Of all jihadi groups, the Islamic State is by far the most productive in media output, releasing dozens of photos, news bulletins and other items on a daily basis that can overwhelm the analyst and general reader. We have seen much analysis and statistics regarding the themes of Islamic State propaganda material, and by now the output is fairly predictable. A consensus has been established, for example, that as the Islamic State has lost momentum and territory, the propaganda has become more military-focused in nature. Of course, one can still find items photo series illustrating ordinary life in territories controlled by the Islamic State, but the emphasis on them has definitely been diminished.
Besides broad themes and statistics, interesting nuggets can emerge sometimes in the photo series and videos. The Italian journalist Daniele Raineri, for example, has a knack for finding Islamic State notables making appearances in various media items, and his Twitter feed is well worth checking out in this regard.
The Islamic State-linked Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed that is based in the Yarmouk Basin in southwest Deraa on the border with the Golan Heights and Jordan follows Islamic State themes and production style in its media output. Since the area is a rather small enclave and has a small population in comparison with the rest of Islamic State territory, one can say that it is perhaps easier to identify recurring characters in the media output. Below are some notable figures in the group I have been able to identify, which I will update accordingly if I come across new information.
Note the man with the striking ginger beard in this screenshot and two photos respectively. The first item involves confiscation and burning of illicit goods (most likely cigarettes). In the second item, he is reading out the statement of the hadd punishment for theft: namely, cutting off the hand. In the third item, he is reading out the statement of the hadd punishment for an alleged sorcerer: that is, beheading. It turns out that this man, whose ginger beard is authentic, is one Qasim al-Ghabaiti. Originally from the Yarmouk Basin village of Abidin that is controlled by Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed, he is a Shari'i official in Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed.
In the third item above, notice also the man in the brown jacket to the right of the small boy in the crowd of spectators. He is Abu Muhammad Jabab. Though the kunya suggests he is from the Deraa locality of Jabab, his real name is Maher al-Baridi- pointing to origins in the Baridi clan that constitutes an important landowning clan in the Yarmouk Basin. He once served as head of the Diwan al-Hisba- responsible for enforcing Islamic morality- during the time of Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed's main predecessor, Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk.
Finally, see below a photo released recently as part of a series on executing an alleged blasphemer in the Yarmouk Basin village of Kawiya.
The person reading out the statement of the ruling on the blasphemer is one Abu Muhammad Ja'ara. Originally from Abidin or Tel Shihab (the latter outside of Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed territory), he has been involved in the Zakat department of administration: that is, responsible for distributing zakat payments to the poor and deserving. Apparently he was originally in Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk. Another photo below taken from his Facebook page shows the similar dress and facial appearance.
(Update 5 January 2017): A person with a similar style of beard to that of Abu Muhammad Ja'ara appears in a photo series from mid-July 2016, reading out the Shari'i ruling for theft (see below). He is the Shari'i official Abu Ali Shubat, who apparently became head of the Islamic court just before the internal arrests of multiple Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed figures including Abu Obeida Qahtan. Publicly available stories about Shubat are largely negative. He may have been involved in the assassination of Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed amir Abu Hashim al-Shami. He has also been accused of judicial corruption in the collection of bribes through one Sufyan al-Ja'ouni and others close to these two men. Another story seems more fantastical and is almost certainly untrue: that he married a widow before she had completed her 'idda, and when this was discovered, he fled the Yarmouk Basin and divorced her on the phone!
(Update 11 April 2017: companion to the update above from 5 January 2017): Abu Ali Shubat is apparently the same person as Abu Ali Saraya, the name of the head of the Islamic court during the late days of the Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk era, before being replaced in the summer of 2016 by Abu Hamza Tawheed. It's simply two kunyas for one person.
(Update 15 February 2017): The person in this photo from Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed illustrating al-Diwan al-Aam (The General Department) of the Islamic court is apparently one Wisam Adnan al-Safadi, originally from the Hawdh al-Yarmouk town of al-Shajrah. It should be pointed out that al-Safadi is a notable local family in the area.
In other news, the amir of the security officials- Abu al-Bara'- as well as his deputy Abu Muhammad al-Telawi and the military commander Abu Hashim al-Telawi have been removed from their positions, according to a friend in Jamla who was in Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed. All these personalities are originally from Tel Shehab. The reason for their removal is unknown.
(Update 11 May 2017): The person in the white garment in this recent photo and reading the ruling statement from the Shari'i court is apparently one Abu Hamza, said to function as a mufti in the organization. He is not from Hawdh al-Yarmouk.
(Update 23 May 2017): More specifically, another source clarifies that he is Abu Hamza al-Kum (aka Abu Hamza al-Ghadeer/Abu Hamza Tawheed). He was the head of the Islamic court for some time in 2016 after the but was replaced by Abu Ali Shubat/Abu Ali Saraya shortly before being arrested on suspicion of involvement in the assassination of Abu Hashim al-Shami. He was released, while Nidal al-Baridi and Abu Obeida Qahtan still appear to be detained. Indeed, recently asked about his father, Anas Nidal al-Baridi told me: "Please don't ask."
(Update 6 August 2017): Some notes on some of the personalities named and identified above:
- Abu Hamza Tawheed was killed in late June 2017 in an apparent coalition strike on a meeting of Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed leaders.
- Qasim al-Ghabaiti was killed several months ago in fighting with the rebels.
- Maher al-Baridi has now apparently become head of Hisba following the killing of Abu Obeida in late June 2017.
- Nidal al-Baridi and Abu Obeida Qahtan were both executed in early June 2017.
- Abu Hashim al-Telawi had succeeded Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi following the latter's death in an apparent coalition strike in early June 2017, only to be killed in the late June 2017 strike.
(Update 23 April 2018): A photo series was put out by Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed fairly recently featuring the execution of one Naji Mustafa in Abidin on charges of collaboration with the Syrian government. Naji reportedly used to be head of the municipal office in Abidin.
The person posing over Naji with the finger of tawheed and gun over Naji is Abu Muhammad Jabab. I have identified him above as Maher al-Baridi, though his real name is also given as Maher Marwan Kanhoush (NB: there are Baridis in Jabab). He was previously active on Facebook but decided to abandon it because of "what it contains from condemned things." As his kunya suggests, he is indeed from the locality of Jabab. He was apparently born in 1980 and is currently a Shari'i official in Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed. The following is an account about him (I do not vouch for all the information related therein):
"Married with children. He defected from Jabhat al-Nusra and joined Da'esh in the Yarmouk Basin. And he progressed in work in more than on field. He was entrusted with the task of judgement after the arrest of a number of the amirs following the airstrike in al-Shajra that killed leaders of the first rank, among them Abu Tayyim Inkhil, for the assignment to be transferred to him after the arrest of Abu Ali Saraya, the judge of the Yarmouk Basin court.
But after his sadistic and extremist behaviour sometimes in incitement and takfir, especially against the imams of the Muslims Abu Hanifa al-Nu'man and Imam al-Nawawi and al-Qurtubi, and his great impact on children and young fools, he was made to resign and was removed from the path of judgement and transferred to a position of greater impact: amir of preachers.
But his social exploits were of greater impact as he worked for the divorce of one of the women (with no regard for her reputation) from her husband (who was arrested). After that he got engaged to her but when his affair was discovered, he divorced her.
There are also many stories of him taking houses from their owners, as he threw their owners from women and children onto the streets on the pretext of their being apostates. It was discovered after this that his goal was to settle the brother of his wife also called by the kunya Abu Muhammad (Majd Muhammad al-Hassan) in a house of two floors [and- parenthetical insertion my own] a house for each wife of his as he considered that his wives should be living in the Champs-Elysees [i.e. in great luxury] and be accustomed to live in houses with floors.
His extremism reached the point of takfir against Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed, such that his case was referred to the north [i.e. the Islamic State] and a fatwa came from the wali of Damascus, that he and his following should cease this behaviour and write a pledge for that. But this extremist continues in his might and methods so as to obtain a fatwa to stop education in the Basin on the grounds of its secularism. And he brought a fatwa from the north from the Da'esh administration for that, such that all of the Basin was barred from education. A month later, with the families of the children and the teachers aggravated, the schools were opened again according to the directives of Da'esh and its education committee, after they burnt the Arab language and nationalism books."
(Update 27 June 2018): The person in the screenshot below from the most recent Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed video is apparently one Abu Ja'afar al-Urduni, who, as his kunya suggests, is originally from Jordan and became head of the Hisba around the beginning of this month. Thus, Abu Yahya al-Karaki is no longer head of the Hisba.