‘Incite the Believers’ continues to fight Assad regime in southern Idlib

Since the beginning of the year, the al Qaeda-linked “Incite the Believers” operations room in northern Syria has advertised its battles with the Assad regime. Various photos and videos detail skirmishes in southern Idlib, while others showcase the continuous sporadic fighting in nearby Latakia. 

The operations room joins Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS) and various Turkish-backed groups in conducting operations against the regime’s current advances in southern Idlib. 

“Incite the Believers” includes several jihadist groups operating in northern Syria, including Hurras al Din (“Guardians of the Religion”), Ansar al Tawhid, Ansar al Din Front and Ansar al Islam. Since forming, the alliance has provided continuous updates to its activities in Syria and is heavily promoted by al Qaeda’s social media apparatus. 

Ansar al Tawhid, a militant group who is a part of al Qaeda’s network in Syria, published a video on January 11, detailing its operations in southeastern Idlib that occurred three days prior. 

The video depicts an assault against a Syrian Arab Army (SAA) position by Ansar fighters in a combination of mechanized infantry and light weapons. A heavy machine gun is used to attack the SAA position which the video notes was a former SAA weapon now being used against them. 

An ambush against “officers” in a vehicle by Ansar fighters is also shown in the publication. The Ansar operation results in the capture of the SAA position including mortars and small arms.

In a January 22 video, an “Incite the Believers” operation titled “Targeting Nusayri Army Points and Gatherings with a Barrage of Katyusha Rockets in Burnan Village, in the Eastern Idlib Countryside” was published. Fighters unload Katyusha rockets from a pickup truck, load them into a launcher and fire them against opponent positions. 

Also, on January 22, “Incite the Believers” published a photograph of a captured German identification card issued to a Syrian national named Abdul Rahman al Jalad. 

Published on January 24, an “Incite the Believers” operation, Hayat Tahrir al Sham and Ansar al Tawhid, assault an SAA position in the village of Abu Jarif, in the eastern Idlib countryside on January 17.  

Fighters are shown preparing weapons and getting into vehicles for an assault against the village. As in previous operations, mechanized infantry, including a technical with an anti-aircraft gun and light arms are used to attack the SAA position.

On January 24, an “Incite the Believers” video was published titled “Targeting the Nusayri Army.” 

The publication opens with a fighter stating; “O Russians. O Nusayris. O Rawafid. Know that as you kill, you will also be killed, and as you bomb, you will also be bombed, and as you displaced our people, you will also be displaced. Bomb for bomb, blood for blood, devastation for devastation.” 

A truck mounted heavy weapon, including a Turkish copy of the French MO-120 RT-61 heavy mortar is used against SAA positions. The effect of the mortars against the SAA positions is shown throughout the latter half of the video. 

For its part, Ansar al Islam, which is also a member of the operations room, has detailed its role in nearby Latakia. In a video released earlier this month, the group featured its extensive network of fortifications and tunnels it utilizes against the regime. Fighters on ribat [defensive positions] are shown, while two members (a Kurd and Baluchi) who have recently been killed in combat are eulogized.

Ansar al Islam fighters on ribat [defensive position] in Latakia as shown in the group’s most recent video from earlier this month.

Background on ‘Incite the Believers’

“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, Ansar al Din Front and Ansar al Islam. Ansar al Tawhid joined the alliance shortly thereafter. 

Prior to joining the operations room, Hurras al Din and Ansar al Tawhid had a short-lived venture, Hilf Nusrat al-Islam, in early 2018

All constituent groups of the alliance are within al Qaeda’s broad international network. For instance, Hurras al Din, which formed in early 2018 following several controversies with HTS, is led by three well-known al Qaeda leaders in Syria

Ansar al Tawhid, which also formed in early 2018, grew out of the former Jund al Aqsa, an al Qaeda front group in Syria. Meanwhile, the Ansar al Din Front, which was one of HTS’ founding members but left in February 2018, has its own long-standing ties to the al Qaeda network.

Ansar al Islam, a small jihadist group that originated in Iraq, has had deep ties to al Qaeda in the past. Inside Syria, the group has long operated alongside Syrian rebels, other jihadist forces, and various al Qaeda-linked groups in the country’s north

Since its formation, the operations room has played an important role in the battles against regime forces. Additionally, it has also tried to mediate disputes between HTS and other rebel formations in Idlib. 
Both Hurras al Din and Ansar al Tawhid have been targeted by U.S. airstrikes in the past. Last July, U.S. CENTCOM reported targeting a training camp ran by Hurras al Din near Aleppo Province. A month later, a safe house of Ansar al Tawhid in Idlib, which was hosting leaders from both it and Hurras Din, was hit in another U.S. airstrike

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