HTS executes 19 people in Syria’s Idlib since early 2023

Security apparatus of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly al-Nusra Front), carried out 19 extrajudicial executions in Idlib since the beginning of 2023, including at least two women, after they were arrested and forcibly disappeared without mentioning the reason for their arrest or execution, and they did not allow their families to meet them or appointing a lawyer for them.

Since the HTS took control of northwestern Syria in 2014, it has committed human rights violations against the population and arrested oppositionists, activists, civilians, and women on charges of communicating with external parties or working for hostile parties.

The HTS also tortured and terrorized them, and subjected them to psychological, sexual and physical violence.

The group began issuing death sentences in conjunction with the extension of their control and the imposition of laws and rules according to the approach of al-Qaeda, to which it belonged before using the name of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham to get rid of the penalties imposed on them and consider them as a terrorist entity.

Monitoring and Documentation Department of North Press included, in this report, testimonies of the victims’ families who were extrajudicially executed by the HTS. The report also included testimonies of security sources within the HTS’ apparatus and activists present in Idlib confirming the executions and the methods used. In addition it will answer the following questions: what are the reasons and rulings of the HTS to execute people? Who is responsible for issuing and implementing these provisions?

Extrajudicial executions

“They executed my brother for no reason, he was arrested and executed without a verdict,” said Salma Ahmad, a pseudonym for the sister of a young man who was executed by the HTS.

Salma’s family was displaced from Hama, a governorate central west Syria, to Idlib Governorate, northern the country, in 2015 and resided in a camp in the vicinity of the of town of Atmeh, in northern Idlib, in March 2020, members of the HTS raided the camp and arrested 11 young men and two women, including her 17-year-old brother.

Ahmad told North Press via WhatsApp that after searching for more than 11 months, they got no information about the whereabouts of the young men and women.

However, a young man was released  from Sarmada prison, in the northern countryside of Idlib, who was detained in the same prison cell, told them that her brother and a shepherd were executed by firing squad along with a young man from Deir ez-Zor Governorate, eastern Syria, and a girl from Afrin region, northwest Syria, in the prison yard, on charges of filming military sites and sending them to officers of the Syrian government forces. The ex-prisoner did not know where their bodies were buried.

After hearing the news of his son’s death, Salma’s father resorted to Sarmada Court to make sure of what they were told, but he was surprised that there was no name for his son in the court files, and the judge confirmed that no verdict had been issued against his son’s name.

“They executed my brother on a flimsy charge, he did not know how to film or write, he was illiterate and did not have the capabilities to leak information to any party,” Ahmad added.

“My brother was killed without having a case or a file in court. They hid, executed and buried him. This is the whole story. They did not let us see him or bid him farewell. We did not even see his body,” the heartbroken sister lamented.

On April, 2 2023, the HTS executed eight people who were among its ranks by firing squad, after arresting them.

The execution, which took place without trial, was carried out in 107 Prison, which is run by the HTS scurity apparatus, without clarifying the reasons for their arrest and execution, and without any court ruling, but rather by a decision made only by the HTS leader, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, and Shura Council, affiliated with the HTS.

The executions included foreigner fighters, Abu Muhammad al-Azhari, Abu Abdullah al-Rusi, Abu Laith al-Azhari, Saif al-Din al-Filistini and Abu Zaid al-Masri, along with three young men from the eastern countryside of Hama.

Social media were recently buzzed with the news of HTS’s execution of a young woman named Anoud al-Assil, a content creator on Tiktok from Deir ez-Zor.

Al-Assil was deported by the Turkish authorities to HTS-held areas under the pretext that she did not have the needed documents, where the HTS arrested and sentenced her to death because of her content, which the HTS deemed it as immoral.

While a security source stated that the verdict against al-Assil was not implemented due to the aforementioned reason.

The department was not able to confirm the arrest of al-Assil or the implementation of any sentence against her.

The source added that the execution of the verdict was suspended according to orders from Mazhar al-Wisi and Musleh al-Olayan, senior members of the Shura Council.

The execution of young men and women is one of the hundreds of executions carried out by the HTS against residents of Idlib and other areas it controls.


According to a security source in the HTS, the execution cases documented in the records of the security apparatus on a regular basis during 2022 exceeded 30 cases, including women.

The source farther explained that the 19 cases that were executed since the beginning of 2023 included women and foreigners.

While the department counted the executions carried out by the HTS during the past years, and according to what the department monitored, the highest number of executions was committed in 2018, with more than 100 executions.

Based on the figures of executions carried out by the HTS, the average rate of executions reached approximately 45 cases each year, and it is expected that the real numbers are greater than that, after the HTS deliberately has carried out executions secretly after 2020, in an attempt by its leader to whitewash his and his factions reputation, as the HTS was included in the lists of terrorism.

Charges and methods of execution

The security source told North Press that executions are carried out against those who are accused of collaborating with the US-led global Coalition to defeat Islamic State (ISIS), the Syrian government, or Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), in addition to insulting God or adultery. Most charges are often fabricated.

The HTS security apparatus arrests those who criticize or oppose the authorities, and verdicts are issued and implemented by a decision of Abu Maria al-Qahtani, HTS’ most notable security official, al-Julani and the Shura Council.

The death sentences are carried out either by stoning, firing squad, or slaughtering, based on the charges directed to the detainees, the source said.

The detainees are being forcibly disappeared for months and years before being executed, according to the source.

Before any execution, the HTS authorities study the situation of the detainees whether s/he is famous or active on social media, have relations with people of influence, or hail from tribe with influential people, the source noted.   

Recently, the HTS’s security apparatus began to carry out its executions in complete secrecy, and it relies on foreign members within their ranks to ensure that news does not spread or circulate among the local members.

Verdicts are carried out either in the wilderness, out of sight, in unexpected areas, or in prison yards. The bodies are rarely handed over to the families of the victims, as they are often buried in mass graves.

The HTS security apparatus undertakes the operations of arrest, investigation, torture and execution in secret detention centers that it supervises.

The judiciary cannot intervene in these operations or know the fate of detainees held by the security apparatus, unless the security apparatus transfers the detainee to the judiciary for trial.

The department was able to access information confirming the existence of more than 25 prisons belonging to the HTS in Idlib and its countryside, 20 of them belong to the security apparatus.

Muhammad Salem, a pseudonym for a human rights activist resides in Idlib, and familiar with what is happening inside the prisons and the mechanism of the judicial work of the HTS, said that the judiciary affiliated with the HTS is not based on any laws.

The detainees are not allowed to carry out any legal procedures during their detention, and most of them are not allowed to meet their relatives, appoint a lawyer, or communicate with the outside world during their detention, Salem added.

International human rights law prohibits the issuance of sentences and executions without a prior judicial ruling that provides all the necessary guarantees and by extrajudicial methods.

In armed conflict in which international humanitarian law applies, the willful killing of soldiers, prisoners of war, or civilians is a crime, and executions carried out without meeting conditions amount to war crimes.

The UN Security Council should refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court, impose sanctions on the leaders of the opposition factions involved in gross human rights violations, end impunity, and protect civilians from the rules and laws imposed by the opposition factions that violate human rights, including the right to life, liberty, and personal security, in addition to freedom of movement, expression, and peaceful protest.