Terrorists in Syria band together to create new group potentially larger than ISIS, Moscow warns

Over 25,000 Sunni jihadi militants have joined forces into a single terrorist group in Syria, the Chief of Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directive warned Friday.

DAMASCUS, SYRIA (The Rational Times) — According to Col. Gen. Igor Korobov of the Russian Federation, who spoke at a roundtable part of the Army-2017 international military-technical forum, militants from several different terrorist organisations in Syria have united to fight the Syrian government and its President, Bashar al-Assad.

“At present, more than 70 band formations, including from the ranks of the opposition which used to consider itself moderate, have joined together. The total strength of the Hayat Tahrir Sham group exceeds 25,000 militants,” Korobov said, as quoted by Sputnik News.

The new formation, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), now consists of 25,000 fighters, whereof 15,000 of them are former members of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), previously known as al-Qaida’s Syrian branch, Jabhat al-Nusra (the al-Nusra Front).

In comparison, the infamous terror organisation Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) had an estimated 20,000 or 31,500 fighters in Iraq and Syria at their peak, in 2014, according to the CIA.

Who?

Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (meaning ‘Liberation of the Levant Organisation) first became a known fighting force in the war-torn nation this January, when Jabhat Fateh al-Sham issued a statement announcing that it would merge with four smaller factions and form the HTS. Hashim al-Sheikh, also known as Abu Jabir, a former Ahrar al-Sham leader, became the HTS’s new leader.

On 9 February, Abu Jabir delivered a message in which he insisted the HTS is a completely “independent entity and not an extension of former organisations and factions”, an attempt to distance themselves from al-Qaida, according to the BBC.

The four organisations which merged was the JFS, the Nour al-Din Zinki Movement, Ansar al-Din Front, Jaysh al-Sunnah, as well as Liwa al-Haqq.

The Nour al-Din Zinki Movement members were in July 2016 filmed beheading a boy as young as 11. In response to this, US President Donald Trump ended all CIA funding to rebel factions in the country.

Flag of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (Source)

And now, it seems, that the HTS has gathered up to 25,000 members. The Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIL/ISIS) on the other hand, according to RT, has an estimated 9,000 militants.

Tactics:

According to Korobov; “The terrorists use the so-called ‘bee swarm’ tactics, the essence of which is the organization of chaotic shelling and surprise attacks on the Syrian military, carried out by small, but well-coordinated mobile units.”

This so-called ‘bee tactic’ caused a “constant attack” factor, which tires and demoralizes larger military formations, the general added.’

The militants are furthermore flexible as they are “capable of quickly switching from partisan tactics to open offensive and back,” he said.

In the same way, although the Mujahideen was far a smaller military force during the Soviet-Afghan War between 1979 and 1989, they deprived the Soviet Union and made the effort far too expensive to continue.

Red: Syrian government, Green: Syrian opposition, Yellow: Rojava (SDF), Grey: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, White: Hayat Tahrir al-Sham / August 2017 — (Source)

“Unmanned aerial devices are widely used in reconnaissance and attack equipment,” the intelligence official claimed, adding that quadcopters rigged with explosives have become a problem for Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) units, which takes on IS terrorists in ar-Raqqah.

Armored vehicles and artillery are deployed in residential areas near hospitals, schools, mosques and other socially significant facilities to avoid destruction by airstrikes,” he said.

Other tactics include using civilians as human shields.

Profits from oil, artefacts and human organs:

According to Korobov, the terrorists in Syria are funded through “profits from the illegal sale of oil, the trade in artefacts of cultural and historical value, drugs, the sale of human organs for transplantation and the collection of so-called tax from the population of the seized people.”

“As a rule, the funds are transferred to the bank accounts of front men in the countries neighboring Syria, where they are cashed and smuggled into Syrian territory,” he explained.

He further said that the analysis of terror groups in the region, including the HTS and IS, “suggest the emergence of a new-style of terrorist organizations, which pursue ambitious aims and are capable of adopting to changes in the environment.”

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