Who are the hard-line French jihadists in the “mini-caliphate” in Idlib, Syria?

Who are the hard-line French jihadists in the “mini-caliphate” in Idlib, Syria?

More than four years after the fall of ISIS in its last refuge in Syria in Baghouz, in March 2019, which marked the end of the so-called “caliphate,” the bulk of the French jihadist contingent has been removed. From the battlefield: Of the 1,490 Frenchmen who have joined the Iraqi-Syrian region since 2012, 500 are presumed dead, 300 are missing, 390 adults have returned to France, and 130 – including 68 men – remain detained in Kurdish camps. From northeastern Syria or in Iraqi prisons.

But in northwest Syria, supported by the Turkish border, there is a stronghold for hard-line French jihadists who are still resisting the temptation to leave. According to information received from worldThere are about 170 French people over the age of 13 – including 115 adults – living holed up in this 3,000 square kilometer enclave. It is located in the Idlib region, one of the last areas to escape Damascus’s control. Since March 2020, a fragile ceasefire has been reached between Turkey, which deployed its forces in the region, and Russia, which supports the regime militarily.

This shelter, inhabited by about 4 million people, half of whom are refugees, is run by an Islamist rebel group, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. Pragmatic and eager to regain its virginity in the eyes of the West, this former Al Qaeda affiliate broke away from its parent company and abandoned global jihad — a first in the movement’s history — to focus its efforts on running its fiefdom. Many rebels withdrew there during the conflict, including dozens of Frenchmen who today form a small community of about 220 people, including children.

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Fearing that they would spread as Russian-Syrian forces advanced, intelligence services closely monitored them. the world I was able to view a rare document, a joint memorandum from the Directorate General for External Security (DGSE) and the Directorate General for Internal Security (DGSI) classified as “Defense Secret”, which provides a very detailed inventory of their activities. This note that the world The book, which has been enriched and updated through several interviews, paints a picture of a transformed jihad, centered around the defense and administration of this region in a manner similar to a “mini-caliphate.”

The risk of “dispersion” of “dangerous” jihadists.

Given HTC’s complete control over the region, it is difficult to read the logic of the loyalties of other competing groups. However, the French of Idlib can be classified into three large “families”. About a third integrated into the local community and joined the agenda of the Syrian company HTC, which officially renounced terrorism. Another cluster, the largest with about fifty adults, joined in Firqat al-Ghuraba (“Foreign Brigade”), An independent Salafist group founded by a resident of Nice of Senegalese origin, Omar Diaby, and its agenda is neither Syrian nor international.

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