Who's the emir of Qalamoun?

Several people have stepped forward and claimed that they are the emir of Qalamoun, and with all these different claims, confusion is beginning to spread.

al-monitor Lebanese army soldiers ride on a military truck at the entrance of the Sunni Muslim border town of Arsal, in the eastern Bekaa Valley, as smoke rises in the background during clashes between Lebanese army soldiers and Islamist militants, Aug. 4, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Hassan Abdallah.

Topics covered

syrian conflict, syria, leadership, jabhat al-nusra, islamic state, emir

Oct 24, 2014

Jihadist movements master the art of secrecy and mystery, and enjoy proficiency in managing this game according to the surrounding circumstances. Yet, not all ambiguity surrounding some of the events is a jihadist's art, since other parties may exploit this ambiguity to inject false information to realize their own interests. Ambiguity may also be transformed into a kind of intentional deception, which ultimately only prejudices innocent people.

Three months have passed since the events in Arsal and the kidnapping of Lebanese soldiers and the ensuing suffering inflicted on them and their families. Thus, it may seem odd to wonder who has the power to determine the fate of the negotiations for their release and whether the conflicting reports about who is in charge of this file by the Islamic State (IS) falls within the scope of mystery or rises to the level of deception.

During the past few months, several names were raised as supposedly assuming high positions within IS and entrusted to negotiate the release of the abducted soldiers. These names included Abu Talal al-Hamad, the deputy commander of Fajr al-Islam Brigade and Imad Jomaa (Abu Ahmad), who was detained by the Lebanese army and said to be the emir of IS in Qalamoun.

Abu Hassan al-Suri was also on the list of those names, entrusted by the leadership of IS to handle the negotiation, but his name was quickly dismissed when the name of Shami was raised. Some media outlets described Shami as the emir of IS in Qalamoun, while others said he was the wali (ruler) of IS in Damascus.

The Turkish Anatolia news agency reported Oct. 6 that it held an online interview with Abu Abdul-Salam al-Shami, describing him as the emir of IS in Qalamoun. During the interview, Shami accused the Lebanese government of prevarication, pointing out that IS’ demands were not impossible.

Interestingly, this interview was held at an unexpected time, as IS leaders, from the first and second ranks in particular, were preoccupied with taking more security measures following the decision to expand the scope of the airstrike to cover Syrian territory. This interview also coincided with the issuing of a circular by the IS leadership preventing its emirs from making any statements to the media, within the scope of the secrecy policy followed by IS toward the media with the start of the airstrikes against it in Iraq about two months ago.

Indeed, this meeting was unprecedented since the start of the Syrian crisis, since no IS emir or leader has ever given a statement to a media outlet. Even when Al Jazeera broadcast in September 2014 an exclusive meeting with Abu Mujahid, introducing him as the military commander of IS in the south of Damascus, a statement was issued by IS’ Information Office of the Wilayah of Damascus denying any connection between Abu Mujahid and IS and stressing that any contact with IS should be made only through its known official channels.

During the past few days, some jihadist pages on social networking sites posted a copy of a charter between a number of factions, in which they agreed on how to deal with noncommitting villages and some Christian villages in Lebanon.

The charter only bore the Jabhat al-Nusra seal and the signature of Abu Abdul Salam, the “IS emir in Qalamoon,” whereas the place dedicated for the signature of the leaders of factions mentioned by name remained empty. These include the Abu Ali al-Shishani group, the Rights Brigade, Saraya al-Hussein Bin Ali, A’dawa Brigade, the Strangers’ Brigade and Qara Rally.

Is Abu Abdul Salam al-Shami indeed the IS emir in Qalamoun? This would be true if IS in Qalamoun were split into two sections: one section led by Abu Abdel-Salam, and another led by “Dulaimi” or “Sheikh al-Dulaimi” of Iraqi nationality. But there were no news or signs of such a split. The only update was the pledge of allegiance made by the Fajr Front, led by Jomaa, to IS in June, two weeks before the outbreak of events in Arsal in early August, whose declared cause was the Lebanese army’s arrest of Jomaa.

Since then, the conflicting reports started to emerge about the IS emir in Qalamoun. The arrested Jomaa was said to be the emir in Qalamoun and that his deputy, Abu Talal, received the emirate after his arrest. Upon the death of Abu Hassan al-Filastini (Ahmed Taha) in the first Arsal battle, he was said to be the emir. Similarly, upon the death of Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi, he was described as the former emir of Qalamoun. All of these names have disappeared, while the name of Abu Abdul Salam emerged.

Dulaimi, who is far from the spotlight, did not lift a finger amid this complete chaos and conflicting news. He refused to comment on any of the rumors. On the ground, however, he imposes himself as the IS emir in Qalamoun, knowing that he has the last say, and this is no secret. Strangely enough, this fact is declared and known, especially among the Qalamoun activists, who circulate some news about Dulaimi and write about him from time to time. In this context, the question arises as to whether it is possible for the “IS in Qalamoun” to have two emirs.

Remarkably, the IS leadership has issued a decision to separate the Fajr Front from its ranks because of its “indiscipline” and frequent infringements. However, a source close to the militant group said that this decision only applied to the offending elements, including leaders, but does not include the whole brigade. The source pointed out that this decision was particularly issued due to the management of the negotiation concerning the Lebanese army soldiers’ dossier.

There are no major details about Dulaimi, but he is believed to be Omar al-Dulaimi, the brother of Saja al-Dulaimi, who was released in the Maaloula nuns swap deal, and there were rumors that she was the wife of a senior leader in al-Qaeda. Then Abu Maan al-Suri, the al-Nusra media representative in Qalamoun, said that Saja was the wife of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, which was denied by supporters of the latter who said that she was his ex-wife.

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