After the terrorist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a rebrand of Jabhat al-Nusra, which is the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate, claimed responsibility for the dramatic downing of a Russian Su-25 fighter jet over Idlib in northwest Syria on Saturday – the first Russian plane downed in Syria since 2015 – a number of analysts have published articles asking the obvious million dollar question: where did al-Qaeda get the portable anti-aircraft missile system used in the attack?
Once such article in Al Monitor speculates on the following: “The three immediate questions that arose from the attack were how the downing was made possible, how the militants acquired the arms and whether there was a bigger-level player behind the attack.”
MANPADS are heat seeking shoulder fired missiles capable of hitting targets flying at anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000 feet. Image source: Activist Post
And Al Monitor seems to answer its own question in the following when listing the array of allied groups now operating under the leadership of al-Qaeda (HTS) – among them groups previously “vetted” and approved to receive advanced weaponry by the CIA (specifically the TOW anti-tank missile):
Dozens of miles of Idlib province are contested among an array of groups, including the terrorist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a rebrand of Jabhat al-Nusra, which was affiliated with al-Qaeda; the Free Syrian Army; and its affiliate Jaish al-Nasr, which is considered a “moderate opposition group” that received weapons from the United States. Minutes after the downing of the Su-25, Alaa al-Hamwi, the military commander of Jaish al-Nasr’s aid defense battalion, claimed responsibility for the attack. Alaa argued that Jaish al-Nasr’s command supplied weapons to protect against the Russian air assault.
Later, however, HTS claimed responsibility for downing the plane.
Though US intelligence and defense officials have long denied that so-called “vetted” groups in Syria were recipients of anti-aircraft systems, rumors to the contrary have been persistent for years. The latest denial came immediately on the heels of Saturday’s Russian jet shoot down, which resulted in the death of the pilot on the ground as he came under fire by jihadists.