On June 27, news emerged on social media platforms that the leader of the group Junud Sham, Muslim al-Shishani (The Chechen) was asked by Hayat Tahrir Sham to leave territories under their control. The sources went on to say that HTS gave al-Shishani an ultimatum to either join its ranks or leave the area.
Muslim al-Shishani who participated in the Chechen war against Russia arrived to Syria at the end of 2012 and formed a small group of fighters under the name of Junud al-Sham.
HTS’s response to the previous allegation came through a statement published by its Media Relations Office manager, Taqi al-Deen. It said: ” “The security services in the liberated areas succeeded in bringing security by fighting all kinds of crimes. While facing challenges, some perpetrators and wanted persons resorted to hiding in the ranks of small (independent) groups to avoid facing the authorities. Among these groups was Junud al-Sham, as it was proven that some of those involved in criminal cases were under its rank. Thus it was demanded from the group’s leadership to cooperate to help arrest the criminals and hold them accountable, but they did not cooperate with the security services to stop these criminals.” Taqi al-Deen went on to say, “after this request rumors were spread that the group is being expelled from Idlib”. (ebaa.news/news/news-details/2021/06/74580/)
Few days after HTS’ Media Relation Office’s statement, Muslim al-Shishani released a 2 page response in the Arabic and Russian languages. al-Shishani acknowledged that HTS did indeed ask him to leave after he was summoned by the General Security Services on June 22nd. “We got a summons from the office of the GSS in our region, and the next day I went with some brothers to them. They asked me to dismantle the group and leave Idlib, and he told me: “This is a final decision of HTS, and you are not allowed to appeal this decision”. said al-Shishani.
The leader of Junud al-Sham denied the allegations by Taqi al-Deen about criminals taking refuge in his ranks, saying that those who have committed were not part of his group during the time the crimes took place. al-Shishani said: “Regarding the robbery of the money exchange in Kafr Takharim, I think that HTS received wrong information: these criminals whom HTS is talking about, we have nothing to do with them. Two years ago, during the battles of Mount Turkman and Akrad Mount, they joined us, then left our battalion, and since then we know nothing about them.”
On July 6, another Telegram account affiliated to HTS released a video under the title of “Explaining the reality of Junud al-Sham group led by Muslim al-Shishani and presenting some of the confessions of criminals belonging to him”. The video explains how al-Shishani didn’t participate in the most important offensives the area faced, especially the 2015 regime and Russian offensives on the coastal regions and the 300 day offensive. It also showed the confession of a Turkish fighter, by the name of Murad Jandamirtash, who acknowledged to be part of Junud al-Sham. Murad was arrested by the General Security Services in Idlib for extorting 3200$ from someone in Turkey under the premise of helping a women travel to Turkey, when they were arrested, a quantity of drugs was also found in the groups possession. Another member who confessed in the video to be part of al-Shishani’s group was a man named Sayfullah Abdullah from Dagestan, he was arrested by the GSS on February 20 when he and his accomplices tried to rob a money exchange shop in the city of Kafr Takharim dressed as a woman in a burka. The incident was also caught on the shop’s CCTV and was spread on social media when the incident happened. A 3rd person who was also arrested by the authorities in Idlib, also said he was part of al-Shishani’s group. He stated he came to Syria in 2013, nor he or the video gives details about the reason for his arrest. (https://t.me/omer742/23)
After the release of the video above mentioned video, Levant 24 contacted a Telegram account linked to Muslim al-Shishani, for his comment about the video and to give him the opportunity to respond to the allegations. The response we received was a copy of al-Shishani’s statement which we mentioned earlier with the following message, “Take a look at the official statement of Muslim Shishani in this issues”.
We also asked HTS’s Media Relations office why they didn’t make it public when the individuals who robbed the money exchange shop in Kafr Takharim that were members of Junud al-Sham, rather at the time HTS released a statement saying those caught were part of a group in the Coastal Region without naming al-Shishani’s group. HTS Media Relation Office had the following answer:
“After the preliminary investigation into the robbery on the money exchange shop in the city of Kafr Takharim on February 22, it was found that members of Junud al-Sham group were behind the crime. We did not mention the name of the group at the time because the case was still under investigation. The evidence proved that members of the group were behind other criminal and security related cases. Junud al-Sham was unable and delayed in holding its members accountable. On the other hand, the group chose to work alone militarily outside the military operations room which was accepted by the major factions of the Syrian revolution. It makes no sense for one or two military groups to remain outside this operations room, especially with the challenges surrounding the region. Junud al-Sham, like other groups, was asked to coordinate and raise its military readiness and activate its members in a positive way, but they preferred to not follow through.”
When asked if HTS did tell Muslim al-Shishani to leave Idlib, the response was: “We made it clear in two previous statements that the liberated area’s fronts are open to everyone to work. To serve the region in a way that preserves its security and protects the gains and capabilities of this blessed revolution with a clear vision that serves the public interest”.
On July 8, sources told Levant 24, that as a result of the recent events between Junud al-Sham and HTS, al-Shishani’s group decided to officially disband and it will hand over control of their battlefield positions which is a single point in al-Tufahiyah in Mount Turkmen, Lattakia.