Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) emir Abu Mohammed al-Joulani has for several years been actively rebranding himself and his group as an anti-Bashar al-Assad Syrian nationalist group and distancing the group from its al-Qaeda origins (Frontline, February 1, 2021). However, regardless of al-Joulani’s public disassociation from al-Qaeda, HTS efforts ultimately still support al-Qaeda Central’s (AQC) regional interests in the Middle East and grander global strategic objectives. The US’s counter-terrorism successes in eliminating Islamic State’s (IS) second caliph, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, and other IS and al-Qaeda leaders in northwestern Syria over the past few years have likely also been supported by a certain degree of HTS collaboration—likely directly, in some cases (Al Jazeera, February 3, 2022). This collaboration has been possible due to al-Joulani’s public disassociation from al-Qaeda, even if al-Qaeda has not necessarily fully distanced itself from HTS.
Read more in Jamestown Foundation.