Al-Qaeda-linked leader again descends on Idlib streets to polish his image
IslamNews – Abu Mohammed al-Golani, leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States, the United Nations and others, has recently made public appearances in Syria’s northwestern province of Idlib. On Jan. 23, he was seen touring the camps of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Idlib and was photographed with camp officials, who complained to him about the damages done to their dwellings as a result of the rainstorms.
The frequent appearances of Golani in Idlib raises several questions as to HTS’ plans, and the message its leader is trying to convey.
On Dec. 19, 2020, Golani had visited a camp in the Idlib countryside, where he listened to the complaints of the IDPs. The visit came days following the US decision to designate HTS as “entities of particular concern” over its abuses of human rights, and less than a month after the US State Department announced Nov. 24 offering a financial reward of up to $10 million for information related to HTS’ leader.
Golani made several public appearances in 2020. In August, he was seen visiting an IDP camp in the town of Halfaya. In the same month, he toured the Jabal al-Zawiya area, south of Idlib, and on May 2, 2020, he visited a hospital in Idlib.
On May 15, 2017, Washington was still adamant to place the group on its terrorist list. At the time, the US State Department said that HTS was designated as a terrorist group, regardless of its names and the groups merging with it.
It appears that Golani is trying to be seen in a different light, presenting himself as a leader who caters to the needs of the people and who visits camps to offer help to the displaced. In his recent visits, Golani took advantage of the displaced persons’ needs for help after their camps were flooded by the heavy rains.