Al Qaeda-linked operations room counterattacks as bombs fall in northern Syria

A sniper from the “Incite the Believers” operations room targets Assad’s forces.

Bashar al-Assad’s air force and Russia have stepped up their bombing campaign in northern Syria in recent weeks. Sunni jihadists have responded with a series of operations targeting the Assad regime’s forces and its allies across four provinces.

The attacks are being carried out by Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), the “Incite the Believers” operations room, and other parties. HTS has been preparing for the possibility of larger assault on Idlib, the northwest Syrian province it largely controls.

“Incite the Believers” was formed in Oct. 2018 by several jihadi groups that operate somewhat independently from HTS. Its founding groups included Hurras al-Din (“Guardians of the Religion”), Ansar al-Din Front and Ansar al-Islam. Others have likely joined or cooperate with the joint venture as well.

Earlier this year, Hurras al-Din (HAD) and HTS engaged a war of words that became bloody after an incident at a security checkpoint. However, the HAD and HTS reached a new accord, with the two sides agreeing that common Islamic courts would handle their disputes. The jihadists promised to stop criticizing each other in the media and establish committees to adjudicate certain “legal and security” matters, as well as to monitor compliance with the agreement. HAD also said it would coordinate with HTS any time its men wanted to conduct operations in certain areas controlled by HTS.

As FDD’s Long War Journal reported at the time, a veteran al Qaeda member known as Abu ‘Abd al-Karim al-Masri (“Karim”) has played a key role in mediating the disputes between HTS and HAD. Although there are still tensions between the two parties, it appears that the truce has held for now — at least for the most part.

HAD is led by al Qaeda veterans who have objected to HTS’s strategy, including its stated disassociation from al Qaeda.

Working through the “Incite the Believers” operations room, HAD and its allies have carried out attacks on the regime’s forces in the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, and Hama. In the last week or so of April, the joint venture claimed to have killed 30 of its enemies, while wounding 17 more. The casualty figures were trumpeted on an infographic, with “Incite the Believers” produced in Arabic, English and Turkish. The English version of the infographic can be seen below.

“Incite the Believers” said that these operations were conducted in response to the latest round of peace talks that were held in Astana Kazakhstan last month. The jihadists claim that those talks are part of an international conspiracy to undermine the insurgency against the Assad regime and its allies.

HAD and its military partners have claimed additional operations from late April through the first several days of May.

One “Incite the Believers” photo set produced in late April purportedly documents various sniper attacks in Aleppo, Latakia and Hama. Several other pictures document mortar launches. Additional images show the jihadists dropping explosives on their enemies from overhead, and also firing rockets and missiles.

“Incite the Believers” Operations room claimed to unleash “lava-like” fire on the Assad regime in this set of photos, which were released earlier this month:

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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