HTS conducted a security operation against the extremist group Jundullah in the Turkmen Mountains. The situation on the ground is still unclear after HTS laid siege on the last hilltop occupied by Jundullah fighters, whom are holding several hostages. Rumors spread claiming that Muslim Shishani was one of the targets of the operation. L24 conducted an investigation on the ground about the events and the reality surrounding them by speaking to HTS, Muslim Shishani and independent figures.
On the 23rd of October, HTS was preparing a security operation against the Jundullah group in the Turkmen mountains in Lattakia. The group, led by Azerbaijani fighters, was accused of excommunicating the general population, also known as “Takfir”. On this basis they were reportedly involved in kidnapping, killing and theft. This group, also known as the Abu Fatima Group, consists of around 100 to 150 fighters. In the same area, other groups were active such as Junud Sham, led by Muslim Shishani a veteran from Chechnya. What was their involvement with this notorious group?
Misinformation causing strife
During the mobilization of forces by HTS, Muslim Shishani learned about the coming operation. Considering the operation would take place close to his base in the Turkmen Mountains, Muslim believed he was the target of the operation. This was not far fetched because of the history between him and HTS. Read our article covering this issue.
Muslim Shishani then released two voice messages in Telegram groups claiming HTS had been trying to affiliate him with ISIS and that he doesn’t have intentions of fighting HTS. Upon hearing this, HTS sent a mediation committee to the Junud Sham leader to assure him that he was not the intended target of the operation. HTS warned Muslim not to ally his group with Abu Fatima’s group and leave his base with his fighters so that the security forces could sweep the forested area to apprehend the suspects. The committee consisting of Turkistani Islamic Party (TIP), Jaish Muhajirin wa Ansar (JMWA), Ajnad Qawqaz (AJQ) officials and Muhammed Shakiel, an aid worker operating in Idlib, had a 6 hour meeting with Muslim Shishani and other groups operating in Northern Lattakia countryside.
Muslim Shishani leaving Turkmen Mountains
“We went there to inform Muslim Shishani that he is not the target of the operation so that there will be no bloodshed between the two sides. Due to my good relations with Muslim I felt it was upon me to resolve this misunderstanding. Muslim refused at first, stating that he does not want to break his alliance with Abu Fatima’s group but after HTS mobilized their forces he agreed to leave the area”, said Muhammed Shakiel
Muslim then left the area with 70 of his fighters, leaving behind Abu Fatima’s group who did not agree to hand over the suspects. As hostilities began on 25th October, Jundullah has taken hostage a number of HTS soldiers that were not part of the operation but were stationed on the Syrian regime front-lines. Videos surfaced on social media of a group of HTS fighters held at gunpoint in one of the front-line barracks. An English news channel claimed that it was Muslim Shishani’s soldiers that took the men hostage. L24 reached out to Muslim where he denied the accusations and stressed that his forces did not leave the base and that his men were not involved in clashes with HTS.
Who are Jundullah, also known as the Abu Fatima Group?
Jundullah first appeared in 2014 when a group of extremists, joined forces together under Abu Ali al-Masri and Abu Abdullah al-Azeri. Their base was located in al-Muhandisin, in the western countryside of Aleppo. They were arrested and exiled from the liberated areas when the Syrian factions learned of their ideology and doctrine. Soon after, they reached the areas of eastern Syria under the control of ISIS. After some time they considered ISIS as infidels as well, after which fights broke out and were subsequently chased out and made it back into the liberated areas; where they assembled themselves in al-Dana, northern Idlib. Later, they moved their bases to the Turkman mountains to be far away from the attention of the security apparatus in Idlib.
According to HTS, they killed Abdullah Umut al-Turki and Abu Suleiman whom were involved in a car deal with the group. After a dispute they killed the two and stole the cars. There were reportedly several cases of them being involved in murder, theft and kidnapping. Furthermore, the areas Jundullah resided in became a safe haven for those with similar issues as they welcomed and sheltered them. Since May, Jundullah started setting up roadblocks which became a detriment to all the military factions in the area.
Jundullah releases statement
Jundullah released a statement saying that they are a group free of any external influences and they reject any group that have foreign relations. Furthermore, they denied everything that was attributed to them.
Statement released by foreign fighter factions
On the 25th, various well known foreign military factions and notable figures – which consist of 95% of foreign fighters in the liberated areas – released a joint statement, declaring loyalty and support to the Syrian revolution and the local authorities.
They further supported the claims of HTS against the Jundullah group, and reiterated that they stand firm by their side against those who wish to spread crime and break the ranks of unity within the fighting forces in the arena. The statement also mentioned that these extremist individuals or groups do not represent the foreigners who came to Syria to aid its people.
HTS commence security operations
Yesterday, after Muslim Shishani’s group left the Turkmen Mountains, HTS forces laid siege to Jundullah positions close to the Turkish borders. One of the two hilltops that was under Jundullah’s control was captured by HTS. Until this moment, the siege is still ongoing on the last position. Abu Musa Shishani, one of the leaders allied to Jundullah tried to cross into the Turkish territories where after he was returned to Syria. A picture of him surfaced on the internet while he was in custody of the border office in the town of Khirbat al-Jawz. As for Wednesday evening, the siege is still ongoing with sporadic clashes. The HTS soldiers taken hostage by Jundullah seem to stall the progress towards the last hilltop.