Unclaimed explosion kills 3 in Idlib town as rebels hunt Islamic State sleeper cells

AMMAN: An unclaimed explosion killed three children and injured other residents of the opposition-held Idlib town of Ariha on Thursday, first responders told Syria Direct, one week after hardline rebels launched an arrest campaign to curtail a weeks-long series of bombings and assassinations across the province.

First responders in Ariha continued to dig for survivors on Thursday afternoon in the rubble of an apartment building flattened by the blast of unknown origin earlier in the day, Leith al-Ahmad, a member of the town’s civil defense, told Syria Direct.

Thursday’s explosion in Ariha, roughly 15 kilometers south of Idlib’s provincial capital, appeared to be the latest in a string of unclaimed bombings and assassinations that have left dozens of civilians, fighters, local officials and rebel commanders dead since late April, pro-opposition media reported.

The rubble of a building flattened by an unclaimed explosion in Ariha on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Ariha al-Youm.

In one such bombing in early May, a car exploded outside the headquarters of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in the rebel-held town of a-Dana, roughly 30 kilometers from Idlib city, killing four people and wounding 10 others, Syria Direct reported at the time.

Hardline rebel coalition Hay’at Tahrir a-Sham (HTS), led by former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah a-Sham, launched an arrest campaign earlier this week targeting Islamic State (IS) “sleeper cells” they hold responsible for the wave of violence, the HTS-linked Ebaa Agency reported on Monday.

The HTS operation is based on intelligence gathered over a “prolonged period of investigation and observation,” Monday’s statement said. The coalition claimed to have captured and interrogated an IS member who revealed plans for further attacks and gave the location of several IS hideouts.

HTS raids in the city of Khan Sheikhoun, roughly 50 kilometers south of Idlib city, led to the death of one man accused of belonging to a sleeper cell and the arrest of three others on Wednesday, Ebaa Agency reported at the time.

Similar operations began in a-Dana on Monday, Ebaa said, with local pro-opposition media reporting that HTS arrested two men and killed another accused of belonging to IS.

“The operation against IS is ongoing,” HTS spokesman Emad Mujahid told Syria Direct on Thursday. “I cannot reveal specifics, but we are targeting IS hideouts across northern Syria,” he added.

Alaa Nassar

Alaa was forced to flee Damascus with her family because of the pressure from the Syrian regime in 2013. She was a student of Arabic Language & Literature at the University of Damascus. She came to Syria Direct because she hopes to find a new direction in her life and to show the world what is happening in her country.

Ammar Hamou

Ammar Hammou is from Douma city in outer Damascus. He studied journalism at Damascus University and left Syria in 2011. Follow Ammar on Twitter: @Ammar_Hamou.

Justin Clark

Justin studied Arabic at Western Michigan University. He continued his studies at Bethlehem University in the West Bank and the Qasid Institute in Jordan. Justin's work and studies have taken him to Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and Greece.