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The New Arab Staff

US warns Syria HTS leader Jolani he's still among 'most wanted', despite 'the suit'

Jolani remains among the most wanted by the US [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 February, 2021

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Jolani has embarked on a series of image changes during her period as HTS leader.
The leader of Syria's Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) Abu Mohammed Al-Jolani was pictured this week wearing a suit for a TV interview with a western reporter, leading to the US to remind the militant that there is still a $10 million bounty on his head.

PBS reporter Martin Smith shared an image of Jolani after the interview for FRONTLINE in HTS-held Idlib province

"Just returned from three days in Idlib, Syria with Abu Muhammad al 
Jolani, founder of al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusra. He spoke candidly about 9/11, AQ, Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, ISIS, America and more," Smith tweeted, along with the image.

Jolani has embarked on several image overhauls in recent years but the shot of him standing with Smith wearing a suit surprised many Syria watchers.

Jolani's smart appearance appeared to be another attempt to distance himself from his former status as the leader of Al-Qaeda's branch in Syria, known as Al-Nusra Front.

HTS, the new name of his outfit, is proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the US, EU and others.

Read also: Syria Insight - Jolani's outreach campaign highlights HTS' many challenges in Idlib

After the image of Jolani and Smith was widely shared on Twitter, the State Department's "Rewards for Justice" Arabic-language page on Tuesday issued a direct warning to the militant leader.

"Hello handsome Jolani, what's this nice suit? You can change your clothes but you're still a terrorist. Don't forget the 10 million dollar reward," tweeted Rewards for Justice Arabic.

Below was a contact number for anyone with information on the HTS leader.

Jolani led Al-Nusra Front, Syria's Al-Qaeda franchise, until 2017 when he publically distanced himself from the international terrorist network.

HTS seized control of most of Idlib in 2019, after a series of offensives against rebel groups in the area. HTS has also clashed with jihadist formations in Idlib, such as Hurras Al-Din.

Jolani and his militants are accused of human rights abuses, including the kidnapping, torture, and murder of civilians.

In recent years, Jolani has engaged in a series of PR campaigns to appeal to the local population in Idlib, and attempted to distance himself from his jihadist roots.

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