In the following is our translation of an article from riafan.ru with commentary and notes [in brackets] by Vince Dhimos.
At this time, battles between jihadists and the Russian and Syrian forces are raging in Idlib and Aleppo, the last stronghold in Syria of ISIS and Al-Qaeda rebrandings that Trump “completely defeated” months ago. The US and UN argue that some of these jihadists are “moderate opposition” and are urging the Syrians and Russians to lay down their arms. The Turks agree and are sending military personnel and large amounts of materiel to these areas, supposedly for “peace keeping” purposes, although the Turks have already killed a number of Syrian soldiers and destroyed some Syrian materiel. The US Establishment is scamming you as usual.
Many of our readers know by now that the Western msm are simply appendages of the US Establishment – military, Congress, White House (yes, both sides of the aisle support war but some officials pretend they support peace. And some insist that every warlike act by Trump, eg, the murder of Soleimani and his insistence on keeping troops in Syria, is a result of pressure on him by others, including his own cabinet – though he alone chose his cabinet. That is not someone else’s fault).
This Russian article is the most important piece I have seen so far, providing details on all the groups fighting in Idlib. It is long, 2200 words, and I recommend filing it for reference.
In search of a “moderate opposition”: militant forces in Syrian Idlib. Infographics
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the main task in Syrian Idlib is "to separate the normal opposition from terrorists." However, is there, in principle, a “normal opposition” on the territory of the legitimate government of Syria in Damascus? Read the report from the Federal News Agency [FAN] about the terrorist groups that operate in Idlib, and why they cannot be considered "opposition."
Where to look for "normal opposition"?
The defeat of terrorist groups in Syrian Idlib is inevitable, said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking on the side-lines of the Munich Security Conference. Northwest Syria has remained the last major hotbed of terrorism on the west bank of the Euphrates, and the agreements that exist between Russia and Turkey do not imply a renunciation of the fight against the terrorist threat, he stressed.
Turkey, which did not fulfil its obligations under the Sochi agreements, allowed the transformation of Idlib into a terrorist enclave that currently threatens not only the Middle East, but also northern Africa. Moreover, Turkey continues to support terrorist groups in Idlib, insisting that they constitute “opposition” to the government in Damascus.
“I’ll note another item that directly relates to Idlib: The inevitability of victory over terrorism,” Sergei Lavrov emphasized in his speech.
Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham - recognized terrorists
The largest group that has actually subjugated Idlib is Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), created by militants of the Jabhat al-Nusra group, banned in Russia, led by Abu Muhammad al-Julani, the former field commander of the Islamic State (IS, ISIS; prohibited in the Russian Federation).
The creation of the HTS and the puppet "government of national salvation" in Idlib was an attempt to whitewash the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra and bring the group to the political level as representatives of the "Sunni opposition." This attempt failed and at the end of May 2018, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham was recognized as terrorists by the United States and Turkey.
It is worth noting that the attitude towards Idlib in the statements of politicians and the media in the West varies depending on the success of the Syrian forces: during 2019, Idlib was repeatedly called "the last major refuge of al-Qaeda terrorists (banned in the Russian Federation) in the Middle East," although they began to noisily express concern whenever this den was threatened with a cleansing by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA).
At the same time, the report of the UN Security Council on the fight against ISIS of January 20, 2020 explicitly states:
“In the province of Idlib in the north-west of the Syrian Arab Republic, Al Qaeda-related groups continue to dominate. Idlib province, whose population exceeded 3 million during the civil war in the Syrian Arab Republic, is dominated by a fairly large al-Qaida-linked organization, ie, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. Today’s military-technical school numbers from 12 to 15 thousand militants and is concentrating efforts on fighting the forces of the Syrian government.
Because of HTS’ methods, it cannot be called “moderate opposition.” The Jabhat al-Nusra terrorists have used the old methods of mass executions, hostage-taking, and kidnapping for ransom have been routine situations in Idlib for several years now. The “secret police” of Julani, led by field commander Abu Hattab (real name Abu Jabbar al-Qasim), exterminated in Idlib all those who disagree with HTS policies.
The leaders of the HTS have carried out “purges” in their own ranks: those who accused Julani and his minions of corruption were eliminated. Field commanders such as Abu Abed al-Ashda and Abdullah al-Muhaysini criticized the leader for the fact that the "taxes" that jihadists receive from the local population and the "material assistance" from Turkey, Qatar, the Emirates and other countries are not for purchasing weapons, equipment and supplies, and go to the accounts of Julian and his comrades in Turkey. For this, prominent jihadist commanders ended up in HTS prisons.
During clashes with government forces, the HTS actively used suicide bombers - both Istishhadi troops and suicide bombers.
Here's a video showing all 16 SVBIED attacks carried out out by HTS & filmed by drone in Idlib pocket since May, 2019. This doesn't reflect overall number of SVBIED attacks, as HTS claimed or attempted to carry out a total of 28 SVBIED attacks in the same time frame
Embedded video: https://twitter.com/i/status/1226180729123549185
Militants executed the captured SAA soldiers, often in savage ways - they cut off their heads, crucified them on crosses and shot them.
“Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham” cannot be attributed to the “moderate opposition” – this group was created by terrorists, controlled by terrorists and every day uses terrorist methods against the people of Syria. The HTS actually themselves refused the status of “moderate opposition” when in September 2018 they rejected the Sochi agreements and announced the continuation of the armed struggle against Damascus.
Child Soldiers of the Islamic Party of Turkestan
The strongest allies of the HTS in Idlib are the terrorist "Islamic Party of Turkestan" (TIP), banned in the Russian Federation, a large international group in which Syrian Turkomans and Uighurs play a significant role.
“Turkestans” are included in the list of terrorist groups in China, Pakistan, Russia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Great Britain, the USA and the European Union, as well as in a single list of UN terrorist organizations. The Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP) is closely associated with al-Qaeda and has organized attacks throughout China, in the UAE, in Kyrgyzstan and even in Norway. The ideology of the group is radical Salafist jihadism. A characteristic feature of the propaganda of the Islamic Party of Turkestan is the frequent demonstration of child soldiers. The group repeatedly used suicide bombers - in particular, during the terrorist attack on Tiananmen Square on October 28, 2013.
TIP fighters have been active in Syria since 2015 and have constantly collaborated with Jabhat al-Nusra and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham. The field commanders of the "Turkestanis" have repeatedly called for the genocide of the Alawites and Christians in Syria, and the Uyghur militants have called for the destruction and desecration of churches, as well as the killing of Christians. Thus, the Uyghur allies of the HTS, for the most part foreigners, can in no way be considered "moderate" opponents of Damascus.
"Moderate jihadists" and bandits from Chechnya
Another ally of HTS is the Jaish al-Izza group, which planned the genocide of the Christian population in northern Hama province. The leader of the group, Jamil al-Saleh, threatened to slaughter Christians in Mhardeh and Skalbiya [sic] and destroy these cities. The group’s plans were foiled by Russian intervention.
[I need to say something here: the current US regime is backed by almost the entire US “Christian” Zionist population. Now the administration is urging Russia to stop fighting groups like Jaish al-Izza, which intend to slaughter Christians in Syria! The US’s excuse is that the Russians and their Syrian allies are killing civilians.]
The "moderate" jihadists of "Jaish al-Izza" received assistance from the United States - under the "partnership program," militants were given TOW anti-tank missile systems. The most famous field commander and the “media figure” of Jaish al-Izza Abdul Baset Sarout, a former Syrian footballer, who openly sympathized with ISIS, was killed in June 2019. This group, whose leaders openly called for genocide, also cannot be considered “moderate opposition.”
The lesser allies of the HTS are the mercenaries of Ajnad Kavkaz, who are associated with Imarat Kavkaz, banned in the Russian Federation, and are a large Chechen organized crime group, whose members profess jihadist ideology. In Idlib, the Ajnad Kavkaz militants are notorious for numerous abductions, contract killings and terrorist attacks. In some cases, even the “security service” of the HTS had to intervene – for example, when a British citizen who provided services to terrorists was kidnapped in Idlib.
“They demanded $4 million for his release - the HTS exposed the most dangerous group of kidnappers in Idlib,” wrote media sources related to the incident.
Obviously, a foreign organized crime group, whose members share a jihadist ideology, cannot be considered a “moderate opposition” either.
Jihadists "on Turkey’s payroll"
Created with the direct participation of Turkey, the Syrian National Army (SNA) is an attempt to whitewash groups belonging to the Free Syrian Army (SSA). The largest gangs that entered the SNA were Ahrar al-Sham, Jaish al-Ahrar, Jaish al-Islam, Idlib’s Free Army, Sukur al-Sham, Failak al-Sham, and "Liva Sultan Murad." The total number of coalitions reaches 40-45 thousand people.
[The Syrian National Army, initially funded by the US and receiving weapons such as TOW missiles, was accused by Human Rights Watch of committing crimes such as kidnappings, Forced Confessions, and Executions. It apparently never dawned on anyone in the US government that it was sponsoring terrorists.]
SNA groups have long received funding and supplies from the United States, Qatar, the UAE and other Gulf countries, but in 2017 Turkey took them “under its wing.” To distinguish between jihadists who enjoy US support and other jihadists, the Western media invented the designation “moderate opposition” – but in terms of composition and methods, “moderate” gangs are no different from “radical” ones.
"Moderate" killers and terrorists
Most of the large groups belonging to the SNA are closely related to each other - since 2011, terrorist groups in Syria have merged, split up and entered into internecine conflicts. Some of the field commanders, such as the leader of Ahrar al-Sham, Abu Ammar, managed to fight abroad, participating in conflicts in Iraq and Yemen.
In addition to Ahrar al-Sham, the largest groups of the SNA include Ahrar al-Sharqiya and Liva Sultan Murad, which are widely known for banditry in northern Syria, in areas occupied by Turkey during operations Olive Branch and Euphrates Shield." A large group, the Idlib Free Army, was included in the SNA, but in fact, according to the Turkish SETA Research Centre, it remains under the control of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham.
“Across Africa, groups such as Ahrar al-Sharqiya and Liva Sultan Murad enact so-called Sharia law and participate in robbery, kidnapping, murder, torture and rape,” said the Rojava Information Center.
ISIS insignia as "a keepsake"
Syrian National Army militants use the same methods as their ISIS counterparts and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham - for example, Ingimashi suicide bombers, whose militants learned from Jabhat al-Nusra. In addition, there were a large number of “former” ISIS fighters in the SNA units who fled north after the defeat in Deir ez-Zor. The Rojava [Kurdistan] Information Center published dozens of names of field commanders and rank and file militants who effortlessly “migrated” from ISIS to Turkey-controlled groupings. Many of them managed to fight for the SSA, ISIS, and Jabhat al-Nusra, and then transferred to the Syrian National Army.
These militants can easily be distinguished in numerous videos and photographs from Idlib and Aleppo - having joined the SNA and becoming "moderate" terrorists, they continue to wear ISIS chevrons, obviously leaving themselves such a distinction "as keepsakes" of the past.
All groups that have joined the SNA are terrorist gangs. They are not and were not the "Syrian opposition," and must be liquidated to restore sovereignty and security in Syria.
“Wa Harid al-Muminin” is “Al-Qaeda” in Idlib
The most radical jihadist groups in Idlib were included in the so-called "operational headquarters" Wa-Harid al-Muminin” ("And encourage the faithful "). These groups are directly affiliated with al-Qaeda and under the control of Julani, who, in their opinion, “played into politics” and stopped following the path of jihad.
The largest of them is Taznim Hurras ad-Din (Organization of Guardians of the Law, HAD), which includes up to 5,000 militants, many of whom come from Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia. The HAD largely controls the Wa-Harid al-Muminin coalition, directing the actions of the radicals from Ansar al-Tawhid (Defenders of Monotheism) and Ansar al-Islam (Defenders of Islam). In the report of the UN Security Council mentioned above, Hurras ad-Din [transl: Guardians of Religion] is called an extremely serious threat.
Hurras ad-Din pursues rather global goals, not limited to local tasks in Syrian territory. Its leader, Syrian citizen Samir Hijazi, also known as Abu Hamam al-Shami, received the blessing (of the leader of al-Qaeda) Ayman al-Zawahiri to act on behalf and under the wing of al-Qaeda, in the report. HAD, given its size, ideology and experience as “veterans of jihad,” is a growing threat to peace and security at the regional and global levels. Its management plans to resume, whenever possible, external operations against the West and the United States. ”
HAD broke away from Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham in 2018 due to a disagreement with the actions and policies of Mohammad al-Julani. To strengthen the group, the leadership of al-Qaeda sent personnel from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq to Syria. Despite disagreements with the HTS and the accusations against Julani, whom jihadists consider “ideologically stable” as corrupt and sold out to Turkey, the HAD leaders repeatedly called for an end to internal strife in the HTS for joint operations against the Syrian Arab army.
Ansar al-Islam (recognized as a terrorist group by the United Nations, Australia, Canada, Israel, the United Kingdom, and the United States) is a small group that is also part of the Al Qaeda network. The group includes less than 350 militants who refused to join ISIS in 2014. At Wa-Harid al-Muminin, Ansar al-Islam terrorists continue to impede de-escalation in Idlib, rejecting any options for peace negotiations and surrender.
Ansar al-Tawhid does not exceed a thousand people in number. The group, led by Abu Diyab Sarin, is also part of the al-Qaeda network, and included immigrants from the Jund al-Aqsa after the defeat of the former group. The terrorists of Ansar al-Tawhid also rejected any format for reconciliation and de-escalation of relations with the Syrian government and entered into a coalition with other groups associated with al-Qaeda.
All groups in Idlib are terrorists
All terrorist groups operating in Idlib are part of the single operational headquarters Al-Fatah al-Mubin (“Manifest Victory”) and act against the government forces on a united front. In fact, there is no way to divide these groups into "moderate" and "radical" jihadists – they all use the same methods to fight against the SAA and subjugate the population in Idlib.
Abu Muhammad al-Jiulani himself says in a recent interview that pro-Turkish formations operate as part of Al-Fatah al-Mubin in conjunction with jihadists.
Hothead Erdoğan could start war in Syria
Latest Russian statement at UN regarding Russian position on “opposition” in Syria.