Syrian Ahrar Al-Sham rebel group faces major internal mutiny
A major rebel group operating in north-western Syria is facing an internal mutiny, the Al-Souria news website reported on Monday.
Ahrar Al-Sham, an Islamist group which is part of the Turkish-backed National Liberation Front (NLF) rebel coalition, is being torn apart by a rancorous infighting.
The rift has caused a split between its political leadership and its military wing, Al-Souria said, quoting anonymous sources within the group.
The military wing is led by a captain referred only as "Abu Al-Mundher" who is supported by Ahrar Al-Sham’s former leader, Hasan Sufan. They are now in conflict with Ahrar Al-Sham's current leader, Jaber Ali Basha.
The more radical Islamist group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which dominates much of Idlib province, is reportedly supporting the military wing against Ahrar Al-Sham's political leadership.
Al-Souria’s sources said that the conflict within Ahrar Al-Sham started when the group's military commander for the coastal region, known as "Abu Fares Daraa" was relieved of his duties by the political leadership.
Daraa refused to comply with the order and was supported by Abu Al-Munther, with backing from HTS.
Al-Souria said that it had obtained internal documents from Ahrar Al-Sham which stated that the military wing insists there were "no reasons given" for Daraa's removal as coastal region commander.
"The whole regional sector, including all its forces and cadres, has rejected this surprising and unacceptable decision," the documents stated.
They also called for the suspension of Jaber Ali Basha's leadership duties "in order that this group can continue with its message, jihad, and defence of liberated areas".
HTS forces have reportedly been put on high alert in the coastal region in response to a split in Ahrar Al-Sham, setting up new checkpoints and barricades.
Al-Souria said that they had arrested a leader of the "Commando Forces" of the NLF, which Ahrar Al-Sham is part of, after he entered one of its bases to ask about the checkpoint.
The Commando Forces are an elite unit of the NLF which have engaged in heavy fighting with the Assad regime and Russian forces.
Ahrar Al-Sham started as a Syrian Salafi jihadist group in late 2011, but shifted towards a somewhat more moderate rebel position after 2017.
It later joined non-Islamist rebel groups in the Turkish-backed NLF and is not designated as a terrorist group by the US, the UN, or the European Union.
HTS, which was formerly affiliated to Al-Qaeda, has tried several times to break up Ahrar Al-Sham and assimilate its fighters into its own ranks.
On Monday, HTS said that it had killed 13 militants from Islamic State group in northern Syria but local people said that they were from the Hurras Al-Din jihadist faction.