As I have noted before, there are still many muhajireen (i.e. foreigners who came to Syria to join the insurgent side) in the northwest region of Idlib and its environs. In late January 2020, I interviewed one such muhajir who is associated with the al-Qa'ida-loyalist affiliate Hurras al-Din. In this interview we discussed multiple issues such as relations between Hurras al-Din and Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (the main insurgent faction in the northwest, which broke ties with al-Qa'ida), the internal disputes that arose in Hurras al-Din and the group Jama'at Ansar al-Haq, which was led by Abu al-Yaman al-Wazzani (who split from Hurras al-Din and is currently imprisoned by Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham).
This interview, which was originally conducted in Arabic (not the interviewee's native language), has been somewhat redacted and edited for clarity with the consent and review of the interviewee prior to publication. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own. I have also provided some extended notes for further context.
Q: Can you tell me a little about your life?
A: My kunya name [nickname] is Abu [redacted] Kurdi. I am from Turkey praise be to God. It has been possibly around 4 years, possibly slightly more in jihad. I was working among the muhajireen brothers. I was in Fatah al-Sham [Jabhat Fatah al-Sham: the rebranded Jabhat al-Nusra prior to the formation of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham]. After a time, when Fatah al-Sham became Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, our battalion entered into the Hay'a [Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham]. And later we understood the matter of allegiance pledge and these issues and later there was Jaysh al-Badiya and al-Malahem if you have possibly heard anything about it.  Later there arose the formation of Jaysh al-Badiya and al-Malahem and later there arose the formation of Hurras al-Din and we entered into Hurras al-Din.
Q: What is the situation of Hurras al-Din in Idlib generally and how are relations with the Hay'a? And how is the financial situation in Hurras?
A: First I would like to clarify I am an individual in Hurras and my words are not official words. I work now in the al-Sahel [coastal] sector and I was working in areas besides it praise be to God. I like to speak the truth and in general I know the ides of the brothers of our group and Ansar al-Din, Ansar al-Islam and Ansar al-Tawhid. There are mashayakh [sheikhs] close to Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and others besides him. Praise be to God, I know them. Regarding the financial situation, it is better than a year ago, better than two years ago: I mean a little better. But the problem is what? Turkey is the source of relief for everything and it comes through the Hay'a so if any NGOs come for the purpose of providing relief, they come to the Hay'a and Ahrar [al-Sham] only. As for the other factions like Hurras, it is forbidden for them to take aid relief. As for the economy, it is difficult but God willing, God will provide deliverance to the Muslims. Regarding the Hay'a, it is well known for a long time that there has been a dispute: the most recent problems were from Mahambal because of two brothers who took iron from a village despite the fact that the Hay'a has been long entering into every village and taking iron and everything it prefers for ribat [frontline manning], but these two or three brothers took iron or anything, the Hay'a says: you are criminals.  Hurras did not have any power, but praise be to God they have gained power in areas. What does the Hay'a want? It does not want any group more powerful than it, like the old issue of fighting Ahrar [al-Sham]. Sometimes there is calm, sometimes there are problems between the groups but God knows best the matter has stopped a little because of the campaign.
There are between Hurras and Hay'a agreements and there are compromises for the sake of these issues so that the Hay'a cools off towards Hurras. The Hay'a does not want any group stronger than it. For example, there was the issue of Kafr Takharim  and the rejection of giving zakat [tax] for olive crops. The Hay'a was saying: we will bring the sword of Abu Bakr upon them: that is, meaning against the apostates. And it was saying they are followers of the Nusayri [Alawite] regime (we seek refuge in God). Hurras says that the reason is what? The reason is that the Hay'a fears that this people- the people of Kafr Takharim- will give zakat to other factions even Faylaq al-Sham, even Hurras al-Din, even Ansar al-Tawhid, even Ansar al-Islam, so later other factions become stronger than it. As for the dispute between Hurras and Hay'a, Hurras wants to be heard, be active and proceed as per the mashayakh of jihad and wants the fighters of the Hay'a to see this thing from Hurras. And also Hurras says that we have had a great right: the right of 50 tanks from the days when Jabhat al-Nusra and the al-Qa'ida organization were one. Hurras says: where are the 50 tanks? This is our right. 
Q: Brother what was the reason for the separation of some of the brothers from Hurras last summer? There was a dispute regarding participation on the Hama fronts and that led to the separation of the likes of Abu al-Yaman al-Wazzani. What was the reason?
A: Regarding Sheikh Abu al-Yaman al-Wazzani, I knew him and I was close to him. These problems are not a dispute regarding Hama. There was a dispute regarding Hama and this was the most recent issue. There was a dispute in some of the issues before that for example a dispute regarding the courts regarding mashayakh and brothers who left Hurras. They say: we want an independent court, a civilian court: that is among the people.  There were the factions of Jund al-Aqsa and even the Faylaq [al-Sham], they had a civilian court. But now with the new arrangement, Turkey etc. these matters come into the hands of the Hay'a, and the mashayakh, brothers and students of 'Ilm [Islamic knowledge] said that the Hay'a does not rule 100% correctly according to the law of God and they abandon God's ruling, and this is gross immorality and innovation and blocking of justice, of support- in that how can God support us?- as there are oppression and gross immorality. And there are criminal people and people who commit fornication and the Hay'a takes $200-300 and they release the prisoner. And therefore the mashayakh and brothers who left Hurras said the first of the path before we proceed should be commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong. The reason? So the path can be purified in devotion and we can hope from God support and aid for us. This is the first issue. And there is a second issue: the Hay'a. They said: we want distance between us and them. The group said: true, it is required. But let us proceed a little and strengthen our ranks and later we can talk because we don't have force and we are oppressed. This is Hurras' thinking. But Abu al-Yaman al-Wazzani and others besides him who left the group. In general they have the same manhaj [direction/program] but there is a dispute that has arisen because of the Hay'a. They do not declare takfir on the Hay'a [i.e. do not declare Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham to be disbelievers] but they say that there are gross immorality, innovation, and compromise among them.
Regarding America and the factions in Idlib like Hay'a, Hurras and Jund al-Aqsa: whoso is a little more extreme and goes outside the way of Turkey and speaks and operates like Sheikh Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, they [the Americans] do not leave him alone, like Sheikh Abu Julaybib, Sheikh Abu Firas al-Souri, Sheikh Abu Omar Saraqib, Sheikh Abu al-Faraj al-Masri, Sheikh Abu al-Khayr al-Masri, Sheikh Abu Abd al-Aziz al-Qatari and Sheikh Abu Amr al-Tunisi.  But we hope from God (Almighty and Exalted is He) that all that should be tribulation. There many hadiths that say for example that the people of the Book will displace the Muslims from the south of al-Sham to the north of al-Sham and they advance inch by inch and there will be weakness in the areas of the Muslims and later God will provide deliverance to the Muslims. We hope for this thing but the problems of the factions of Dir' al-Furat [Euphrates Shield- north Aleppo countryside area between Azaz and Jarabulus] and factions of Ghasn al-Zeitoun [Olive Branch- Afrin area], they are entering here by the hand of the Hay'a and generally the brothers from Hurras and others besides them are not happy about that for Hurras believe and we believe that the National Army [Turkish-backed 'Syrian National Army'] rules by secularism. We do not object to the fact that they fight Bashar [al-Assad] but the most important thing is that they fight for the sake of democracy and secularism and they have many deeds and belief of kufr [disbelief]- we seek refuge in God from that- and they wage war on the Muslims. We believe this is the case. These factions, all of them are apostates. Not all of the factions, but [those of] Dir' al-Furat and Ghasn al-Zeitoun. The Hurras have these ideas. The brothers have these ideas among them but the problem is if the Hurras group asserts that among the masses- that is an official statement- this is a problem because of calling on the people and the ignorance of the masses about the fighters of the factions of the revolution.
Q: Brother have you heard of a group called Jaysh Khorasan and there is a second group called Jama'at Ansar al-Haq? They separated from Hurras al-Din? Also what is the relation between Ansar al-Tawhid and Hurras al-Din? Are Ansar al-Tawhid under allegiance to al-Qa'ida?
A: Each faction is different. Jama'at Ansar al-Haq is Abu al-Yaman al-Wazzani's group and Jaysh Khorasan is not affiliated with Abu al-Yaman al-Wazzani. It [Jaysh Khorasan] is not like the brothers who left Hurras. They [Jaysh Khorasan] are close to Hurras but not Hurras. The Hay'a was afraid and arrested Sheikh Abu al-Yaman al-Wazzani for they feared the formation of new factions and also Jaysh Khorasan, but they [Jaysh Khorasan] did not leave Hurras, but they are close to Hurras.  And also Jama'at Ansar al-Haq is Abu al-Yaman al-Wazzani's group. And also Ansar al-Tawhid is different. Among them are brothers close to the Hay'a and among them are those close to the Dawla [Islamic State], that is their ideas are Dawla. Among them are middle grounders: the old Jund al-Aqsa. They are not like Hurras: a little more extreme than Hurras, that is between Hurras and Dawla. But what is there? There are as I said these people, there are middle grounder brothers like the old Jund al-Aqsa. They say we have no link with any of the factions but we want to fight the Nusayris [Alawites, referring to the Syrian government]: fighting the factions, this is not now. If there are factions like the Jamal Ma'arouf group and Harakat Hazim and Division 16, this thing is necessary, but other factions like Ahrar and Faylaq etc., we must delay. If we bring down the regime, later we can return to the matter. Their ideas are such. This is so they do not enter into fighting the factions, and they do not say but their ideas are as I told you, between Hurras and Dawla.
- Jaysh al-Badiya and Jaysh al-Malahem were two formations that came to public attention in 2017 as al-Qa'ida-loyalist outfits. Both groups declared their decision to join Hurras al-Din on 4 March 2018 (see below). This was soon after Hurras al-Din's existence was first made public in February 2018.
 The incident in Mahambal from December 2019 is related as follows from a pro-Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham perspective (forwarded from the Telegram account of 'Ahmad Abu Layth/Abu al-Layth al-Halabi', a partisan/associate of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham):
"Amid the fierce campaign that the militias of Assad are waging on the fronts of the countrysides of Idlib and north Latakia, the heroes of Hurras al-Din rise above us in a heroic operation as they dismantled electricity towers in Jisr al-Shughur and the Sahl al-Ghab which are considered to be among the public property that serve the peoples in that area and when they were prevented from taking them and they were expelled, they went ballistic so they undertook another heroic operation and that is attacking an official in Tahrir al-Sham in the Mahambal area and arresting him after he was attacked, struck and humiliated in front of his wife!
And when a summons was submitted from Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham to Hurras for them to hand over the perpetrators who carried out the attack on the brother, Hurras did not respond that! So Tahrir al-Sham arrested the group affiliated with Hurras that attacked the brother and transgressed against him by hitting him!!
Are these really deeds of mujahideen?"
The interviewee confirmed in a subsequent conversation that this incident in Mahambal was the reason the Hurras al-Din leadership issued the December 2019 statement (featured as the photo at the top of this post accompanying this interview) calling for members of Hurras al-Din and Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham to put aside disagreements and resort to the law of God for arbitration and focus on fighting the enemy. The statement puzzled some analysts at the time as the actual context for issuing the statement was not made clear in the statement. The fact the leadership issued this statement is indicative of its general approach of conciliation with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, as Hurras al-Din's leadership knows full well that Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham wields power over its activities.
 This incident in Kafr Takharim in north Idlib countryside occurred in November 2019. Essentially, some in Kafr Takharim protested against the idea of giving zakat tax on olive crops to the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham-backed Salvation Government and proceeded to expel the institution and a Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham deployment from the town. Though Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham initially tried to resolve the incident with local mediation, the lack of implementation of the proposed solution meant the group resorted to a display of force against the 'sowers of corruption', effectively restoring its authority over the town by armed force. For more on this incident, see an extended study I recently published on Idlib and its environs.
- This dispute over right to ownership over heavy weaponry from the days of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham's predecessor Jabhat al-Nusra came to prominence in early 2019. but Hurras al-Din's leadership ended up effectively dropping the public dispute.
- To clarify further (as the interviewee's native language is not Arabic, so the wording might seem confusing at first sight): the point is not that Abu al-Yaman al-Wazzani et al. were calling for a 'civil court' as opposed to Shari'i courts (i.e. they were not calling for a judicial body ruling by laws besides those which God has revealed), but rather an independent judicial authority using God's law to rule among the people as well as an independent judicial authority using God's law to rule between factions. Internally of course, Hurras al-Din has had its own judiciary to deal with things like conduct by members mandating their expulsion from the group (e.g. contact with Islamic State), but in terms of disputes with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, the only judiciary authority available is either the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham-backed Salvation Government's Ministry of Justice courts or some judicial body constructed ad hoc and mutually agreed with Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, which is clearly going to have influence over said body. Further, the Salvation Government's Ministry of Justice is the only permitted official legal authority for the wider population in Idlib and its environs.
- Abu Julaybib: a Jordanian al-Qa'ida-loyalist who was publicly critical of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and was even arrested by the group. He eventually managed to go south to Deraa province (apparently with the hope of carrying out insurgent activities against the Syrian government there) but was killed.
Abu Firas al-Souri: al-Qa'ida veteran and Jabhat al-Nusra member who was killed in April 2016.
Abu Omar Saraqib: Jabhat al-Nusra/Jabhat Fatah al-Sham figure who also served as general commander/military commander of the Jaysh al-Fatah coalition. He was killed in September 2016.
Abu al-Faraj al-Masri: senior al-Qa'ida figure who appeared alongside Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani in the video announcing Jabhat Fatah al-Sham in late July 2016. He was killed in October 2016.
Abu al-Khayr al-Masri: senior al-Qa'ida figure who featured prominently in the controversy about the evolution of Jabhat al-Nusra into Jabhat Fatah al-Sham and then Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham. An audio recording of his was initially used to show an apparent al-Qa'ida blessing to the rebranding of Jabhat al-Nusra as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. However, subsequent testimonies suggest that he backtracked on the grounds he did not have the competency to bless the move once al-Qa'ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri made clear his rejection of the rebranding and the idea of maintaining a 'secret' allegiance to al-Qa'ida only. He certainly did not give his approval to the Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham project. He was killed in late February 2017.
Abu Abd al-Aziz al-Qatari: born to a family of Palestinian origin, he was a jihadist veteran who established the faction Jund al-Aqsa. He was likely killed by the Western-backed Syrian Revolutionaries Front in January 2014.
Abu Amr al-Tunisi (aka Abu Amro al-Tunisi): judicial official in Hurras al-Din who called for judicial arbitration between the Hurras al-Din leadership and those who were initially expelled from the organisation (Abu Yahya al-Jaza'iri and Abu Dhir al-Masri). In his statement issued 23 June 2019 (see below), he notably described the dispute between those expelled and the leaders Sami al-Oraidi and Abu Humam al-Souri as having lasted "for around three months," suggesting corroboration of the interviewee's point that the dispute about participation with non-jihadist factions on the Hama frontlines at the time was only the latest in a series of disputes.
He himself was then expelled from the group along with Abu al-Yaman al-Wazzani and Abu Mus'ab al-Libi "for organisational reasons" in a decision by the group's leadership council issued 22 Shawwal 1440/26 June 2019 (see below). He was then killed soon along with others removed from Hurras al-Din after in a U.S. airstrike.
 News of the arrest of Abu al-Yaman al-Wazzani was reported by Mu'assasat Ansar al-Furqan on 26 November 2019 (see post below). For comparison, Jama'at Ansar al-Haq was announced as a break-off from Hurras al-Din on 30 October 2019.
The last update I have seen of any purported activity of Jama'at Ansar al-Haq is a Telegram post dated 7 December 2019 (see below). If anyone has other information please let me know.
As for Jaysh Khorasan (which refused to give me any statements about itself and to my knowledge has only released some photos and a video at the end of October 2019 of its activities on the Latakia front- see below for some output), in a subsequent conversation the interviewee said it is a break-off from Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham, though I do recall Abu al-Yaman al-Wazzani promoting the group on Telegram.
Update (18 February 2019): a source associated with Jaysh Khorasan (who previously did not give a statement about the group) affirmed today that the group has ceased its work.