In my analysis on the infighting in Deraa province for Jihadology, I noted that although Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiya (the Islamic Muthanna Movement- HMI) is actively at war with rebel factions in the western Deraa countryside and is cooperating with the Islamic State [IS]-linked Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk (Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade- LSY) in this regard, there have been no indications of infighting further east between the Deraa al-Balad (southern Deraa city) HMI contingent and rebel forces, as the contingent in the city pledged only to fight the regime. In addition, I speculated that perhaps we would see a fragmenting of HMI between the western and eastern halves.
This prediction has been vindicated in a new statement issued by the Deraa al-Balad contingent of HMI announcing its defection from HMI and the formation of a new Katibat al-Murabitun (Sentinels Battalion). Thus, the question now arises: what next for HMI, which is now confined to the west Deraa countryside? Speculation continues that the group is linked to IS, but HMI leader Abu Ayyub, speaking to al-Jazeera, has denied this claim:
"The general amir for HMI Abu Ayyub denied that the movement is affiliated with the Islamic State organization, emphasizing Harakat al-Muthanna's independence, and that it has no pact of allegiance to any side whatsoever.
Abu Ayyub added in a discussion with al-Jazeera.net that Harakat al-Muthanna today controls the areas of Adwan, Sheikh Sa'ad, al-Mazir'a, Jalin, Masakin Jalin and the areas spread between them. "
In addition, a member of the HMI contingent in Deraa city that has just defected denies to me that HMI has links with IS. In this context, it is notable that HMI is not engaging in joint control of any areas with LSY, which has by contrast seized Tasil and Sahm al-Jowlan for itself. This may point to my interpretation in the Jihadology article of HMI's actions as opportunism to assert its own domain. Thus, one may still see the group as a Jund al-Aqsa-style formation (i.e. hardline jihadi in orientation with a leadership not affiliated with IS but at least some sympathisers in the ranks), but it is highly likely that LSY and IS are trying and will continue to try to co-opt HMI.
Below is my translation of the Katibat al-Murabitun statement:
"In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
Praise be to God the Lord of the Worlds and the most preferable prayers and most complete salutations be upon our Prophet Muhammad and all his family and companions. As for what follows:
Following the recent events that the Hawran has witnessed from mistakes in the field of jihad- something that has had an impact on the lives of the civilian families at peace in their homes- therefore we- the members of HMI in the city of Deraa- announce our defection from the movement and the breaking of links in all areas. And we announce the formation of Katibat al-Murabitun.
We also announce our unanimous resolution to remove the sector official 'Abu Abd al-Karim', and we pledge to our people in the city of Deraa that we will remain a part of this city that has suffered what it has suffered from the woes of war at the hands of the Nusayri regime, and we will also remain a part of the Bunyan Marsus operations room, maintaining ribat [frontline duty/observations] on the frontlines in resisting this Nusayri enemy.
Leader of Katibat al-Murabitun
Deraa: edited and published on 27 March 2016."