An Al Qaeda operative in Syria and one of the leaders in the Islamic Front’s Ahrar a-Sham was assassinated Sunday in Aleppo by two suicide bombers near the battalion’s headquarters. Abu Khaled a-Suri, who fought against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, was in Syria as an envoy for al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
A-Zawahiri reportedly tasked a-Suri with mediating the divisions between Islamist rebels groups. A-Suri failed in those efforts: since the first week of 2014, more than 2,000 rebel combatants have been killed in the infighting, which began when ISIS reportedly tortured and killed an Ahrar a-Sham leader. In early February, al-Zawahiri announced that al-Qaeda had officially cut ties with ISIS, whose leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had fought alongside al-Qaeda in Iraq.
Immediately after a-Suri’s death, Islamic Front affiliates and pro-opposition media on Twitter threw accusations at the Islamic State in Iraq and a-Sham (ISIS), the insurgent extremist group largely repelled from Aleppo province amidst heavy infighting with other rebel groups.
Ahrar a-Sham co-founder Abu Khaled a-Suri was killed in Aleppo Sunday. Photo courtesy of @abosofyan7.
ISIS quickly rejected the accusations. “As-salam aleykum my brothers,” Abu Jandal al-Kuwaiti, an ISIS leader, posted on his account. “We confirm that the Islamic State is innocent of [spilling] the blood of Sheikh Abu Khalid a-Suri.”
On Monday, other ISIS affiliates accused Ahrar a-Sham itself of killing their own leader, using a Twitter hashtag stating, “the murder of Sheikh Abi Khaled a-Suri after his refusal to kill the State [ISIS].”
A-Suri was a founding member of Ahrar a-Sham, which in December 2013 united with other hard-line Islamist groups across Syria to create the Islamic Front. The coalition stopped short of including Jabhat a-Nusra, al-Qaeda’s official affiliate in Syria, but has since fought alongside a-Nusra in battles against ISIS and the Syrian government.
In their official organization-wide media, Ahrar a-Sham and the Islamic Front have not openly accused ISIS of the assassination, though the Islamic Front’s political chief Hassan Aboud blamed ISIS in a Sunday interview with Al Jazeera.
Here, a sharply worded statement from the leader of Ahrar a-Sham’s Sharia Council mourns the death of a-Suri, and attacks those “deluded” enough to believe that “establishing an Islamic state begins with destroying the pillars of Islam.”
In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
To those who are deluded and consider themselves martyrs and those who have angered God yet think they are pleasing him: Who deluded you into thinking that the key to Heaven is killing the innocent and that establishing an Islamic state begins with destroying the pillars of Islam? To the blind followers of tyranny, the misguided and worshippers of the unknown: Do you know that you were seduced and are guided by your own fanciful whims? Tomorrow you will know the truth, that your State is empty. Tomorrow you and your comrades will find yourselves in the infernal depths of hell where regret is futile.
“[And they should consider that] when those who have been followed disassociate themselves from those who followed [them], and they [all] see the punishment, and cut off from them are the ties [of relationship.]” (Quran 2:166)
You indeed have blood on your hands as long as you quench your thirst with the blood from Muslim lands and destroy the foundations of Islam as long as you venerate the criminal sins of the heretics.
May God have mercy on Abu Khaled who was devoted to Islam and is now with God. You will be remembered by the forces of jihad that have followed in your footsteps and by the earth that has been soaked in your blood. Those who killed you are evil and killing them is permitted. Praise be to you, a martyr at the hands of the evil.
How many riches to you for your jihad, Abu Khaled.
Praise be to what you have achieved and defeat to your evil killer.