The Dar al-Qada ('Abode of Judges') serves as the de facto judicial branch of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (previously known as Jabhat al-Nusra, Syria's official al-Qa'ida wing), whatever claims might be made of its supposed independence. Though the Dar al-Qada operates in certain areas where it enjoys wider backing (e.g. Hureitan in north Aleppo countryside), it primarily exists in strongholds of Jabhat Fatah al-Sham like Salqin in north Idlib countryside, which is the branch that issued the statement under consideration here.
This statement from the Dar al-Qada in Salqin that I have obtained was distributed recently (around two weeks ago) in the villages of Jabal al-Summaq, which, as I have documented previously, is an originally Druze area whose inhabitants have been forced to declare conversion to Sunni Islam twice, first under pressure from the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) in late 2013 and then under Jabhat al-Nusra at the beginning of 2015.
The latest statement follows on from administrative decisions by the Jabhat Fatah al-Sham amir for Jabal al-Summaq- al-Hajj Baha' al-Sharm- to prevent those living in regime-held areas from benefiting from renting out their properties in Jabal al-Summaq, while those in the army or regime's security apparatus are barred entirely from their homes, unless they abandon their affiliation and return. These decisions have also been applied to agricultural lands in the area.
In short, the new statement as distributed for the original inhabitants of Jabal al-Summaq is intended to ensure that they ratify and organize all contracts of buying and selling of residential and agricultural property through the Dar al-Qada in Salqin, which appears to be the nearest functioning Jabhat Fatah al-Sham judicial body for the Jabal al-Summaq area. Note the language of the statement in speaking of "newly Muslim sects like what was known as the Druze," referring to the conversion of the Druze in Jabal al-Summaq to Sunni Islam. This illustrates the continuity in policy towards the people of Jabal al-Summaq, in that the imposition of Sunni Islam remains in place despite the rebranding from Jabhat al-Nusra to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham.
Following the assassination of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed's amir Abu Hashim al-Shami, the speculation of an inside job has given way to open infighting within the group. In terms of what has taken place on the ground, the security apparatus has arrested a number of figures within Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed, most notably Ábu Obeida Qahtan, a Palestinian-Syrian jihadi veteran who had fought in Afghanistan and connected early on/from the outset with al-Khal, the original leader of Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk that is presently the largest component of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed. Qahtan was an important source of financing from the beginning for Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk, but contrary to this report in the pro-rebel outlet All4Syria, he did not come to Syria from Jordan in 2014 but was rather in Syria much earlier, even before the battles in early 2013 that culminated in the capture of the locality of Jamla near the border with the Golan Heights, from which Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk originates. He took over the leadership of the group following al-Khal's assassination in mid-November 2015, but was then replaced by the Saudi Abu Abdullah al-Madani dispatched by the Islamic State in March 2016 on account of administrative failings. More recently, Qahtan notably survived an assassination attempt in August 2016 that wounded him. The incident was reported by the Islamic State's auxiliary news outlet Amaq News, as per below.
After a long hiatus, the Islamic State's Ajnad Media, which produces the Arabic nasheeds, has finally released a new production (the last ones being 'Praise be to God' released in July 2016, 'In the path of God' released in May 2016 and 'The Dawla has arisen' released in January 2016). It is possible the small output partly reflects a disruption to the Islamic State's media production in terms of killing potential Arabic language munshids, while al-Hayat media has continued to produce nasheeds in languages besides Arabic.
Below is a preliminary translation by me of this new nasheed: 'Mawkab al-Nur' ('The Convoy of Light'). The themes here are very general and oft-recurring: the glorious past, subduing the disbelievers etc. In addition, the Arabic used here is very straightforward.
The convoy of light has called us. Take the initiative, our hand-mill [of war] has turned.
*- The verb used here can also mean 'to say 'la illah ill Allah' (there is no deity but God).
To recall, Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed ('The Army of Khalid ibn al-Waleed') is an Islamic State-linked group in southwest Deraa province (the Yarmouk Valley/Basin area) on the border with the Golan Heights. Formed in late May 2016 mainly out of a merger of three groups, the most important of which was Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk , Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed came under the leadership of one Abu Hashim al-Shami, a man originally from Idlib province dispatched by the Islamic State to head the group. This followed on from the appointment of the Saudi Abu Abdullah al-Madani as head of Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk in March 2016, a surprise appointment at the time that also had the hand of Islamic State involvement.
Though the above information is correct, it should be noted that the issue of leaders and their names has not been publicised on the official media channels of Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk and the successor Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed. Instead, fake and/or unofficial announcements publicising this correct information sometimes appear. Since the formation of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed, the links with the Islamic State have been made more obvious through consistent advertisement of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed releases on Islamic State media aggregate channels like Nashir News on Telegram (in fact, Telegram is currently the only outlet where official Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed media exists). In addition, the Islamic State's auxiliary media wing Amaq News reports on developments concerning the group and the Yarmouk Valley area.
While the military situation is locked in a stalemate as the rebel factions supported by Jordan and the West find it difficult to penetrate the Yarmouk Basin and are largely not local to the area, Abu Hashim al-Shami (often referred to in local media as 'Abu Othman al-Idlibi', presumably based on his Idlib origins) was assassinated by the rebels. Though I have been able to confirm this information through private contact, a fake statement in the name of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed (below) was circulated regarding his death. Its lack of authenticity is demonstrated by its lack of appearance on Islamic State outlets like Nashir News on Telegram. In addition, the Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed media account 'Mohammad Daraa' on Facebook (an account overseen by multiple people in Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed media) decried the statement as a forgery (also below).
This post constitutes a continuation of the previous posts that comprise the archive of Islamic State administrative documents (cf. here and here) and cannot be expanded further owing to technical issues. Thus, this post begins with Specimen 23A, constituting the 599th specimen in the archives.
Specimen 23A: Return form, office of the affairs of the mujahideen, Shirqat
The brother [...] belongs to the sector of Shirqat/right side [western Shirqat]
May God reward you best.
Official of the office of the affairs of the mujahideen
As I have documented previously, the Jabal al-Summaq area in Idlib province is originally Druze, but inhabitants were forced to renounce the religion twice and convert to Sunni Islam: first in late November 2013 because of pressure from the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), and then under al-Qa'ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra (rebranded at the end of July 2016 as the officially independent Jabhat Fatah al-Sham: hereafter referred to in this post as JFS) in January 2015. Since JFS controls Jabal al-Summaq, with the control being absolute in the villages of the mountain itself (while Ahrar al-Sham also considers the villages on the plain to be within its own zone of influence), there has been a more thorough Islamization program than occurred under ISIS, which withdrew from Idlib province in early 2014 in the face of infighting with rebel factions. The Islamization program has included destruction of shrines and an insistence locals abide by imposed Shari'i regulations, which were reiterated in a speech last year by then Jabhat al-Nusra official- Abu Qatada al-Iraqi- in one of the villages (Kaftin).
Though Abu Qatada al-Iraqi was removed from his position in the Jabal al-Summaq area as his approach was seen as too confrontational, it did not mean a change in the actual Islamization policies. These policies were most recently reaffirmed in a statement distributed in Kaftin by Jabhat al-Nusra that emerged in mid-July 2016 just prior to the rebranding. The original is included below and translated. Note that it also addresses in part internally displaced persons that have come to Kaftin since Jabal al-Summaq is a de facto safe zone (though there have been a number of air-raids recently for multiple reasons). In referring to all inhabitants of Kaftin as Muslims, it is clear there is no recognition of a Druze identity among the original residents.
The Islamic State (IS) has recently announced the death of its official spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, first via its auxiliary outlet Amaq News and then through an official posting under Wilayat Halab ('Aleppo Province'). It seems most likely that he was killed in a U.S. strike on the al-Bab area in north Aleppo, the last remaining stronghold in the area amid rebel advances along the border with Turkey. Thus, it is unsurprising that the announcements of his death mention he was 'inspecting' IS military operations in Aleppo. It is also of note that the Wilayat Halab posting describes Adnani as a Husseini (a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad's household) and Qurashi (of the Quraysh tribe to which the Prophet belonged). As Charles Lister notes, the bestowal of these epithets on Adnani suggests that he may have been groomed to be the successor to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (as Baghdadi, in his role as Caliph, also has his reputed Husseini and Qurashi origins trumpeted). Certainly the conception of Adnani as the successor would not be surprising in light of the fact that he had the most recognisable persona in IS as embodied in the speeches he gave.
Over the past few years I have documented numerous militias fighting on the side of the regime in Syria, generally an understudied topic (at least as regards native formations: foreign Iranian-backed Shi'a militias intervening in Syria to support the regime are better covered). Below I compile a list of my articles on the subject, sorted by sub-categories (though there may be overlap in some cases, as the article contents will show). I will add to this list as I write more articles
[Last updated on 4 September 2016]
Syrian Hezbollah/Syrian Shi'i Militias
- Liwa al-Imam Zain al-Abidain
Factions of Suwayda' province
Military Intelligence Branch/Military Security factions
Amn al-Dawla intelligence agency militias
Air Intelligence factions
Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed (The Army of Khalid ibn al-Waleed)- named for a companion of the Prophet who helped secure the Muslim conquest of the Levant through the crucial Battle of Yarmouk- is a group linked to the Islamic State (IS) based in the Yarmouk Valley/Basin (Wadi/Hawdh al-Yarmouk) of southwest Deraa province on the border with the Golan Heights. The group was formed in late May 2016 from the following components:
. Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk (the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade: LSY)- the main component of Jaysh Khalid ibn al-Waleed. Once aligned with the Western-backed Southern Front, it first established connections with IS around summer 2014 and began overtly displaying affinities with IS after heavy clashes with Jabhat al-Nusra in December 2014, which accused LSY at the time of being aligned with IS even as observers were widely sceptical.
When it comes to the Syrian insurgency, one of the biggest dilemmas facing its backers has been the role of al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra. Despite its affiliations, the group has been widely viewed by the insurgency as an important military partner in many (but by no means all) of the zones of conflict since it first came on the scene publicly in 2012. Jabhat al-Nusra's fortunes have varied over time- for instance, it lost all of its assets in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir az-Zor to the Islamic State by summer 2014- but it has survived notions of a total collapse. Today, its main base is in the northwestern province of Idlib, and with the breakdown of the U.S.-Russia brokered 'cessation of hostilities' this year, Jabhat al-Nusra has played a leading role in fighting in Latakia and south Aleppo countryside, spearheading alongside Salafi group Ahrar al-Sham the coalition known as Jaysh al-Fatah, which was first set up in 2015 and led the routing of the Assad regime from Idlib province.