The intra-jihadi dynamic in #Idlib is rapidly intensifying, as #HTS is seeking to re-assert itself vis-a-vis (1) the opposition, (2) local civil society, (3) #Turkey & (4) increasingly exasperated #AlQaeda-leaning factions.

In doing so, it's revealing its multiple identities.
In recent weeks, we've seen escalatory events:

1. Khaled al-Aruri's death in a US drone strike

2. Formation of the #AlQaeda-leaning 'Stand Firm' ops room

3. #HTS arrest of:
- Sirajideen Makhtarov (Abu Saloh al-Uzbeki)
- Jamal Hassan Zayniya (Abu Malik al-Talli)
- Tauqir Sharif
Weeks ago, #HTS was attempting to [re-]build bridges with #Idlib civil society & now it's cracking down on divisive #AlQaeda loyalists & defecting critics.

Hard not to see the drivers involved here:

- Protect internal unity & regional primacy
- Undermine #AQ
- Message #Turkey
As I indicated recently, some in #AlQaeda circles harbor suspicions that #HTS (or elements within it) has been involved in leaking intel for U.S. drone strikes -- attacks that have only hit AQ, not #HTS, some at particularly opportune or coincidental times for #HTS interests.
Concern is now rising [again] that #HTS's abiding by the #Turkey- #Russia ceasefire + direct actions against influential #AlQaeda-leaning figures may indicate a potentially significant crackdown on AQ-linked factions - the like of which hasn't been seen since 2014 against #ISIS.
Frankly, I don't think that's on the cards -- there's just too much at stake amid a feared regime offensive on Jabal al-Zawiyeh.

Nonetheless, #AlQaeda's Huras al-Din has been recruiting lately & is now prepping the ground to block #HTS and/or drive the ceasefire into the ground.
Ever since forming Jabhat al-Nusra in Oct 2011, Abu Mohammed al-Jolani has been playing a balancing game -- with #ISIS, #AlQaeda, Ahrar al-Sham, the #FSA, #Turkey, #Qatar, #Iran, #Russia, and most importantly, within his own ranks.

As we've seen, you can't balance forever...
Pivot points like the (1) 2013 split with #ISIS; the (2) 2014 war with #ISIS; the (3-4) 2016 & 2017 rebrands to #JFS & #HTS; and the (5) 2017-18 engagement with #Turkey were all driven by #Jolani's pursuit of survival & thirst for dominance.

The challenge of 2020 is existential.
It's becoming increasingly clear that #HTS & #Jolani can no longer remain 'on the fence' between #Turkey/ #NLF & the #AlQaeda umbrella led by Huras al-Din -- amidst a serious threat of renewed hostilities in #Idlib.

How #Jolani sews this needle remains to be seen.
BREAKING - #HTS has attacked Huras al-Din ( #AlQaeda) fighters at a newly-established checkpoint outside the village of Arshani NW of #Idlib city, on Route 60.

Clashes are ongoing.
#pt: Video from outside Arshani (also known as Arab Said) indicate heavy machine gun fire is in play between Huras al-Din and #HTS.
#HTS attacks on Huras al-Din checkpoints have expanded beyond Arshani -- multiple points of fighting are now underway, mostly NW of #Idlib.

Some say artillery fire is now involved.
A new round of fighting is now being reported outside #Idlib city's central prison -- a coincidence, or could Huras al-Din be attempting to release imprisoned members?
BREAKING - multiple reports from pro- #AlQaeda sources claim #Idlib's central prison has either fallen entirely or in part amid heavy clashes with #HTS in #Idlib.
#pt: While on the subject of #HTS prisons & detainees -- rumors have been swirling over the last 24hrs that #HTS is in negotiations with #Russia (mediated by #Turkey) to deport Sirajideen Makhtarov to #Moscow.

Abu Saloh al-Uzbeki is accused of planning the 2017 train bombings.
#pt: And Jamal Hassan Zayniya (Abu Malik al-Talli), another recent #HTS arrest, is viewed by Huras al-Din not just as a valued military commander but a source of substantial wealth collected while leading Jabhat al-Nusra in the #Qalamoun (he held the Maaloula nuns & LAF soldiers)
If HaD has taken #Idlib Central Prison, then this fighting has taken on a new level that'll make it harder to diffuse.

#Turkey will stand back for now, but depending on how #HTS fares, it may coerce #NLF to join in eventually. HaD may be small, but they're a very potent force.
After a brief period of radio negotiations, fighting has resumed between #HTS and Huras al-Din -- inside #Idlib city & to the city's west and northwest.

Several civilians have been wounded in cross/errant fire.

#HTS is shelling multiple HaD checkpoints.
NEW - Some activists in #Idlib claim a small number of #Turkey-backed #NLF units have arrived in #Idlib to reinforce #HTS in its fight against Huras al-Din.

I suggested that might happen, but I'm surprised that it's this quick. It may suggest HaD has hit harder than expected.
UPDATE: Fighting continues this morning in west #Idlib between #HTS and Huras al-Din -- the latter still holds #Idlib central prison, but #HTS took over Ansar al-Din's HQ in #Sarmada overnight & disarmed all militants there.
NEW - #HTS units, equipped with tanks & backed up by artillery have launched an assault on the village of Arshani (or Arab Said), home to a sizeable contingent of Huras al-Din ( #AlQaeda) & allied Stand Firm ops room fighters.
As #HTS-Huras al-Din fighting continues west of #Idlib, a drone strike (likely U.S.) just destroyed a vehicle driving between #Idlib & #Binnish.

In the flurry created by inter-factional hostilities, precision strike opportunities were bound to present themselves.
Rumors are beginning to spread that the drone strike an hour ago between #Idlib & #Binnish may have killed Huras al-Din commander & founding leader Samir Hijazi (aka Abu Humam al-Shami) -- a veteran #AlQaeda military leader.

Just rumor for now, but time will tell.
Meanwhile, Huras al-Din fighters in #Idlib have reportedly surrounded the home of the former Prime Minister of the #HTS-backed Salvation Government, Mohammed al-Sheikh -- firing at his house, setting his car on fire.
Regarding tonight's drone strike near #Binnish, there's also some speculation that the target could have been Ansar al-Tawhid's Khaled Khattab, whose roots [I think] go back to Jund al-Aqsa.
Sources in #Idlib seem to be converging on the likely ID of the target just hit in a suspected US drone strike near #Binnish: Ansar al-Tawhid leader Khaled Khattab.

Video from the scene:
NEW -- Clearly some confusion over the ID of the target of tonight's US drone strike near #Binnish, #Idlib.

It now appears to have been clarified that the target was Abu Adnan al-Homsi - a senior logistics & equipment commander in Huras al-Din.

A strange target for the U.S.
That a [suspected US] drone strike hit Huras al-Din tonight, amid an #HTS military assault on a HaD HQ only adds to the pre-existing claims in #AlQaeda circles that #HTS has become a part of the "Sahwat" - feeding intel for foreign targeting.

Rumor or conspiracy? Matters little.
#AlQaeda-linked allegations of #HTS complicity in US drone strikes began after a strike on June 30, '19 - the 1st in ~2yrs.

That strike killed 5+ #AlQaeda loyalists *bitterly* opposed to #HTS, who'd just quit Huras al-Din for its willingness to share fronts vs. #Assad with #HTS.
#pt: The death of Abu Dhar & co. ended an internal Huras al-Din debate & saw its then leader Abu Humam al-Shami order HaD units to northern #Hama (from #Latakia) to reinforce #HTS-led lines against the regime.

Subsequent US strikes have [mostly] targeted similar #HTS detractors.
In reality, #HTS's most determined or influential jihadist detractors are hardline, senior #AlQaeda figures -- so their death in US strikes is likely just a reflection of the fact that they also correlate with US target criteria (vets, 'globalists,' & possible external planners).
This is Abu Adnan al-Homsi, the senior Huras al-Din logistics "officer" killed in a U.S. drone strike outside #Binnish in #Idlib tonight.
You can follow @Charles_Lister.
Tip: mention @twtextapp on a Twitter thread with the keyword “unroll” to get a link to it.

Latest Threads Unrolled: