US offers rewards for information on 3 al Qaeda leaders in Syria

The U.S. State Department has announced rewards of up to $5 million each for information concerning three al Qaeda leaders in Syria. All three have been involved in the heated disagreements regarding jihadi strategy and leadership in the Levant.

The men lead Hurras al-Din (HAD, or the “Guardians of Religion” organization), which was formed in early 2018.

“All three leaders have been active in al-Qaeda (AQ) for years and remain loyal to AQ leader Ayman al-Zawahiri,” the State Department reports.

The first jihadist named in the announcement of the reward is Abu ‘Abd al-Karim al-Masri, an Egyptian national who is “also known as Karim.” The State Department describes Karim as a “member” of HAD’s shura (or consultative) council, adding that he “served as a mediator between the group and the Nusrah Front.” (Nusrah Front has been known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, or HTS, since early 2017.)

Karim, has had a key role in overseeing a reconciliation between HTS’s leadership and other HAD figures. According to a jihadi source online, Karim isn’t merely a senior member of HAD, but has also sat on al Qaeda’s elite shura council. This means he is part of the organization’s international management and advisory team.

It appears Karim is the same man who goes by the nom de guerre Abu ‘Abd al-Karim al-Gharbi. Gharbi has threatened the U.S. and Russia in messages posted on Telegram and al Qaeda-linked websites. He is a prolific commentator on the jihadists’ affairs.

Faruq al-Suri (a.k.a. Samir Hijazi and Abu Hammam al-Shami).
The second jihadist named in today’s reward announcement is Faruq al-Suri, a Syrian national who is “also known as Samir Hijazi and Abu Hammam al-Shami.” State notes al-Suri “fought in Afghanistan in the 1990s and trained AQ fighters in Iraq, among other activities.”

Separately, the State Department added both HAD and Faruq al-Suri to the U.S. government’s designation lists earlier this week. The U.S. described al-Suri as the “leader” of HAD. While al-Suri was the group’s first emir, the United Nations Security Council has identified another al Qaeda veteran, Abu al-Qassam, as HAD’s current emir.

Faruq al-Suri (a.k.a. Abu Hammam al-Shami) was initially a top military commander for Al Nusrah Front, al-Qaeda’s official branch in Syria until July 2016. He rejected Al Nusrah’s rebranding as Jabhat Fath al-Sham (JFS) and evolution into Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.

Sami al-Uraydi, “also known as Abu Mahmud al-Shami,” is the third al Qaeda leader included in the reward offer. Al-Uraydi is “a Jordanian national and senior sharia official for Hurras al-Din.”

The State Department says al-Uraydi “previously was involved in terrorist plots against the United States and Israel.”

Al Qaeda’s global emir, Ayman al-Zawahiri, clearly thinks highly of al-Uraydi, as he has cited the Jordanian ideologue on more than one location. Footage of al-Uraydi was even included in al Qaeda’s 9/11 anniversary message this week.

In the footage used by As Sahab, al-Uraydi claims that Muslim scholars generally agree that waging jihad is a religious imperative. Al-Uraydi’s arguments were used to buttress Zawahiri’s critique of Islamic scholars who refuse to endorse al Qaeda’s global war.