Abstract. One of the actors in the armed conflict in Syria is the extremist group “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham” (HTS), which controls the territory of Idlib province in coordination with a number of other armed groups. Originally emerging as closely associated with the al-Qaeda terrorist network as “al-Nusra Front”, this organization has undergone a number of transformations in recent years as a result of both external and internal factors. Consistently loyal to jihadist principles, “al-Nusra Front” (and its incarnations, such as “Jabhat Fatah al-Sham” and “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham”) has demonstrated a certain flexibility throughout its history, which manifested in its attempts to adapt to changes and the wide use of soft power tools. The article analyzes the reasons for the rebranding of the group, which is trying to get rid of the odious image not only in the eyes of the Syrians, but also in the international arena. In particular, the author concludes that HTS is guided by the example of the Afghani Taliban movement in its attempts to obtain the status of a legitimate and negotiable participant in the conflict. There are signs that the strategy chosen by HTS is partly working with its message received in the Western expert community. It calls for a revision of the United States’ and its allies’ policies in relation to the HTS group, which has allegedly “severed ties with transnational jihadist networks and now seeks to enter the sphere of political participation in the future of Syria”. The article maintains that there are doubts about both the possibility of a conscious evolution of HTS into a more moderate movement, and the sincerity of their rejection of the “global jihad” agenda as declared by the group’s leaders. There is reason to believe that the group is not going to completely abandon terrorist activities outside the zone of the Syrian conflict.
Keywords: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, HTS, al-Nusra Front, Jabhat al-Nusra, Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, Syria, al- Qaeda, ISIS, IS, Islamic State, Khurras al-Din, Ahrar al-Sham, Idlib, Islamism, Jihadism, Extremism, Taliban
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