Jihadist group makes arrests in its ranks, reportedly on orders of Turkey

Jihadist group makes arrests in its ranks, reportedly on orders of Turkey
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The dominant jihadist group in Syria's Idlib have arrested many of its "prominent" members, including a former "judge," with the aim of "polishing its image," SOHR said

According to recent reports by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), some of the "prominent" members of Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) have been arrested on orders by the group's leadership in the past week.

The jihadist group, which currently has full control in Idlib Governorate, Syria, through a de facto government, has launched a campaign a week ago, targeting "extremist prominent jihadists affiliated to the group," and it has arrested 15 commanders and a further 10 members "at Turkish intelligence's orders," SOHR said.

Abu Al-Qasim Al-Shami, A former "judge" who is said to command respect in the circles of HTS was also arrested. According to SOHR sources, dignitaries of an Al-Bo Salim tribe issued a statement over his arrest, denouncing actions of HTS and demanding the immediate release of Abu Al-Qasim Al-Shami.

Coordination between Turkish intelligence and HTS

Local sources also informed that the campaign began after HTS had arrested several militants of Hurras al-Din, whose leader Abu Humam al-Shami was formerly a member of HTS. The group had broken away from the 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 polishing HTS's image in front of international community and changing the international community's stance towards the terrorist-labeled group."

HTS is designated a "terrorist organization" by the United States and Turkey.

Group that claimed responsibility of attacks on Turkish forces targeted

SOHR also reported on Sunday that nine members of a jihadist group known as "Ansar Abu Bakr Al-Siddiq Battalion," which had claimed responsibility for several attacks on Turkish military convoys and posts in Idlib, were arrested by HTS.

In one of those attacks in May 2021, a Turkish soldier was killed.

Possibility of "full integration"

There are recent analyses that HTS has been seeking good relations and coordination with Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions in the region.

Syrian journalist Khaled al-Khateb said at the end of March in Al-Monitor:

"It seems that HTS is seriously trying to coordinate with the factions on security and military issues as a prelude to bigger steps that may reach full integration with the FSA factions. This would constitute the bedrock for a single civil and military administration that would govern the areas outside the control of the Syrian government in northwestern Syria."