The ISIS caliphate doesn’t exist anymore. Four years after its rebels captured large area of Iraq and Syria and announced its goal to spread jihad around the world, the terror group doesn’t have any more territory under their control.
However, as one extremist Islamic state falls, another one remains in existence. Over the last few years, a group that was hitherto part of Al-Qaeda has joined its power in northern Syria and now rules over some 3 million people.
Earlier this year, after forcing out rival rebel groups in Idlib, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) has moved to enforce its control over all institutions in the province. A university with over 6,000 students has become the latest battleground in its pursuit for dominance.
Ahmad, a student at Free Aleppo University, which was closed down last week by the HTS-managed administration in Idlib, stated that the HTS came when they were in the middle of examination and informed that they would be taking over. He further stated that they have protested against the decision many times. However, the group detained many professors from his university to put the students under pressure to leave.
The acquisition of the university is just the latest power seize in the group’s latest slow and steady march to supremacy.
Like ISIS, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) wants to make an Islamic state of its own. While ISIS wanted to expand quickly and woo the maximum possible attention, HTS has played a long game. It has been down-to-earth and cooperated with other groups whenever required. It has also been diplomatic and defeated its rivals. It has put aside global initiative to focus on prospering locally. In doing so, it has followed a far more durable force than ISIS.
According to experts, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham shares the same end state ambition as ISIS, which is to develop a state based on a strong analysis of Salafist Sunni Islam. Its strategy has been to permit other rebel groups to exist, but like a powerful mafia organization, to preserve the ability to use immense and concentrated force on any opponents as they appear. The closure of the Free Aleppo University is a demonstration of the power of HTS.