In a surprising move, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an armed faction in northern Syria, arrested one of its prominent leaders, Abu Maria al-Qahtani, on charges of communicating with foreign parties.
According to HTS, Qahtani was working to leak sensitive information about the faction, including its plans and movements, to parties that have not yet been disclosed.
This incident caused a sensation in the Syrian scene, as Qahtani is considered among the most prominent founders of HTS and one of the closest associates of its leader, Abu Mohammad al-Julani.
HTS has not yet issued an official statement confirming or denying Qahtani’s arrest, but according to Syrian websites, some of HTS’s close associates said that Qahtani had his powers suspended and was subject to investigation because of differences in views and agendas within the group.
Those sources added that Julani personally intervened to release Qahtani, but this has not yet been proven.
For his part, Qahtani had posted on his Telegram account on August 12 that he was ill, without mentioning any details about his condition or whereabouts.
This crisis comes in light of the escalation of tensions between HTS and some armed factions in Idlib that accuse HTS of seeking to impose its authority on the region and allowing Turkish interference in its affairs.
Trying to calm the situation
For his part, Syrian political activist Rayan Maarouf said that Qahtani’s arrest may be part of Julani’s attempt to calm the situation and show his willingness to cooperate with international parties.
In a special statement to the Reference, Maarouf stressed that this step may have dire consequences for the unity and stability of HTS, which is already suffering from internal divisions and ideological differences. He added that Qahtani was among the most prominent supporters of adhering to the ideology of the al-Qaeda and refusing to abandon it, while Julani was seeking to improve his image before the international community and to conclude alliances with some local factions.
“Qahtani’s arrest may arouse the anger and resentment of a large part of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham’s base, especially the foreign fighters who are considered among the most hardliners in HTS. This event may lead to a conflict between the conflicting groups within Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which may threaten its disintegration or the defection of some of its factions,” he said.
“Therefore, the fate of Abu Maria al-Qahtani remains unknown until now, and it is not known whether he will be released, tried, or killed,” he continued.
Who is Qahtani?
According to what was published about him on some Syrian and Iraqi news websites, his real name is Maysar Ali Musa Abdallah al-Juburi, and he is from the Jubur tribe spread throughout northern and western Iraq. He was born on June 1, 1976, in the city of Mosul and graduated from the University of Mosul.
Qahtani was a member of the Saddam Fedayeen Division, a special force affiliated with the Iraqi Baath Party, during the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, he joined the Iraqi police, then defected from it and joined al-Qaeda in Iraq.
He held the position of chief of the religious police in al-Qaeda in Iraq, and he was responsible for implementing the organization’s laws and issuing death sentences, floggings, and dismemberment.
Qahtani moved to Syria in 2011, then joined Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which was affiliated with al-Qaeda, and he was a staunch opponent of HTS’s secession from al-Qaeda.
He was known for his support for the Turkish intervention in Syria and his close relationship with some tribal and local leaders. He was also accused of assassinating some of his rivals in HTS.