Harakat Sham al-Islam (HSI)
Formed in August 2013, Harakat Sham al-Islam (HSI) is a Moroccan-led terrorist organization operating in Syria principally composed of foreign fighters. HSI has carried out terrorist attacks and engaged in kidnappings against civilians with other violent extremist organizations in Syria, including al-Nusrah Front.
As part of the effort to counter the threats posed by foreign terrorist fighters, on September 24, 2014 the US Department of State designated ten individuals and two groups as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which imposes sanctions and penalties on terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism. As a result of the designations, all property subject to US jurisdiction in which these individuals or groups have any interest is blocked and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with them or to their benefit.
This new, fully Moroccan jihadist organization called Harakat Sham al-Islam was created in Syria. The group reportedly aimed not only to recruit fighters for the Syrian war but also to establish a jihadist organization within Morocco itself. Although the group’s name refers to Syria and its theater is Syria, the majority of group members are Moroccans. The group’s creation was also announced in the Rif Latakia, where most Moroccan jihadists who go to Syria are based.
By Fernando Reinares and Carola García-Calvo noted in January 2014 that since the start of the conflict in Syria, foreign fighters from various European countries have joined the war against the Assad regime. Spain has not been immune to this mobilization. According to Spanish counterterrorism officials, at least 17 Spanish residents joined jihadist groups in Syria between April 2012 and November 2013. Those jihadist groups include Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Harakat Sham al-Islam.
The 20 known Spanish residents who traveled to Syria to fight with JN, the ISIL and Harakat Sham al-Islam, 11 were Spaniards, suggesting that homegrown jihadist activity was becoming a more salient phenomenon in Spain, even if territorially concentrated in Ceuta. Most of the 20 individuals had no known jihadist activity predating their decision to join the war in Syria.
Before becoming members of JN, the ISIL or Harakat Sham al-Islam, those who lacked jihadist experience in Ceuta underwent an intense radicalization process by means of closed door gatherings inside Islamic worship places and private homes as well as open air activities — which included physical training — in Ceuta and nearby localities across the border in Morocco, in particular Fnideq (Castillejos). An established Moroccan-Spanish network organized these activities.
Jules Crétois and Mohammed Boudarham wroate in May 2014 that "Since the beginning of the clashes, foreigners, including Moroccans, are increasingly joining their ranks. In 2012, some studies said there were no more than 100 Moroccans [fighting in Syria]. Yet a Moroccan security member said that their numbers were estimated at 1,250 in March. In the same month, pro-Assad Syrian media outlets said that 150 “Moroccan terrorists" were killed. Jihadist sources, which prefer the term “martyr” instead of “terrorists,” said nearly 60 [fighters] of Moroccan origin have been killed since their operations in the northwest of the country were launched in early March."
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