Islamism and Extremism

  • The Evolving Economic Model of ISIS Post-Caliphate

    The US-led anti-ISIS campaign has largely succeeded in conquering the group militarily, which has made it difficult for the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) to operate as a conventional state. As a result of losing most of its urban centers in both Syria and Iraq, the ISIS governance model of controlling and administering territories seems to also collapse. Experts, consequently, seem to be focusing on how ISIS is changing its military tactics to guerrilla warfare or hit-and-run tactics as it goes underground again. But not much attention is being paid to how ISIS’s economic practices are evolving to adapt to the group’s significant financial losses.

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  • Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham is Evolving into a ‘Neo-Qaeda’

    In the past year, the Nusra Front, the former al-Qaeda affiliate and now known as Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), has gone through a fast, complex evolution. This has paved the way for the emergence of a ‘neo-Qaeda,’ one that is specific to Syria, pragmatic and aggressive, and struggling between its political ambitions and jihadist identity.

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  • The Core Reason for the JFS Fight Against Syrian Rebels is Competition Over Resources

    Syria experts cited different motives and reasons behind the recent infighting between rebel groups in northern Syria. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (JFS), the rebranded former al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front, launched multiple attacks against anti-Assad insurgent fractions over the past few weeks. 

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  • Unintended Consequences of Safe Zones in Fighting the Islamic State

    “The sound of gunfire outside makes me forget the hunger pangs,” says Um Mohamed, trembling with fright. This was after the battle intensified between Syrian regime forces and fighters from the Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh) in the city of Deir Ezzor. Military experts predicted that ISIS would fall back towards Deir Ezzor city when faced with significant pressure during battles in Raqqa and al-Bab.

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  • What is the Significance of the Fight in Southern Syria?

    On February 12, rebel groups launched an offensive named Almawt Wala al-Muzaleh [Death Rather than Humiliation] targeting regime-controlled areas in Daraa. The ongoing operation is reportedly an attempt to prevent pro-Syrian regime troops from gaining control of a strategic border crossing with Jordan. The attack -- which followed a long period of decline in fighting since mid 2015 -- came as a surprise not only to the Syrian regime but also to the rebel allies, namely Jordan. The latter, who reportedly opposed the offensive, was not able to stop it.

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  • Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement: How a Once Moderate Group Joined Fateh al-Sham

    Since the Syrian regime’s forces seized control of the city of Aleppo, a significant conflict has emerged between opposition groups in the areas of northern Syria. Extremist groups are clashing with moderate groups over military and ideological issues, and many of these forces have split into two main camps. One, called Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, is comprised mostly of Islamist groups, and is under Fateh al-Sham's leadership. The other, more nationalist project, is connected to Ahrar al-Sham.

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  • Defeating Terror in Syria: A New Way Forward

    Official statement presented to the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade for the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, on the hearing for "Defeating Terrorism in Syria: a New Way Forward."

    Mr. Chairman, Mr. Ranking Member, Members of the subcommittee: I am honored by your invitation to speak about defeating terror in Syria and pleased to submit this statement for your consideration.  

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  • Al-Qaeda (Finally) Begins its Conflict with the Opposition

    Most opposition leaders in northern Syria understand that there is no escape from a conflict with al-Qaeda. The defining features of this new conflict have started to appear, and include a recent attack conducted by members of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS, formerly the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front). The Jaysh al-Mujahidin—a moderate opposition group, despite its jihadist name—lost control of most of its military bases in northern Syria, as did the Suqour al-Sham Brigade, a group totaling around 3,000 members who subscribe to a jihadist ideology closely paralleled to that of al-Qaeda. 

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  • Under Threat of Extinction, Opposition Groups Unite in Northwest Syria

    When a new round of peace talks kicked off between armed opposition groups and the Syrian regime on January 23rd, a different situation played out on the ground. The talks, which took place in Astana, Kazakhstan under the auspices of Turkey and Russia, were fraught with tension between the regime and opposition delegations. However, inside Syria the tension was playing out within the opposition groups themselves.

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  • How the Regime Capturing East Aleppo is Affecting Syria’s Salafi-Jihadist Scene

    The regime retaking east Aleppo and decreased support from Turkey for Syria’s rebels is having a deep impact on Syria’s Salafi-jihadi scene. In the last couple of weeks, several statements, leaks, and information from other Islamist groups point to internal struggles in Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. In both cases, the power struggles within the two groups may herald a wave of break-ups and could hinder the two groups’ ability to work together. More broadly, these internal struggles could be followed by a reconfiguration of the Syrian Salafi-jihadi scene.

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