The Islamic Front, a coalition of several rebel groups fighting in Syria, announced today that more than a dozen of its senior leaders have been killed in a car bombing in Idlib. Among them is Hassan Abboud, who was the head of the Islamic Front’s political office. Abboud was also the head of Ahrar al Sham, an al Qaeda-linked group that holds key positions with the Islamic Front alliance.
There has been no claim of responsibility as of this writing. The car bombing is a major blow to the Islamic Front and Ahrar al Sham.
“The Islamic Front gives the Muslim world the good news of the martyrdom of the head of Ahrar Al-Sham Islamic Movement (Head of the Political Bureau of the Islamic Front) Hassan Abboud…and some of his companions,” a statement from the Islamic Front posted on its official Twitter account in English reads.
The statement names eleven other slain leaders who are described as “some of [Abboud’s] companions.” They include Abu Abdulmalek, the Islamic Front’s top sharia official. In addition, “several other leaders” of Ahrar al Sham were killed.
Ahrar al Sham and the Islamic Front have long been considered one of the most effective fighting forces on the ground in Syria. Western officials had even considered the possibility of working with the group as a supposed counterweight to “extremists” in Syria.
But Ahrar al Sham and the Islamic Front are closely allied with the Al Nusrah Front, al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria. A prominent al Qaeda figure known as Sanafi al Nasr has revealed on his Twitter account that al Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan dispatched seasoned veterans to serve in the ranks of both Ahrar al Sham and Al Nusrah.
The Islamic Front, Ahrar al Sham and Al Nusrah are opposed to the Islamic State, the al Qaeda offshoot that has captured large swaths of territory stretching across Iraq and Syria since earlier this year.
Abboud was close to Zawahiri’s ‘representative’ in Syria
Abboud was especially close to a senior al Qaeda operative known as Abu Khalid al Suri, whose real name was Mohamed Bahaiah. Alongside Abboud, Bahaiah cofounded Ahrar al Sham.
The Long War Journal first reported Bahaiah’s dual-hatted role as both an Ahrar al Sham leader and al Qaeda operative in December 2013. That same month the US Treasury Department reported that Bahaiah was al Qaeda’s “representative in Syria” and was receiving donations from Gulf donors that were then passed onto other parts of the al Qaeda network.
Both Abboud and Bahaiah were staunch opponents of the Islamic State and repeatedly criticized the group and its emir, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. After the infighting between the Islamic State and the Al Nusrah Front became public in April 2013, Ayman al Zawahiri named Bahaiah as his chief representative in the region and tasked him with mediating the dispute. Bahaiah’s reconciliation efforts failed and he subsequently released an audio recording denouncing Baghdadi’s organization. He also urged al Qaeda’s general command to disown the Islamic State, which they did in early February 2014.
Later that same month, Bahaiah was killed in a suicide attack. Several weeks later, Zawahiri issued a eulogy for his fallen comrade in an audio recording. A video produced by al Qaeda to accompany Zawahiri’s eulogy highlighted Bahaiah’s longtime al Qaeda role, showing footage of him attending the Al Farouq training camp in Afghanistan in 2000. The images included a scene of Bahaiah walking between Osama bin Laden and Zawahiri.
Other senior al Qaeda leaders, such as Sanafi al Nasr and Abu Firas al Suri, openly mourned Bahaiah’s death as well.
Only after Bahaiah was killed did Abboud make their relationship public. Abboud posted a series of pictures of the pair of jihadists working side-by-side. The photos were clearly intended to highlight Abboud’s close working relationship with Bahaiah.
Abboud also changed the avatar on his official Twitter page to a photo of Bahaiah.
And now Abboud has met the same fate as Bahaiah.