Syria’s top extremist group HTS hails Taliban takeover of Afghanistan

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The Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) alliance, led by al-Qaeda’s former Syria affiliate, on Wednesday welcomed the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, saying it hoped Syria’s extremists would also be victorious.

The armed group that formally broke ties with al-Qaeda years ago is considered to be the most prominent extremist group in Syria after a decade of war.

HTS controls nearly half of the Idlib region – the last remaining opposition bastion in Syria – alongside other less influential groups.

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It said the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan following two decades of US occupation was an example to follow.

“We congratulate our Taliban brothers and our people in Afghanistan for this clear conquest, and ask God to also grant the Syrian revolution victory,” it said in a statement released on its social media channels.

HTS formally cut ties with al-Qaeda in 2016 in a rebranding effort that saw it move closer to Syrian opposition groups in the country’s northwest.

But it is still widely seen as a hardline extremist outfit by activists and Idlib residents who have been subject to arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances and brutal killings at the hands of HTS fighters.

The Syrian government controls two thirds of the country after 10 years of war.

The conflict has killed nearly half a million people and forced half of Syria’s pre-war population from their homes.

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