Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported on Sunday a wave of arrests in Idlib, Syria, by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) of militants in its own ranks. According to the report, the jihadist group who currently has control in Idlib Governorate through a de facto government has launched a public perception campaign targeting ‘extremist prominent jihadists affiliated to the group’ a week ago, and has recently arrested 15 commanders and a further 10 members of the group ‘on the orders of Turkish intelligence’.
The campaign has been concentrated in Al-Dubayt, Al-Jame’a and Al-Sa’a neighbourhoods in Idlib city, in parts of Salqin, Al-Dana and Sarmada in northern Idlib, and along the border near the Turkish district of Iskenderun.
Among the detainees is Abu Al-Qasim Al-Shami, formerly a ‘judge’ of the group.
According to SOHR sources, dignitaries of an Al-Bo Salim tribe issued a statement over the arrest of Abu Al-Qasim Al-Shami, denouncing the actions of HTS and demanding the immediate release of the former HTS judge.
Local sources also informed that the campaign targeting ‘prominent figures’ began after HTS had arrested scores of militants of Hurras al-Din, whose leader Abu Humam al-Shami was formerly a member of HTS. The group had broken away from Al-Nusra Front in 2016 when the latter reportedly disassociated itself from al-Qaeda.
SOHR asserted that the arrests came ‘as part of an understanding and coordination between Turkish intelligence and HTS, led by Abu Mohammad Al-Julani, with the aim of rebranding HTS’s image in front of the international community and changing the international community’s perception towards the terrorist-labeled group.’
HTS is designated a ‘terrorist group’ by the United States and Turkey.
SOHR also reported on Sunday that nine members of a jihadist group known as ‘Ansar Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq Battalion’, which had claimed responsibility of several attacks on Turkish military convoys and posts in Idlib, were also arrested by HTS.
In one of those attacks in May 2021, a Turkish soldier was killed.