US-supplied TOW missiles stolen by HTS from Nour al-Din al-Zinki movement in W. Aleppo

By Oliviero Reusser

In the late hours of August 12th, the official twitter account of "Jabhat al-Nusra violations", an organisation of activists dedicated to documenting the crimes of Jabhat al-Nusra, posted the tweet seen below. It claims that Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the latest rebranded version of the former official al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra, raided the headquarters of the TOW gunners of the Nour al-Din al-Zinki faction, an armed group active in Aleppo and Idlib province and stole atleast one TOW missile launcher. Al-Zinki, which used to be one of the strongest groups in Aleppo city before leaving towards the countryside after the city's capture by government forces in late 2016, joined HTS when it first formed in early 2017.

However, after HTS started a campaign against Ahrar al-Sham positions in central Idlib and near the Turkish border, al-Zinki again left HTS and became independent again. The controversial group, which is known for having beheaded a young palestinian boy (which they claim was a fighter) in Aleppo city, used to be a recipient of American-supplied TOW Anti-Tank missiles, before they were removed from the program in early 2016 and the program terminated altogether by President Trump in late July. While the delivery of further missiles stopped, the delivered TOW launchers and the already supplied missiles were not taken back and remained in al-Zinki's possession. It appears now that some of these are now in the hands of HTS. 

HTS controls much of the western Aleppo countryside after taking over the Anadan plain and areas just west of the city in early 2017. While other factions such as al-Zinki, Faylaq al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham are present on the frontlines in S. Aleppo, al-Rashideen and near Mallah, HTS has by far the most power there. This allowed them to raid the al-Zinki base and seize their weapons. The HTS-affiliated media, Ebnaa agency, published a statement in their telegram channel, quoting a HTS official of western Aleppo, Ahmed Azzouz, as saying that the news about the incursion into the al-Zinki base is untrue and that they did not arrest any of their commanders recently. According to him, however, there was a minor problem with the conduct of one certain al-Zinki official in the area, whose behaviour was reported to the HTS authorities. 

Later, a picture of a paper was published by official al-Zinki media, signed by HTS and their representatives. After a long meeting, their issues were resolved and a joint commitee formed to oversee any further activities. 

This latest instance of tensions between HTS and other groups is a good example of how the former uses the "information grey zone" in order to distort events and push their own narrative. For now, its merely one word against another; JAN_Violations claims HTS raided the base for TOW missiles out of their own initiative, while HTS claims that nothing like that happened and there was merely a small dispute between the two factions over an individual. The second fact seems to be supported by the document signed by the two groups, but there are not enough details available to clearly determine what happened. This is much to the liking of HTS: they can now claim that media agencies, activists and other groups are conspiring against them and fabricating information and twisting their facts in order to attack and accuse them. They themselves do the same and use this "information grey zone" to give their own - plausible - narrative room via their media agency. For uninvolved people however, the truth remains buried; neither of the two reported stories can be fully confirmed. It eventually comes down to credibility of the two main "storytellers", in this case HTS themselves on one side and JAN_Violations on the other.