Compared to other public relations professionals, Mostafa Mahamed has had a pretty eventful career.
After beginning his professional life as an extremist preacher in Sydney, the Egypt-born Australian left the West for Syria in 2013, taking up arms to fight in the country’s civil war with Nusra Front, a militant group with ties to Al Qaeda .
But his eloquence was wasted on the battlefield and it didn’t take long for Mahamed, who calls himself Abu Sulayman, to take up the position of Foreign Media Director with the group.
He oversaw a large scale rebranding Nusra Front, which split from Al-Qaeda and changed its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham earlier this year. The moves, many pundits say, were an attempt to win appeal with western powers, reducing the rechristened JFS’s danger of being targeted by the US, and increasing the possibility of aligning with other groups. It's not been a roaring success: JFS are still widely considered a terrorist organisation. But Mahamed did do well with international media, scoring interviews with CNN and the BBC, and attracting thousands of Twitter followers.
But today, it appears that Mahamed’s job at Jabhat Fatah al-Sham is done. In a tweet yesterday, he announced that he’d stepped down from his role with the militant group at the beginning of October. But he was cryptic about what he plans to get up to in the future.
Announcement pic.twitter.com/3QxEHBxBpY— Mostafa Mahamed (@AbuSulaymanMM) 17 October 2016
In keeping with his previous work of advocating for the legitimacy of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, Mahamed’s letter is barely distinguishable from any other resignation note. He says he’ll pursue a “number of independent projects” in work “more conducive” to his “skill set”, and commits to education as a key part of the future of Syria.
He added that his departure was not linked to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham’s split from Al Qaeda, and praised the decision, saying he hoped the group would make similar choices in the future.
Analysts were intrigued by the move. Hassan Hassan, an author on Syria, called it “very significant”, while analyst Charles Lister said it was big news. Supporters of JFS were mixed in their reaction to the decision.
@AbuSulaymanMM my brother , please dont do this.... Unity is important— abu (@mohammad_awad89) 17 October 2016
Jabhat Fatah al-Sham are yet to make a statement about who will replace Mahamed, as they continue to court international sympathy in a fraught international debate over Syria.
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