it done do, the problem between us and you would have ended, and that you would perhaps come out in the media blessing the merger. Then after the formation of the commission that at the time represented a majority merger but not entire merger, we did not know the unseen and that some who entered into it would leave, and as for your third message, it came after the formation of the commission.

Another thing: we did not know you rejected secret allegiance until months later, and had we known it from the outset we would not have done it, especially as there were present a number of your shura- among them your deputy- who reviewed this and did not say that al-Qaeda does not accept secret allegiance.

The sheikh said: 'So remain steadfast servants of God on your pacts and covenants and do not be removed or fluctuate for every cry, doubt or propaganda, and beware of the great sin of breaking the pact. The Prophet (SAWS) said: 'When God brings together the first and later generations of mankind on the day of Judgement, a banner will be raised for every breacher of faith, as it will be said: this is the treachery of so-and-so son of so-and-so.'

Comment: when we proceeded as we did, we did not annul or breach or disobey, and it is a matter that had a context of time: the one who ponders it knows that perfectly well. And today if the interest of the jihad in al-Sham were that we return to al-Qaeda we would be the first to return, and al-Qaeda is not a disgrace, source of disrepute or shame that we try to be rid of, but rather it is an assessment on our part for what we considered to be the interest of the jihad- a judgment on our part- on account of the cutting off of connection with the amir and the agreement of the deputy.

And today if it were decided that returning to work under the name of al-Qaeda is what will realize the interest of the jihad, we would not hesitate to return. And were most of the Ahl al-Hall wa al-'Aqd in al-Sham to agree that the interest for the jihad is in returning the name of al-Qaeda we would return.

The sheikh said: 'The fourth issue: we call for unity in al-Sham and elsewhere, and many of our brothers in al-Sham have mentioned our repeated calls for that from the beginning of the jihad in al-Sham, and have mentioned that when the Islamic Front was announced I sent a message to the two brothers Sheikh Abu Khalid al-Suri (may God have mercy on him) and Sheikh Jowlani (God grant him success): why doesn't Jabhat al-Nusra unite with this front? And I urged the two of them to strive for that, and if there was agreement on a matter they should inform me of it to review it.'

Comment: 'Our dear sheikh, had we wished to break off we would have entered into the Islamic Front at the time and considered it our opportunity to break the allegiance, but when we did not see a true project we did not do so, and as for the commission, we saw in it a true project not with the aim of playing tricks and escaping from al-Qaeda but rather we thought that this merger would be something welcomed by your eminence just as it was welcomed by your deputy at the time.'

The sheikh said: 'I remind my brothers in al-Sham that the Qaedat al-Jihad group had repeated many times that it was prepared to do away with its organizational connection with Jabhat al-Nusra if two things were realized, not a third for the two:

First: union of the mujahideen of al-Sham.
Second: that there should arise an Islamic government in al-Sham, and the people of al-Sham should choose for them an imam.

Then, and only then- and not before that- could we do away with our organizational connection, and commend our people in al-Sham for what they realized, and there should remain between us the brotherhood of Islam and jihad.'

Comment: this matter had been preceded by an audio of your eminence in the media affirming that al-Qaeda would sacrifice the organizational connection in the path of unity. Then we worked according to what we understood from your old audio speeches and there came to us in a delayed sense the designation of the issue in the form of conditions to break off or we understood it recently as such, but we had finished rounds in the merger project and it was no longer possible to go back on it at the time.

Another thing: when we entered with the factions into the merger project that Ahrar signed and which all the factions of Jaysh al-Fatah agreed to at the time and Zinki and some of the independent mashayakh, and in it the rest of the factions attached their agreement to the mutual understanding of the Jabha and Ahrar, except a few factions that had no influence on the project. This was the product of very long sessions that ended with these signatures that are considered from the Shari'i angle a covenant that must be fulfilled, not to flee from al-Qaeda as some portrayed to you, but rather in law it is a covenant and pledge that must be fulfilled, especially as not a small number of the mashayakh of the field at the time- among them the mashayakh of the jabha [Jabhat Fatah al-Sham]- issued a fatwa on the obligation to sign it, so Ahrar's withdrawal at the time- despite the coming of those who came from them subsequently- and likewise the withdrawal of those who withdrew from the factions does not absolve us of the obligation to fulfill the pact even if we wished to apply here the obligation of fulfilling the pacts in accordance with which actions are taken in the case of allegiance, for the allegiance is a pact one must fulfill, and the unity agreement and signature to it and from which Ahrar withdrew is a pact that must be fulfilled, so when we determine to fulfill the pact in which we consider there to be the preponderance of the interest of the field with the connections of the agreement of the deputy and indications of your speeches from which we understood at the time your contentment with this path, this cannot be considered on our part at the time a breaking of the pact or an act of disobedience, and the most that could be said on this- if were to suppose- is that we made a judgment between two issues and if the one who makes a judgment falls into error, he gets one reward as the beloved (SAWS) taught us.

The sheikh said: 'As for the establishing of new entities without unity, in this are repeated frivolous cycles of joining and defection: this is what we have rejected.'

Comment: The only project the jabha [Jabhat al-Nusra/Fatah al-Sham] has entered is the commission because it found in it a true project, as for the cycles of joining and defection this is something that happened subsequently and we do not know the unseen, and we are ordered by the obligation of unity without guaranteeing the results even as we are keen for them, but it does not show that our path was erroneous through the results, for the commission's project had the possibility of turning into a comprehensive project or something besides this was possible, so when it did not transform as such, the one who worked on the obligation of unity is not to be condemned because he did not realize the result.

The sheikh said: 'Don't believe the scare stories from America that tell you that al-Qaeda is the reason for all the calamities in Syria and that expelling it is the key to resolving all problems. Did they not say to some: distance yourselves from al-Qaeda so the bombing can stop? But did it stop?

Comment: We and all the people of al-Sham know for sure that the American enemy is waging war on Muslims to subject them to its hegemony not because they are Qaeda or nor Qaeda, but no one can deny that the American enemy and those besides it succeeded in distorting the image of al-Qaeda in the eyes of the Muslims as you said to us previously in your context of your seeking our consultation in changing the name of al-Qaeda itself, and you had mentioned that this idea was suggested from the days of Sheikh Osama- may God have mercy on him- and that what came in the Abbottabad documents on this matter was true, so if your reasons for changing the name of al-Qaeda were logical- and they are as such- how can you consider undertaking a similar step in the branch and not the origin as something to be condemned?

The sheikh said in completing his words: 'Did they not say: distance yourselves from al-Qaeda lest you be classified [as terrorists]? So were they not classified?'

Comment: we thought in all probability that the step of Fatah al-Sham would not remove the classification and this is what we said at the time to Sheikh Abu al-Khayr- may God have mercy on him- and we added: if the removal of the classification were to happen, that would be great, but if not, it is expected.

The sheikh said in completing his words: 'Did they not say: distance yourselves from al-Qaeda for unity to be realized? So has it been realized?'

Comment: many of the factions were tying unity to breaking ties and when that happened, some of them entered, and some of them didn't, so there is no blame on us in this particular.

The sheikh said: 'Is breaking pacts from obedience to God and His Messenger.'

Comment: by God no, but we didn't break a pact or commit an act of disobedience.

The sheikh said: 'And we hear strange and remarkable things, for a brother says: sheikh so-and-so gave us a fatwa that the one who calls to al-Qaeda should be arrested.'

Comment: this is the first time I hear of this fatwa, and we were clear with the brothers, as our dispute is not with al-Qaeda, but rather with the one who works night and day to split our ranks in the name of al-Qaeda. And had they been honest in affiliation with al-Qaeda they would have worked with us when we were with al-Qaeda, rather than leaving us when we were with al-Qaeda for their personal reasons: then no sooner do we break ties than these people begin to come together under the pretext of al-Qaeda to realize their desires and satisfy their psychological complexes in the name of al-Qaeda. This is what we are trying to prevent. And we strongly warn the leadership of al-Qaeda not to be pleased with this phenomenon, despite their disagreement with us on the likes of this issue of allegiance and its circumstances- for perhaps they have discovered that we- on the basis of their disagreement with us- are better for them in this cause than those people and religion is advice. And this perhaps will not become clear to you quickly and may not become clear until after a calamity occurs not differing much from the outcomes of the Khawarij Dawla group [Islamic State], especially as the sheikh- may God protect him- knows that the brother Qassam is today bringing together the remnants of those we fought from the extremist Liwa al-Aqsa to be the ones who represent al-Qaeda on the land of al-Sham, so we ask you in God oh sheikh not to repeat what happened with Baghdadi and not look at the issue from the angle that whoso pledges allegiance to al-Qaeda for desires we know of and you don't know and we see but you don't see, for He is the reliable one, and of course we do not generalize and mean all of them.

The sheikh said: 'Did not God- Exalted and Almighty is He- make al-Qaeda one of the greatest reasons for the routing of Ibrahim al-Badri and resisting his deceit and falsehoods? Is it not al-Qaeda that established that Abu Khalid al-Suri was killed by the new takfirist? It is not al-Qaeda that expelled Ibrahim al-Badri and his gang from its group? Is it not al-Qaeda that established with evidence and documents his lies, deceit and falsehoods? Is it al-Qaeda that removed legitimacy from its claimed caliphate? And- God forbid- had al-Qaeda reached a mutual understanding with al-Badri and abandoned stating the truth, al-Badri- and only God knows the unseen- would have swallowed up Jabhat al-Nusra, and had he swallowed up Nusra, no one in al-Sham would have stood in his way, but what stood as a thorn in his side, and removed legitimacy from him is al-Qaeda, and therefore his charlatans disparaged it and his liars the bowl of their rage. And when the decision in the conflict between the Dawla and Nusra was issued by the leadership of al-Qaeda, al-Sham clamoured with joy, and Sheikh Jowlani- may God grant him success- sent us a message that this was a historical decision, so what has made it now a thing of the past?

Comment: al-Qaeda has in this a virtue that cannot be condemned, but it must be remembered that the one that represented al-Qaeda in al-Sham at the time was the Jabha, and it is the one that stood in the face of the khawarij, and it was the greatest burden on the Jabha at the time, for the Jabha is the one that exposed the defects of that group that was among those who most tarnished the reputation of al-Qaeda, so the Jabha likewise has the distinction in whitening the portrait of al-Qaeda by helping it to be rid of those people, so they are mutually exchanged virtues and may God reward al-Qaeda best.

But it must not be overlooked oh Sheikh that despite the benefit of the decision, its delay was very harmful and this is among the things for which we have not found a remedy till now. Indeed, the delay in the convoy of decisions for developments is among the greatest problems we advise your eminence to work to resolve, especially in the fields that witness a rapid progression in events, for the administration of matters through by that path are an unintended hindering of work on your part but it arises as a result of your situation and as a result of the rapid progression of events.

Just as it must not be overlooked that at the time we were waging the fiercest battles with the khawarij of Baghdadi you were coming out, our sheikh, in the media and saying: 'If Jowlani and Hamawi order you to fight, don't obey it.' And some of the branches of al-Qaeda considered them as brothers, but when the cancer of the khawarij came to the regions of some of the branches and to Afghanistan, you began exposing them in media. And at the time the battles had approximately stopped between us and them, you began the Islamic Spring series, in which the khawarij took revenge on us ventilating their rage at your words. May God reward you best and bless your judgment, so just as we have excused you and thought well of you- and thus you are family- so may you excuse us so long as we exercise judgment in getting at the truth.

The sheikh said: 'So when the danger of al-Badri shrunk, innovated and invented expressions began to emerge: breaking ties, tying redemption and excess entanglement, while our dear brother Abd al-Rahim Atoun in his response to Sheikh Tartousi- may God grant both of them success- and in his conversation with the jihadi Iha'at magazine affirmed that what is between them and al-Qaeda is not a tie but an allegiance.'

Comment: our dear sheikh, a tie or allegiance has one meaning for us and there is no dispute in the technical term in this matter with us, but rather we use it because it is the well-known term in our field, and on my response to Sheikh Tartousi (may God grant him and you success), I made clear the nature of the tie without opposing the technical term. This is one thing. Another thing: we acknowledge the allegiance in its time but we do not think that we broke it, annulled it or disobeyed.

The sheikh said: 'And correspondences and connections between us and our brothers have been going on for more than a year. Oh our dear brothers, either the mujahideen in al-Sham unite, or you return to your group. For we only find justifications and procrastinations, and the poor pretexts are elevated: do you want the people of al-Sham to be bombed? Do you want unity to be blocked?'

Comment: I made clear previously that the matter is not one of procrastination but rather seeking clarification in the shade of the delay of arrival of messages in particularly as many of the messages arrive after events have completely changed, for the events of al-Sham are great and scarcely a month or even week goes by without an event. As I made clear previously the issue is not one of pretexts, for we were earnest in seeking unity and did not enter the commission except because we considered it a true unity project. As for the bombing of the people of al-Sham, we know that it will not stop.

The sheikh said: 'Oh brothers, you are in a unity greater than your unity by God's grace and blessing, you are in the Qaedat al-Jihad group under allegiance to the Islamic Emirate in a wide jihadi grouping by God's grace and generosity.'

Comment: we know that our joining al-Qaeda is a unity, and likewise we know that the unity of the mujahideen in al-Sham is a unity- regardless of the priority, truth and reality of each of the two- and when a conflict occurred between the two the solution was what we thought would please al-Qaeda in view of its statements and literature, and in view of what a number of its mashayakh among us decided- that is to serve as the people of al-Sham consider it- and if you think we have erred- and we don't see it as such- then let our mistake be classified as a mistake of judgement and not as one of the great sins or breaking pacts and acts of disobedience, or under the breaching of faith by so-and-so son of so-and-so.

Another thing: We are proud of the Islamic Emirate, may God make it mighty, but we don't consider that the allegiance of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan to the emirate binds us in any Shari'i way towards the emirate, may God make it mighty. By this I mean the obligation stemming from the allegiance. As for brothers in faith and affection in God and all that binds the Muslim towards the Muslim, what is for them is on us and what is for us is on them. And we made clear to Sheikh Abu al-Khayr (may God have mercy on him) something from this, and we also made clear to him that we were not convinced from the Shari'i angle in what you- may God protect you- suggested in your message to him on this particular.

In sum what see in this matter: that Mullah Omar (may God have mercy on him) had rights of authority or imam in the boundaries of his authority of place in the time of tamkin [establishment of control] for the Taliban state, and the man (may God have mercy on him) did not claim the caliphate for himself, and all those we asked from the mashayakh of al-Qaeda said this, and it corresponds with what Sheikh Attiyah and Abu Yahya (may God have mercy on them both) said and what Sheikh al-Sa'adi outlined in Wabl al-Ghamama, and the two sheikhs al-Wuhayshi and al-Anasi (may God have mercy on them both) did not object to it. And it is what the two sheikhs Abu Faraj and Abu al-Khayr (may God have mercy on them both) told us. So when the clip al-Bushriyat came out in al-Sahab media, the matter with us was disturbed, and it was that Sheikh Abu al-Faraj clarified to us at the time the like of what I have mentioned.

And indeed we gave an allegiance to the Qaedat al-Jihad organization an allegiance of jihad and fighting. We did not give allegiance on more than this, and the transfer of allegiance from an allegiance of fighting and jihad to more than this requires our knowledge of it and agreement. And this is a matter that needs more clarification, so if you wish, supply us with it as a clarification, and if you wish to make it clear far removed from the media, inform us. And had you not mentioned it more than once in the media, we would not have addressed it here. And here we must ask you to direct the one who claims today to hear and obey you to cease attacking our religion because what we do is less than what the Islamic Emirate, to which al-Qaeda is under allegiance, does, and despite that we are attack for our religion and manhaj in the morning and evening and on the tongue of the one who is desired to be the Shari'i official for al-Qaeda in al-Sham!

The sheikh said: 'But we see our brothers clearly doing us wrong. And the wrong of relatives is of greater agony on the self than the coming down of the sharp sword.'

Comment: our virtuous sheikh, we have not wronged you and we have never even thought of doing so, and the matter is a judgement on our part that some portrayed to you as an act of trickery. So then don't you see the extent of the wrong that falls upon us through the accusations against us in our religion by some of those for whom it is desired that they represent the al-Qaeda project in al-Sham? For some of them think that we are serving global kufr and that we are trying to please America and that we are on the edge of kufr, and another thinks that we have deviated, softened, gone back and laid down.

Excuse me, our dear sheikh: do you not see that you are harming us whenever you speak about Mursi and the seat of Damascus, and about the fear of America and the arrest of muhajir women? We put your words on the best of bearings and we think well of you but we are not as portrayed to you despite your disagreement with us in some steps that we would not have taken had we not been convinced- after applying judgement- that they were in the interest of the jihad, and were it not for the fact that going back on it is harmful to the jihad and that there pertain to it Shari'i rights and obligations that are no less than that allegiance that was to al-Qaeda, we would not have hesitated in this.

The sheikh said: 'And this al-Qaeda, oh sheikh Abu so-and-so, the caller to which you threaten with arrest, is the one to whose manhaj the dear sheikh Abu Khalid al-Suri (may God have mercy on him) affirmed affiliation.

Comment: I would like to reiterate to you our sheikh that the issue was not threatening to arrest whoever calls to al-Qaeda but is rather the quarrel of individuals with us since the time we were Qaeda so when we broke ties they raised the banner of al-Qaeda to settle accounts.

And we say to you now: if the interest of al-Sham is in returning to al-Qaeda, then let it be al-Qaeda, but if there is no interest in returning to al-Qaeda, let the interest of jihad take precedence over that, and it is for you to choose the one inside this field whose religion you are pleased with from those besides us and these adversaries of ours. And entrust to them the assessment of this matter, so if they say that it is in the interest of al-Sham to return to al-Qaeda, we have no objection at the time and in this we will have distanced ourselves from this quarrel and whim: we and they.

As for the manhaj of Sheikh Abu Khalid al-Suri (may God have mercy on him), it is our manhaj and yours as well, and we have not done anything but break an organizational connection, nothing else, just as Sheikh Abu Khalid himself was, for he was on a manhaj of good despite the lack of his organizational connection with al-Qaeda, so why have you not dealt with us likewise?

The sheikh added specifically on Abu Khalid (may God have mercy on him): 'He sent me a message in Jumada al-Thani 1434 AH concluded with a fine conclusion in which he said: Know, our dear sheikh, that I have not altered or turned from what we were upon in thought, manhaj and goal, and that the affection that has been between us is as it is: indeed it has increased and grown great, and I am, as you have known me, a trusted advisor to you and brother of affection.'

Comment: we say to you the same words now asking that the affection be great and increase on your part and as for us, we are as were by God's permission, and we advise you and are affection towards you, and we do not think that what happened should summon all this from you towards us.

The sheikh said: 'The point that he- may God have mercy on him- said: And in the end of the I ask the Lord to make you mighty in Islam, and to make Islam mighty in you, and to preserve you as store for the Muslims, and to bring us together in Ghouta of Damascus on obedience to Him, carrying out His order.'

Comment: Amen, of God. And we ask God the same as what the sheikh asked.

The sheikh said: 'And why has this affection disappeared among us, its place filled with coarseness, conflict, harshness of heart, and arrangement and planning to escape from allegiances, and disavow brothers, and work to expel them, drive them out, curb them and repress them?'

Comment: the affection for you has no disappeared, our sheikh, and its place has not been filled with coarseness and harshness of heart. You can ask in this regard the companion of Sheikh Abu al-Khayr (may God have mercy on him), and we continue to consider that there is no link for what is between us and the brothers here with what is between us and you, for our problem with the mother of these brothers precedes the issue of allegiance in origin, and we reiterate to you that the matter from our side was not a plan and arrangement to leave the allegiance.

The sheikh said: 'The plan of the enemies is to get al-Qaeda out of al-Sham, aims to expel the last Syrian mujahid from Syria. I repeat again, so listen: the plan of the enemies is to get al-Qaeda out of al-Sham, aims to expel the last Syrian mujahid from Syria.

Comment: this is the plan of the enemies in any case whether al-Qaeda or not, especially with your affirmation- which we agree with you about- that the quarrel of the enemy with us is not because we are Qaeda, and even if we break the tie, it will not leave us alone.

The sheikh said: 'The matter does not stop on arresting men, but also extends to arresting enduring muhajir women and verification with their children.'

Comment: our dear sheikh, we did not arrest muhajir women and we did not undertake verification with children. All that is in the matter is that Abu Julaybib and his dependents were blocked and turned back from the last checkpoint we have at the borders with the regime as mentioned previously and we made clear. And we had warned Abu Julaybib of the consequence of trying again to take his dependents with him on this path. And the sister Umm Julaybib is our sister and delaying her for some hours on the last occasion for reasons that do not have to do with her or her children does not mean arresting her, and even if we had arrested a muhajir woman for example it is necessary before releasing judgment to wait to get to know our rights in this and the reasons for it, considered or not? And is it a particular incident or do you mean a systematic policy on our part towards muhajir women? We deal well with the wives of the khawarij so how can we arrest muhajir women?! Is it not wrong for the likes of these words to be spoken against us?! Our dear sheikh, we remind ourselves and you of the Almighty's words: 'Beware of striking a people in ignorance, and becoming regretful for what you have done.'

The sheikh said: 'And another says: sheikh so-and-so and sheikh Abu so-and-so gave us a fatwa to break the allegiance to al-Qaeda. So, oh brother, summon them both on the Day of Judgment to defend you, the day in which a banner will be raised for every breacher of faith. Will they defend you? The Truth, exalted is He, says: 'For every man, on that day, will be a matter sufficing for him."

Comment: no one gave us a fatwa to break the allegiance and we did not break the allegiance, but what happened is that Sheikh al-Turaifi- may God release him- and some of the other Ahl al-'Ilm were among those who considered that breaking ties is in the interest of the jihad of al-Sham and sent us a letter with this meaning, and despite the fact that the sheikh's words were considered among us and we did not go forth with this matter but rather we remained on our allegiance until the coming of the deputy in a story previously explained and summarized, which ended in our breaking ties in a historical context that is not considered a violation or breaking.

And the witness to this is that even if we had taken up what the sheikh and others from the considered Ahl al-'Ilm had said at the time, what you mentioned about breaching of faith does not apply to us because it would have been a fatwa in which we followed the Ahl al-'Ilm, and even if they had erred what you say does not apply to them, and likewise if we had erred, and all this is because we consider it an allegiance of jihad, not in the capacity you see it, our sheikh. God bless you.

The sheikh said: 'Then were you not denouncing al-Badri and his gang on the basis that they have no legitimacy because they broke the allegiance to al-Qaeda? So why you are allowing for yourselves what you forbid for others besides you? Do you order the people to piety and forget yourselves?'

Comment: our dear sheikh, your deputy, his companion and Abu al-Faraj were among us and agreed on what they thought and we thought that you would agree to it, so how can you liken us to al-Badri and his gang in this realm?

The sheikh said: 'Let us consider, our brothers and confidantes and crowns of my head- the mujahideen of al-Sham- our condition before these leaps and alterations. The land and provinces were conquered in record times, and the enemies suffered devastating defeats, and you took great war spoils, and you wrote on your banners- 'We have unite so God give us victory.' Then look at your condition after these alterations and changes, and after the fear of America permeated your hearts.'

Comment: our dear sheikh, tying what happened and is happening in the field now with the issue of ties is totally misguided, and were you among us you would know this perfectly well. As for the permeating of fear of America into hearts, this is not as you thing- may God bear witness- and we do not move to the rhythms of America and not to please it, and we do not fear except God Almighty, and we were to fear America or those besides it we would not have come out in jihad in the first place because America's enmity to us is not because we are Qaeda but because of our Islam and our jihad- as you say- and thus, had we feared it, we would not have entered the path of jihad from its origin. And there is a difference, our dear sheikh, between trying to neutralize a type of enemy or delay confrontation with it or neutralize the adversaries- and which comes within the foundations of Shari'i politics derived from the guidance of the prophets- and fearing and being afraid of it and the like. And I do not mean America in particular. You may say to me: your attempt to neutralize will not succeed because this enemy won't abandon you. I say: perhaps your words are correct, but the truth of your words does not mean I fear it or am terrified of it, and my attempt to neutralize it, avoid it or delay confrontation with it- even if I am mistaken in my thinking- does not mean I am going back on religion, manhaj or that I fear people besides God.

The sheikh- may God protect him- said citing the words of Sheikh Abu Khalid (may God have mercy on him): 'So to my dear sheikh Abu al-Fatah, may God protect you and guide you. Nothing has gladdened my heart, made me joyful and restored glad tidings after lean years and difficult days as your dear letter did for me.' To the point that he (may God have mercy on him) said: 'Because your choice has fallen on me as assistant and helper in resolving the ongoing crisis between the Islamic State of Iraq and Jabhat al-Nusra, I ask God to be for you a just, advisory insider and a pioneer that does not lie to his people.'

Comment: our virtuous sheikh, God bless you. What has come down between us and you as you consider it is only the cutting off of connection for a long time and the rapid progression of events here and we did not have contact with you as the mashaykh who were with us did and despite that we tried to rely on them in explaining your wish, trying not to shun your will. But it was that something besides what we understood and they understood happened.

The sheikh said: 'And another beloved sheikh stands in a general meeting and preaches: al-Qaeda has ended. Forget al-Qaeda.'

Comment: I don't know who you mean as such, and we do not deal with al-Qaeda in general in this manner.

The sheikh said: 'Even if our brothers forget our precedent, rights, and pledges, we do not forget their grace, efforts and sacrifice, and we ask God to accept that from us and from them.'

Comment: We do not forget the precedent of the forerunners our virtuous sheikh and we do not forget your right upon us and grace. As for the pact, by God we did not wish to violate, break or escape from a pact or right, but rather we deemed the interest of the jihad in a state of affairs in which we saw the agreement of the best of your companions with our overwhelming thought that you would agree. Were it not that the state of affairs changed such that returning to the prior condition is harmful to this jihad, we would have returned, and by God we do not see that except as assessing the interest of the jihad, not for a whim, trickery or indignation at you. May God protect you. And just as you don't forget the grace, efforts and sacrifice of the one who has exerted effort, sacrificed, so may you dismiss you see as a lapse on his part and let these good thoughts of your wipe away what you see from bad things. Perhaps God will rectify our condition, your condition and the condition of the mujahideen and Muslims. Were it not that some of the agitator brothers had entered onto the line of relations between us, the state of affairs would not have led us to the point that you speak and we speak in the media. And God is our reliance and He suffices as guardian.

The sheikh said: 'And the matter is not limited to that, but the jihadi field of al-Sham is being separated little by little from the tragedies of the Ummah.' Then the sheikh- may God protect him- mentioned the incident of Saudi Arabia's execution of dozens of mashayakh and mujahideen, as he also mentioned the death of Sheikh Omar Abd al-Rahman- may God have mercy on him- in the prisons of America and the targeting of Sheikh Abu al-Khayr- may God have mercy on him- by America.

In commenting on all these matters, I say: our dear sheikh, we feel pain at what is befalling the Muslims in every place, let alone the mujahideen, their preachers and the best of them, but when was the test of valuing the mujahideen and their groups based on the fact they issued an official condolence or not? We support the Muslims in our battle in al-Sham and our jihad. It is not a matter of a statement, for our blood and martyrs are the best statement and we ask God for acceptance and purity.

Many of the luminaries were martyred when we were al-Qaeda and we eulogized some of them like Sheikh al-Nidhari and Sheikh al-Wuhayshi- may God have mercy on them both- and no one said to us at that time: you didn't issue condolences for all. And this was not made one of the signs that are placed in the checklist of a jihad movement and it was not among the scales of assessment and measurement previously, so why has it today begun to be recorded in the registry of observations?! With regards to Sheikh Abu al-Khayr (may God have mercy on him), the brother Hussam al-Shafi'i eulogized him at the time, and the relation that was between us and the sheikh (may God have mercy on him) was greater than the valuing of it being limited to eulogy. And when Sheikh Abu al-Fara or Sheikh Abu al-Hassan Yunis Shu'aib was martyred (may God have mercy on them both), not all the brothers offered us condolences for it. So was this an abrasion on the manha of whoever did not offer condolences? And say like this for Sheikh Abu Firas al-Suri (may God have mercy on him). Was the branch that did not issue condolences for him fearing America?!

And we do not say this to criticize any of our mujahideen brothers in any part of the earth, but we say it to affirm that eulogization and condolences have not been on any day valid as one of the standard measures for valuing and judging the mujahid groups. It has remained for me to add: our dear sheikh, you hurt us when you say they greatly benefited from [/took advantage of] him- that is, Sheikh Abu al-Khayr (may God have mercy on him). And we hope that you did not mean to say that, and we were not dealing as such with the sheikh, whose expertise and experiences you advised us to make use of. By God his death is among the greatest calamities that befell us, whether we were with al-Qaeda or abandoned it.

The sheikh said: 'We want- and I am the first in need of that- to make right what is in our hearts, and our Lord to know from us submissiveness for the believers and might over the disbelievers, and that we stand with ourselves as an honest posture, reviewing, correcting and asking forgiveness. And we call for the coming down of victory, deliverance and conquest. We wish to stand with our Ummah from Turkestan to the Atlantic coast in one firm, compact rank. We wish to be realized in us the words of the Truth, Exalted is He: 'Indeed God loves those who fight in His path in one rank as though they were a structured edifice."

Comment: may God reward the sheikh best for this precious advice of his, and we ask God to help us and make use of us in obeying Him and make us submissive over the believers, and mighty over the disbelievers. And we ask God to forgive us and we repent to Him. We ask Him for victory, deliverance and conquest.

The sheikh concluded praying: 'Oh God, bring us together, bring concordance amid our hearts, unite our ranks, give us victory over our enemy, and do not blame us for our sins, nor for our excesses against ourselves. Oh God, do not bar us from Your victory or answering prayers for our sins. Oh God, if we are not suitable for You to support us and answer our prayers, make us suitable for that by Your excellence and generosity. Oh God, take us gently by the hands towards You. Oh God, indeed you know that we are pursued, expelled, migrating, so take away from us the harm of the one striving to expel us and put a stranglehold on us. We have entrusted our affairs to You, so manage it for us. And the last of our prayers is praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds, and God's blessings and deliverance be upon our sayyid Muhammad, his family and companions. Wa as-salam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuhu.'

Comment: Amen, of God. Wa alaykum as-salam wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuhu.

In conclusion: our dear sheikh, God knows our hatred for writing in media and were it not for the necessity of clarification I would not have written, so if you think that we should continue in secret, I consider that it is best for us all. And if you consider to finish in the media, I advise you for God- for I know of your strong concern for the interest of jihad- that speaking in the media does not fit the interest of the jihad, or the interest of al-Qaeda or the commission [Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham], as it is something that brings joy to the disbelievers and saddens the believers. And if you determine to complete the path of the media, please excuse the one who determines at the time to clarify what he sees as necessary to clarify. And it remains that we do not doubt your honesty and purity of intention for a moment, and we believe that you reciprocate these feelings, for if it is as such- and it is as such by God's permission- so it befits us to excuse each other and resolve the difference in what brings joy to the believers.

And God's blessings be on our sayyid Muhammad and all his family and companions.
And praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds.
Wa as-salam alaykum wa rahmat Allah wa barakatuhu.

Thursday, 12 Rabi' al-Awal 1439 AH corresponding to 30 November 2017 CE. 


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