“Revolution Shield Brigades”: A secret faction fighting Tahrir al-Sham on its filed
Enab Baladi – Hassan Ibrahim
More than 45 days have passed since the faction of the Saraya Dera’ al-Thawra, or Revolution Shield Brigades, first appeared and carried out its threats to target one of the “security personnel” of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) in its stronghold in northwestern Idlib region for not releasing its detained fighters.
The Revolution Shield Brigade has adopted operations against the HTS, which is well-versed in excluding the factions and has a tight security grip in the region.
The newly emerging military formation announced the targeting of a security headquarters of Tahrir al-Sham and the killing of a “security personnel,” and the blocking of the international road Latakia-Aleppo (M4), threatening to carry more attacks.
The Revolution Shield Brigades appeared at a time when the HTS ranks were being infiltrated, and accusations were made of the presence of dealers for the benefit of internal and external parties as the targeting reached the top of the pyramid and the senior commanders.
All opens the door to questions about the possibility of the formation of the Revolution Shield Brigades causing confusion and exhaustion for Tahrir al-Sham, the extent of its impact on its ranks, and the mechanism or strategy that can be followed in dealing with a “disguised cell” fighting Tahrir al-Sham in its own field.
Armed group that threatens and attacks
Through a video recording, six masked men appeared, on June 15, announcing the formation of the Revolution Shield Brigades and giving Tahrir al-Sham three days to release the detainees, men and women, headed by the region’s notables.
The spokesman vowed in the recording at the time that, in the event of non-response, all the interests of Tahrir al-Sham and all its affiliates will be a legitimate target for the formation, and called on the HTS fighters to disavow it, pointing out that they have no excuse after “the HTS assaulted the free men and women; otherwise they will be HTS partners in injustice and criminality,” he said.
In late June, the Revolutionary Shield Brigades released a video recording in which it said that it had targeted a security headquarters of Tahrir al-Sham in the village of Harza, north of Idlib, and stated that the attack resulted in the death of six “security personnel” and the injury of others, while Tahrir al-Sham did not publish news about the attack.
On July 14, the formation announced its responsibility for the killing of the security leader in Tahrir al-Sham, Ibrahim Mohammad al-Ali, known as “Abu Suhaib Sarmada.” The formation announced via Telegram that its members conducted a qualitative operation in Idlib countryside and killed “Sarmada.” The faction then published recordings of the killing, pictures of weapons, and an amount said to be for the dead man, without including confessions of the violations or abuses he committed.
In another video recording, members of the Revolutionary Shield Brigades are shown setting up a barrier on the Aleppo-Latakia International highway (M4). What is striking is that a security vehicle belonging to Tahrir al-Sham passed by a nearby road near the checkpoint, saluting the members.
On July 20, a spokesman for the formation appeared in a video recording, renewing his warning to Tahrir al-Sham, and threatening that if it does not back down from its “injustice to the people,” “we will cut their backs and disperse their unity so that they do not feel safe on themselves wherever they are and wherever they will be.”
How did HTS react?
Tahrir al-Sham has a long history of dissolving and fighting some opposition factions and formations and excluding them in order to extend its influence and consolidate its control, even at the level of foreign fighters, despite its denial of the existence of a policy of restriction.
At the level of “sleeper cells,” Tahrir al-Sham has repeatedly announced the arrest of “agents and gangs,” whether through the “General Security Apparatus” operating in its areas of control or the Ministry of Interior in the Syrian Salvation Government (SSG), the political umbrella of Tahrir al-Sham.
Tahrir al-Sham did not comment on the appearance of the formation, its recordings, and its responsibility for targeting the security personnel “Abu Suhaib Sarmada,” nor did it release the detainees in its prisons, especially those it arrested after a campaign it launched on May 7.
Most of the detainees were from the Tahrir Party (an Islamic political party that does not recognize the borders of national states and calls for the return of the Islamic caliphate), then it arrested notables and displaced persons from the countryside of Hama.
The military leader of Tahrir al-Sham, Maysar bin Ali al-Jubouri (Al-Harari), known as “Abu Maria al-Qahtani,” commented on the killing of “Sarmada” on Telegram, saying, “The traitors rejoiced at killing one of our eagles, but the truth is stronger than falsehood.”
He pointed out that many of these “gangs” passed through Idlib, and Tahrir al-Sham members fought and destroyed them, and that the fate of the Revolution Shield Brigades is the fate of their predecessors.
The General Directorate of Checkpoints of the Salvation Government said, eight days after the killing of the security guard “Sarmada,” that it had activated eight fixed checkpoints, including four on the Idlib-Sarmada road, two on the M4 road, one on the Idlib-Mellis road, and another in Jabal al-Zawiya, and it also issued instructions that include signs to distinguish its checkpoints in Idlib.
On July 25, HTS members killed the young Suhaib, who is the son of the former leader of Tahrir al-Sham, Hashem al-Sheikh (Abu Jaber), and wounded his other son in clashes on the Bab al-Hawa road near the town of Batbo.
A source from Tahrir al-Sham (not authorized to make a media statement) told Enab Baladi that Suhaib and his brother were surprised by the presence of a new checkpoint at four intersections, and they tried to flee by motorcycle, thinking that it was a checkpoint of the Revolution Shield Brigades. As they fled, the checkpoint opened fire on them, one was killed, and the other was slightly wounded.
In the wake of the “breakthrough”
The emergence of the Revolution Shield Brigades comes after the issue of “breakthroughs” in the ranks of Tahrir al-Sham and those working in favor of the International Coalition, Russia, and the Syrian regime topped the media front and sparked widespread controversy in the region.
Among the detainees are personalities who hold sensitive positions in the Tahrir al-Sham at the administrative and military levels and are close to the leaders of the first ranks and Sharia scholars in Tahrir al-Sham.
Enab Baladi confirmed the arrest of some of the names mentioned by the media and dissident leaders of Tahrir al-Sham.
The dissident senior leader in Tahrir al-Sham, Saleh al-Hamwi, stated on his Telegram account that the number of detainees of the “Coalition and Russian cells” in the ranks of Tahrir al-Sham reached 220 detainees, pointing out that not every detainee is involved, but there are internal liquidations and rivalries.
In another post, al-Hamwi said that about 72,000 personal card files were leaked from the new cards issued by the Salvation Government to the Syrian regime.
Tahrir al-Sham or its leaders or its alternate media did not comment on what was circulated, and after the case sparked widespread controversy in northern Syria, the leader “Abu Maria al-Qahtani” published that the news circulating about accusations at one time of “terrorism” and another of “collaboration” is an attempt to “undermine the structure, destroy confidence, and make people question the campaign of the Islamic project,” he said.
Al-Qahtani considered that it is not shameful that “the people of faith uncover an agent of their enemies in their armies, and that purifying any group of its ranks from an individual around whom suspicions revolve is evidence of purity and honesty.”
On July 16, the spokesman for the “General Security Apparatus” operating in Idlib, Diaa al-Omar, said that intelligence agencies and in order to serve their own agendas resorted to luring and implicating those he called “weak souls” and deceiving them to collect information from them.
He added that the “General Security” had arrested a “spy cell” working for “enemy” parties and that the monitoring and investigation of “suspicious contacts” had been going on for six months, and after the end of the investigation, “those involved” would be brought to justice, according to al-Omar.
Secret group or an excuse to rearrange the inner house
The emergence of a new formation in the areas controlled by Tahrir al-Sham is unusual, despite the emergence of several previous formations that carried out various operations, including the “Ansar Abi Bakr Brigade” that targeted the Turkish forces in Idlib and military checkpoints of the factions, and the “General Security” announced its arrest in July 2022.
Azzam al-Qaseer, an expert on Islamic movements and Jihadi-Salafism transformations, told Enab Baladi that if there really is a new secret organization, it will cause slight confusion to Tahrir al-Sham and will not pose an existential threat to it.
Al-Qaseer tends to believe that there is no such independent organization or that Tahrir al-Sham is aware of its existence, but as usual, it follows a strategy of employing and exploiting opportunities.
The expert pointed out that the presence of local opposition and enemies of Tahrir al-Sham in the areas under its control can be used as an excuse to rearrange the internal house of Tahrir al-Sham, distribute power and exclude dangerous opponents.
In the statement of the “General Security Apparatus” spokesman about the arrest of what he called a “spy cell,” he did not mention any information about the numbers of “involved persons,” their affiliation, their positions within Tahrir al-Sham, their photos, or their confessions, as was the case in previous times.
Al-Qaseer believes that Tahrir al-Sham is not omnipotent, but it is able to monitor and control the situation in its areas of control, which no longer occupy vast areas, and the presence of other factions has receded in it compared to previous periods of time.
Tahrir al-Sham controls Idlib governorate militarily and part of the western countryside of Aleppo, the countryside of Latakia, and the al-Ghab Plain northwest of Hama.
Tahrir al-Sham worked to extend its control by dissolving and displacing some factions, confiscating their weapons, or forcing them to comply with its policy, then it headed to dismantle the “jihadist” groups whose military formations were dominated by foreign fighters.
Tahrir al-Sham originated in Syria under the name “Jabhat al-Nusra” at the end of 2011. It is a faction distinguished by its emergence from the womb of al-Qaeda, the most prominent “jihadist” faction on the world stage, and later announced its separation from any organization and considered itself a local Syrian force.
The US Rewards for Justice offered a reward of up to $10 million for information on Abu Mohammad al-Jolani, the HTS commander-in-chief, who is still listed among those wanted by Washington.
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