Tahrir al-Sham, the largest terrorist faction in north-western Syria, announced the freezing of its prominent leader, Abu Maria al-Qahtani, due to a major security breach.
This raised a number of questions about the fate of al-Qahtani and his relationship with Tahrir al-Sham, Abu Mohamed al-Golani.
It also raised questions about the possible impact on the future of the faction and the Syrian scene, in general.
Who is al-Qahtani
Abu Maria al-Qahtani is a Saudi citizen, born in 1976. He travelled to Afghanistan in 1999 to join al-Qaeda.
Al-Qahtani participated in fighting against coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was a confidant of the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden.
In 2012, al-Qahtani moved to Syria to join al-Nusra Front, affiliated with al-Qaeda, which later changed its name to Tahrir al-Sham.
Al-Qahtani was one of the founders of Tahrir al-Sham and a decision-maker in it.
He managed the file of its fight against ISIS and participated in the expansion of Tahrir al-Sham towards the countryside of Aleppo.
He was also very popular among the elements and the people of Idlib.
Al-Qahtani is considered a cleric and jurist. He used to issue fatwas and speeches, highlighting the role of Tahrir al-Sham in protecting society.
On August 17, 2023, Tahrir al-Sham issued a short statement, in which it announced the freezing of the tasks and powers of al-Qahtani.
It said following a major security breach made by Sheikh al-Qahtani, who made a mistake in managing his communications with external parties without permission or clarification of the purpose of these communications, Tahrir al-Sham decided to freeze his duties and powers until further notice.
The statement did not provide details about the security breach or the identity of the external parties with which al-Qahtani communicated.
However, some sources familiar with Tahrir al-Sham said al-Qahtani was secretly negotiating with Turkish and American parties to reach an agreement that guarantees the protection of Idlib from Syrian regime and Russian attacks.
These negotiations angered al-Golani and some leaders of Tahrir al-Sham, who saw in it a betrayal of the revolution and its principles.