Is HTS reining in or increasing jihadist community in Idlib?

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Feb 16, 2021

IDLIB, Syria — Ansar al-Tawhid, an rebel group affiliated with al-Qaeda, claimed duty for bombing Feb. 7 an operations room of the Russian forces within the metropolis of Kafr Nabl within the south of Syria’s Idlib governate, which killed and injured a number of troopers on the location, together with a high-ranking Russian officer.

On Feb. 9, a video circulated on social media displaying the group’s militants sniping on the Syrian authorities and Russian forces on Idlib’s fronts. This comes amid the recurrent concentrating on of the regime forces’ web site with missiles lately.

Ansar al-Tawhid is without doubt one of the founders of the Rouse the Believers operations room, which was introduced in mid-October 2018, and consists of, along with Ansar al-Tahwid, al-Qaeda-affiliate Hurras al-DinAnsar al-Din Front, which beforehand defected from Jabhat al-Nusra, at the moment Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS); and Ansar al-Islam. The Rouse the Believers operations room has primarily targeted its actions within the northern countryside of Latakia, all the way in which to the western countryside of Hama, and the Idlib fronts at the moment. These jihadist teams inside the operations room rejected the Sochi settlement reached between Turkey and Russia in September 2018, which supplied for the institution of a demilitarized zone between the regime-held and the opposition-held areas in Idlib.

On May 3, 2020, Ansar al-Tawhid introduced its defection from the Rouse the Believers operations room, which on the time appeared to be a maneuver to keep away from confrontation with HTS that was at odds and clashing with Hurras al-Din, one of the vital fundamentalist teams within the operations room.

On June 26, HTS issued a choice prohibiting the formation of any operations room or the institution of any armed faction outdoors Al-Fatah al-Mubin (Great Conquest) operations room that features HTS and the Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions.

With this choice, HTS was making an attempt to limit jihadist teams and stop them from finishing up any army motion with out its data. 

HTS, which has been tagged as a terrorist group by the United States and the UN Security Council for its hyperlinks to al-Qaeda, has over the previous 12 months, probably in coordination with Turkey, sought to painting itself as a extra reasonable, Islamist, Syrian nationalist opposition group. The group’s chief, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, even lately appeared in a handy guide a rough blue blazer in an interview with PBS reporter Martin Smith. The query is whether or not HTS is making an attempt to rein in these newly, much more radical teams, or get management over their operations.

In this context, the most recent actions by Ansar al-Tawhid increase many questions as to the emergence of this group and whether or not or not it’s coordinating its actions with HTS. Questions additionally come up on whether or not HTS is supporting jihadist teams in a bid to make use of them when wanted.

Ansar al-Tawhid now consists of members who had been beforehand a part of Jund al-Aqsa, which was established at first of 2014 by Muhammad Yused al-Athamneh, aka Abu Abdul Aziz al-Qatari, a former al-Qaeda chief and one of many founders of Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria. His physique was present in Deir Sunbul city within the countryside of Idlib in late 2014. The FSA’s Syria Revolutionaries Front was blamed. Jund al-Aqsa was one probably the most outstanding Salafist-jihadist group within the opposition-held areas in Idlib at the moment and was near Jabhat al-Nusra. 

Jund al-Aqsa, nonetheless, abstained from participating in an all-out conflict with the Islamic State (IS), saying in October 2015 its defection from Jaish al-Fatah, a company based by Syrian Islamic factions on March 14, 2015, that had united in a joint operations room. Jaish al-Fatah’s first main battle was the battle of Idlib in October 2015. Jund al-Aqsa’s strikes fueled the disagreement with Ahrar al-Sham and the battle between the 2 sides continued by way of 2016. The dispute escalated into bloody preventing between the 2 sides, which ended with a mid-February 2017 settlement that supplied for the exit of Jund al-Aqsa from the countryside of Hama and Idlib towards town of Raqqa, which was beneath IS management again then.

The remnants of Jund al-Aqsa in Idlib introduced in early March 2018 the institution of a new group referred to as Ansar al-Tawhid beneath the management of Abu Diab Sarmin.

On Aug. 31, 2019, the Ansar al-Tawhid headquarters in northern Idlib was bombed by the US-led worldwide coalition in opposition to IS, inflicting heavy losses amongst its ranks.

Mohamad Rasheed, a journalist working with the Hama Media Office, informed Al-Monitor, “The number of Ansar al-Tawhid members is over 700, and they are spread around Idlib countryside, most importantly in the Sarmin area and surrounding villages in the eastern countryside of Idlib.”

“Ansar al-Tawhid in its current form cannot be compared to Jund al-Aqsa, which the former was part of a few years back. Especially since the most fundamentalist and extremist members of Jund al-Aqsa — those who were close to IS — had left Idlib for Raqqa following the agreement with Ahrar al-Sham,” he stated. 

Rasheed added, “HTS is satisfied with Ansar al-Tawhid, which obeys the former’s order and does not carry out any military operation in Idlib without HTS’ knowledge. The group also agrees to HTS’ pragmatic politics and its reformist shifts. Most of the group’s members are locals and secretly supported by HTS. What’s more, Ansar al-Tawhid does not declare its allegiance to al-Qaeda and considers itself a local jihadist group.”

Mahmood Talha, a journalist with the Thiqa information company within the western countryside of Aleppo, informed Al-Monitor, “HTS is benefiting greatly from the presence of a jihadist group such as Ansar al-Tawhid and supports it for several reasons. Most importantly, Ansar al-Tawhid serves as the go-to group for fundamentalist members who defect from HTS at every turn. HTS could also use the group as a [combat] tool in the face of the Syrian regime as its members are highly trained. They can also be used in battles against the FSA factions, in case HTS seeks to undermine one of the rival factions in the FSA.”

HTS seems to be reining in all jihadist teams in Idlib usually, except for Hurras al-Din. But what differentiates Ansar al-Tawhid is the truth that most of its members are Syrians, not like different teams whose members are principally foreigners, reminiscent of is the case with Jabhat Ansar al-Din, the Turkestan Islamic Party and Ansar al-Islam, amongst others. Controlling these extremist teams helps HTS current itself as a superb chief able to reining in jihadist teams and controlling safety in Idlib. Thus it appears Ansat al-Tawhid’s Feb. 7 assault in opposition to Russian forces was carried out with the approval of HTS, which sought to answer the latest escalation from the regime forces and their allies on the Idlib fronts.