Harakat Hazm: America’s new favorite jihadist group

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A rebel fighter rests in a safe house in the Bustan al-Basha district of Aleppo on May 19, 2014. (Photo: AFP-AMC/Zein al-Rifai)

By: Suhaib Anjarini

Published Thursday, May 22, 2014

Harakat Hazm [the Steadfast Movement] boldly revealed itself on the Syrian arena after they published video clips showing they now had US-made TOW anti-tank missiles in their possession. The media has portrayed the group as a "secular moderate faction deserving support." However, Al-Akhbar reveals that Harakat Hazm has a much longer and different history than what has been reported.

Harakat Hazm’s name has been mentioned more than any other armed group ever since the appearance of US-made TOW missiles in the hands of their fighters. For now, the campaign to whitewash the group’s image in Western media will continue, especially after a report was published by the Washington Institute [for Near East Policy (WINEP)] entitled "Rebels Worth Supporting: Syria's Harakat Hazm."

The report concluded that the movement "appears to be a model for the type of group the United States and its allies can support with meaningful, lethal military assistance." This was based on the group’s "many qualities," especially since "it is a moderate/secularist faction, not an extremist/jihadist group."

However, an investigation into the truth behind the movement, its different factions, and reasons of its formation has led to conclusions different from its image, including its name and the date of its formation.

Harakat Zaman Mohammad

The real story of Harakat Hazm goes back to before the announcement of the formation of the Islamic Front. At the time, several projects were competing for external support. One such project was the formation of Harakat Zaman Mohammad, under a truncated slogan from a Quranic verse, "And fight against the disbelievers collectively. [9:36]" The project entailed the recreation of al-Farouq Brigades, in a new form, with a new leadership, and with massive support, in preparation for uniting all Islamist groups in Syria at a later stage.

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) put all its weight behind the group, but the biggest obstacle at the time was the lack of a prominent personality to be their leader. A jihadi source told Al-Akhbar that Abdel-Qader al-Saleh was initially skeptical about the group, but after certain strategic calculations he came to accept them. (Al-Saleh was the military commander of al-Tawhid Brigade; he was later killed with the suspected involvement of Saudi Arabia.).

The Islamic Front option succeeded in taking the lead with the efforts of Hassan Abboud (Abu Abdullah al-Hamwi), commander of Ahrar al-Sham Movement, and Zahran Alloush, leader of Jaish al-Islam. The Zaman Mohammad Movement was shelved but was revived a month and a half later, in conjunction with the approaching zero hour for the battle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The idea was that the nascent movement would take the lead in northern Syria. A statement announcing their formation was agreed upon and would be signed by the joint command without mentioning any names.

The Hazm Movement at the time contained a larger number of groups, including Amjad al-Islam Brigade and the Noureddin Zanki Battalions. A jihadi source explained to Al-Akhbar that "the sponsors decided to postpone the announcement [of the group’s formation] at the last moment, without explaining why. Instead, they quickly announced the formation of Jaish al-Mujahideen, which incorporated several key groups from the Zaman Mohammad Movement, in addition to some smaller groups. This vacuum was to be compensated at a later stage, while Zaman Mohammad/Hazm Movement fighters would participate in the battles against ISIS, without announcing it. This was exactly what happened and the movement's name was mentioned as one of the groups participating in "the liberation of regiment 46 from ISIS." This came in a statement by Lieutenant Abdullah Awda, commander of the Northern Farouq Brigades, during a phone call from the Turkish borders to Al-Arabiya news channel. The battle for regiment 46 took place on November 17, ten days before announcing the formation of Hazm in the presence of Salim Idris.

Announcing Harakat Hazm’s formation

Finally, the decision came to announce the movement, but this time in secular garb. Its founding statement was redrafted to remove any jihadist content. Their original name of Harakat Zaman Mohammad was dropped in favor of its current name, although they use the acronym [HZM]. Its original slogan, "And fight against the disbelievers collectively," was replaced, but the verse was kept in their founding statement's introduction. The sword logo was kept. All its functions were given to the Farouq Brigades graduates and Salim Idris was brought in to represent the Supreme Military Command of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and give his blessings. The obvious conclusion is that the recent changes regarding Hazm's image were in preparation for its promotion as a model for "rebels worth supporting."

Hazm was composed of the following groups: Northern Farouq Brigades, Troop Nine Special Forces, First Armored Brigade, Faith in God Brigade, Abi al-Hareth Battalion (of the Hama Farouq Brigade), Ahrar al-Silmiya Battalion (Hama Farouq Brigade), Martyr Abdul-Rahman al-Shemali Battalion, Martyr Bakr Bakkar Battalion, Ahbab al-Rasoul Battalion, Martyr Hamza Zakaria Battalion, al-Rashid Battalion, Abu Asad al-Nimr Battalion, Ahbab Allah Battalion, al-Fateh Battalion, Infantry Brigade 60, Abbad al-Rahman Battalion, Abdul Ghaffar Hamish Battalion, Zaafarana Farouq Brigade, Martyr Abdullah Bakkar Battalion, al-Rastan Martyrs Battalion, Martyr Ammar Tlas Farzat Battalion, and Sawt al-Haq Brigades.

The commanders and al-Farouq Brigades

The Hazm movement's leadership is shared by five people; four of them came from the Farouq Brigades. They enjoy the strong backing from the Muslim Brotherhood,Turkey and Qatar. The commanders are:

-First Lieutenant Abdullah Awda (Abu Zeid): He is the general military commander of Harakat Hazm and held the leadership of the most armed groups, most recently as commander the Northern Farouq Brigade.

-Hamza al-Shemali (Abu Hashem): He is the head of Hazm's political council. Before the crisis, he worked as a property dealer in Kfar Aaya near Baba Amr in Homs. He was one of the founders of al-Farouq Brigades and remained as head of the public relations office until his resignation at the end of December 2013. He is known to have close relations with the MB and opposition sources maintain he has strong links to Qatari and Turkish intelligence agencies. Some opposition members accuse him of corruption and theft, in addition to being partly responsible for the fall of Baba Amr to the Syrian army.

-Bilal Attar (Abu Abdo Sham): Hazm's external relations officer had been "representative of the Hama Farouq Brigade in the executive office" and "the foreign relations officer in al-Farouq Brigades," until he was relieved of his position on January 11, 2014.

-First Lieutenant Murshid al-Khaled (Abul-Motasim): The military commander of Hazm's northern sector was one of the first officers to defect from the Syrian army. He moved around several groups and established the Saad Bin Abi Waqqas Brigade in the west of Aleppo's countryside with First Lieutenant Ahmed al-Fajj. The group was considered to be "one of the first brigades of the Free Islamic Army." Later, he established and commanded al-Atareb Martyrs Brigade then the First Armored Brigade. He later led the Troop Nine Special Forces and joined the Syrian Revolutionaries Front under Jamal Maarouf, along with his forces. He later left with his group to join Harakat Hazm. He still keeps the position of the General Commander of al-Farouq Brigades in Aleppo." On January 26 of this year, al-Khaled's name appeared in a statement by the Mujahideen Shura Council, as "Troop Nine commander and representative of Jaish al-Mujahideen and the rest of Aleppo's factions." The statement was entitled, "Initiative by the chief of security of the revolution in al-Sham", and, in addition to al-Khaled, it mentioned other names such as Zahran Alloush, sheikh Abu Abdullah al-Shami (emir of Fajr al-Sham al-Islamiya movement), and representatives of al-Nusra Front and Jund al-Sham.

-Mohammed al-Duhaik (Abu Hatem): Military commander of the southern sector. He established and led al-Iman brigade in Rif Homs. He has close ties to the MB and the FSA Command Council spokesperson Louay al-Mokdad. At the beginning of the year, an uproar was caused among armed groups in Homs, following news of Mokdad delivering 1.3 million US dollars in cash to Duhaik to "support the fighters in Homs and aim to lift the siege imposed upon them." Duhaik was accused of stealing the money.

Hazm’s international friends

It is certain that the TOW missiles did not reach Harakat Hazm directly from the US, but through "friendly countries," according to statements made by Abdullah Awda (the general military commander) to Liz Sly from the Washington Post, who was visiting one of Hazm's main bases in the Idlib countryside. Awda refused to give more details about the source of the missiles, but "the donors made clear to him that the delivery had U.S. approval."

It is likely that the Turkish government was the donor, especially in light of statements made by an opposition source to Al-Akhbar. "Harakat Hazm is the latest bet by the Turks, Qataris, and the Muslim Brotherhood. It is competing with the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (led by Jamal Maarouf) to win American support," he explained. It is known that the Syrian Revolutionaries Front had been the Saudi candidate for explicit Western support.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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