, 15 tweets, 19 min read Read on Twitter
Amid the ongoing conflict in NW #Syria, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (#HTS) continues to evolve in intriguing ways - into a more politically mature & intelligent jihadist movement.

It's current leadership clearly seeks to position itself somewhere between #MuslimBrotherhood & #AlQaeda.
There's now little question that #HTS no longer represents #AlQaeda.

It's clearly still an extremist movement, but signs continue to add up indicating that it's developing into something qualitatively different than the Jabhat al-Nusra of 2014-15 - a "Shami #Taliban," perhaps.
Most recently in the public space, #HTS issued a statement acknowledging its willingness to abide by an externally-negotiated (by #Turkey, #Iran & #Russia) ceasefire.

That was a first.

Its never happened before in #Syria & it's not a move any #AlQaeda affiliate would ever take.
On Aug 3, #HTS leader #Jolani held a "press conference" addressing the situation in #Idlib & #Syria nationwide.

His language was a stark departure from a jihad-heavy, theologically-dominated lecture.

Close your eyes & he sounded like an #FSA leader, albeit far more intelligent.
#pt: In a 22-min dialogue, #Jolani combined military, political, societal & economic analysis into his comments on #Syria.

He talked about "Alawites," not "Nusayris."

He talked about "revolution," not "jihad."

He described sacrifice as a loss, not a religious duty to glorify.
Some of #Jolani's rhetorical change is almost certainly "controlled pragmatism" employed for strategic reasons, but these public changes are beginning to have an effect.

I'm told:

- #HTS recruitment is up.
- Local donations are up.
- Popular credibility is starting to recover.
#Jolani's rhetorical shifts are also not limited to the public.

In closed meetings, he continues to push the concept of an entity called "The Liberated Territories of Northern Syria."

He frequently cites lessons from #CheGuevara & goes deep on modern Arab political history.
What's equally interesting is developments behind the scenes.

- Several #Europe-an governments are debating whether to engage in exploratory dialogue with #HTS's political office.

- Several independent Western initiatives are already talking with #HTS, deciphering its vision.
This interest in the West, centered in #Europe, isn't coming from nowhere.

CT & #Syria analysts in government have been watching #HTS's evolution closely. So has the @UN.

And #HTS has repeatedly sent messages through intermediaries indicating their interest in dialogues.
@UN For now, I'm not sure (a) we or (b) (#HTS) is necessarily ready for any such initiative.

But #Afghanistan's #Taliban stands as a precedent, particularly if #Idlib remains unresolved/irreconcilable or "Gazified."

However, #HTS's designated status presents a significant obstacle.
@UN #pts: Whatever does/doesn't come from this in the NW #Syria context, jihadists worldwide are watching #HTS closely.

Some are viscerally critical & others are intrigued by #Jolani's so-called "popular" model.

Amid #AlQaeda's continued decentralization, #HTS lessons are crucial.
@UN #Zawahiri is in bad health & #HamzaBinLaden is dead.

Despite #Zawahiri ordering his affiliates to re-pivot back to #BinLaden's "elite vanguard" model, most continue to pursue some variation of #Nusra's localized #Syria strategy, which furthers their respective autonomy from AQC.
@UN In #Algeria, #AQIM is encouraging its members & supporters to pursue *only* peaceful political protest, while fighting jihad elsewhere.

In #Yemen, #Mali & elsewhere, #AlQaeda affiliates have doubled-down on localism, embedding deeply in local dynamics to broaden their appeal.
@UN This localism appears to be the future of an #AlQaeda movement increasingly disconnected strategically & tactically from its aging, besieged & disconnected leadership.

This isn't necessarily a good thing -- more nimble, embedded & intelligent jihadists pose worrying challenges.
@UN Some context to bear in mind:

This thread above is purely analytical, based on my intensive research focus on #Nusra/#JFS/#HTS since '11-12.

I've been told I'm on their hit-list.

I've had multiple, serious threats from them, because of my work & contacts within their ranks.
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