Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) intensified its security campaign and arrested several persons in Idlib city on charges of being "spies and secret agents in favor of the Syrian regime" after implementing the execution sentence against four persons on the backdrop of the same charge.
An eyewitness who resides in Idlib and declined to disclose his name for security purposes said to STJ that eight elements of the security apparatus affiliated to HTS had stormed his house on Sunday evening on May 20, 2018 at 10:00 searching for some wanted people. He added,
"they unhinged the door of the house and entered with their guns into the yard; I went out of the room but they told me to go inside, then they started searching the house. They searched every inch of it very accurately, they also searched the top of the house as well as the booth, and after they finished, they left. Nevertheless, they came back again, went upstairs on top of the house and arrested one of the neighbors."
The eyewitness explained that elements of HTS surrounded the street, and more than fifty one spread in it, whereas other smaller groups were searching the houses but they did not address the locals with any bad languages nor confiscated their property.
The intensified campaign of arrests came after HTS executed on May, the current, 19, 2018, four persons convicted of loyalty to a cell that was in charge of explosions and planting improvised explosive devices related to the Syrian regime. The four persons were executed in al-Sa'aa Square in Idlib city in front of all the natives, they were identified as, (Abdulaziz Redwan, Hamdi Yazji, Thaer Salam Aleik, those were from Ma'arat Mesreen town, along with Hussam al-Kinj who was from Kafr Bani).
Another activist from Ma'arat Mesreen, who declined to disclose his identity for security purposes, said to STJ that "Abdulaziz Redwan and Hamdi Yazji were reputable persons. Hamdi Yazji owned an ampere generator (that distributed electricity to the townspeople), and Thaer Salam Aleik worked in the industrial region in selling spare parts. They were good persons, as described by the witness.
According to the same witness who narrated some of the details of the incident, the security authority affiliated to HTS detected improvised explosive devices and explosives in a "buffet" at a school where Hamdi's sister works. HTS arrested Hamdi's sister along with another woman identified as N.A, but Hamdi's sister managed to escape.
The witness said that campaign of the storming and arrests were after confessions of N.A, who said that there is a cell composed of 15 members. The eyewitness said but added no more information. STJ could not verify the nature of these accusations against the detained persons and whether they were coerced confessions by the lady identified as N.A.
HTS had earlier arrested F. Yazji, but we could not know the accusation, but an "Emir (prince)" in Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya Movement interfered to free him at the time, the activist claimed.
In a similar incident, on 18 May 2018, HTS executed by shooting dead a young man identified as Fawaz Ali al-Ahmad, who hails from the village of al-Gene located in Aleppo on charges of "Communicating with the international coalition and giving ordinates" of Omar bin al-Khattab mosque, which was bombed by the US-led international coalition against ISIS. The incident occurred on March 16, 2017 and at least 38 people were killed, according to Human Rights Watch, which prepared a detailed report on the incident, said that, apparently, the US troops did not take the necessary precautions to spare civilian in the airstrike.
An image shows the young man "Fawaz Ali al-Ahmad" following his execution by HTS that accused him of communicating with the international coalition. Location of the photo: al-Geenah village- Aleppo countryside. Photo credit: Activists from the village.
For its part, Ibaa News Agency, loyal to HTS, has published an interview with Hussein al-Shami, a security official in HTS, who said that the arrested cell was involved in security work in cooperation with the Syrian regular forces.
Hussein al-Shami said in a statement:
"After the elements traced the cell, the security apparatus spotted them, and we arrested head of the gang, she was identified as Noura Alolo, who was on her way to plant an improvised explosive device in the Roundabout within Hizano town during the recent fighting between HTS and the Syrian Liberation Front."
In his statement, the security official noted that after the arrest of the head of the cell, she confessed against the other individuals. It was later found out that they were behind operations, most notably the detonation of an improvised explosive device at al-Saa'a Square in Idlib city, which killed 18 persons, as well as targeting a vehicle belongs to the Turkistan Islamic party (TIP) with an improvised explosive device, in addition to bombing the station of Hizano town, and identifying he location and headquarters of the Mujahedeen and other explosions and assassinations.
An image showing the statement of Hussein al-Shami, a security officer affiliated to HTS, concerning the details of the "assassination cell", released by Ibaa News Agency on May 20, 2018. Photo credit: Ibaa News Agency.