On Tuesday, May 2nd, the US Treasury Department announced joint sanctions by the US and Turkey on two individuals, “Omar Alsheak,” also known as Jihad Issa Al Sheikh, and “Kubilay Sari.” The two men are associated with two Syrian-based factions that have previously been designated as “terrorist” groups. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), for which Al Sheikh is a leader, and Katibat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (KTJ), for which Sari is alleged to have raised funds for in Turkey.
Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson commented on the actions, saying, “As terrorist groups continue to seek access to the international financial system, collaboration with our partners increases our ability to more effectively disrupt these facilitation networks.” He referenced recent cooperation between the US and Turkey in tracking and disrupting the financial networks of sanctioned groups like ISIS, which occurred in January of this year.
In the wake of the announcements, some local activists commented on the actions, saying, “The same penalties were imposed on a leader in the Syrian National Army (SNA) Abu Hatem Sharqa (Ahmad Ihsan Fayyad).” They noted that despite the listing, Sharqa still “performs his duties in the national army” and said about the sanctions that they “have no effect on the ground.”
Al Sheikh himself released a statement regarding the US and Turkish actions. “I do not have a single dollar outside of Syria,” he wrote before expanding by noting that he plays no role in the financial or economic aspects of HTS.
He denied accusations of association with ISIS, stating, “I was the first to stand against ISIS…fighting them with a pen and a sword…and was on the top of their assassination list for years. They targeted me with more than one suicide bomber.”
He spoke of his surprise at being listed as a “terrorist” by Turkey, “a country that we have always had a good opinion of,” saying that he and the Syrian people were indebted to and considered Turkey their allies, supporters, and brothers, and that the revolution and Turkey were “in one alliance, whether they like it or not.” He expressed gratitude to Turkey for years of support while positing that his listing had more to do with political differences among various currents in Turkish policy than actual terrorism. He said these sanctions are “a response to certain disputes regarding critical issues related to the revolution by some individuals on the Turkish side.”
The statement addressed the US, saying that “the origin and creator of terrorism is the oppression and suppression of dictatorial regimes. Terrorism cannot be eliminated as long as its causes exist. Although we in the Syrian revolution have eliminated the voices of extremism and terrorism among us, this is to our credit, not our discredit.” He clarified that “real terrorism is what the criminal regime and the Russian and Iranian occupiers are doing in terms of mass murder, massacres, demolishing entire cities, and disappearing thousands in prisons.”
Al Sheikh’s statement reaffirmed his commitment to the principles of the revolution, unifying its ranks, removing the criminal regime of Assad, freeing the prisoners, and ensuring justice and dignity for the Syrian people. He encouraged those who were pleased with the sanctions to reexamine their commitment to the revolution, unity of the revolutionary ranks, and well-being of the Syrian people.