Amid the continued failure of the Syrian rebels to roll back the Islamic State-linked Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed in the southern province of Deraa, the U.S.-led coalition and its allies seem to be resorting increasingly to repeated decapitation of the leadership in targeted strikes. These strikes have killed multiple officials in the organization, such as Abu Qasura Kanakari and Abu Hamza Tawheed. On 17 August, a strike killed the amir Abu Tayyim Inkhil, whose life I aim to document in this post.
As Abu Tayyim Inkhil's name suggests, he is originally from the town of Inkhil in north Deraa countryside, well outside the Yarmouk Basin area controlled by Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed. The town is currently controlled by the Syrian rebels. The number of inhabitants is around 45,000 and the main tribes in the town are:
The main rebel factions in the town are affiliated with the Southern Front, among them:
- Liwa Ahfad Omar bin al-Khattab
- Liwa Usud al-Islam
- Liwa al-Khalifa Omar
- Liwa Shuhada' Inkhil
- Liwa Mujahidee Hawran
- Liwa Ghuraba' Hawran
- al-Liwa' al-Awal Maham Khasa
Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham also maintain a presence in Inkhil. Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham has a base in Inkhil but does not offer services in the town, unlike the situation in the northwest of Syria. Ahrar al-Sham, however, does not have a base in Inkhil.
For the life of Abu Tayyim Inkhil, I am largely reliant on the testimony of Liwa al-Khalifa Omar's leader, under whose command Abu Tayyim Inkhil once served. In the public realm, some details on Abu Tayyim Inkhil's life are given in an article by Enab Baladi, which broadly matches the testimony I gathered. In addition, I have some testimony relayed to me from a source connected to the local council in Inkhil. Where accounts differ at a certain point, I have tried to determine the more accurate of the conflicting lines. For security reasons, no names of sources who spoke with me for this article are going to be identified.
Abu Tayyim Inkhil
Abu Tayyim Inkhil's real name is Wa'il Fa'our al-Eid. He was born in Inkhil in 1992. His father, like most people in Inkhil, worked in the realm of agriculture, as did Abu Tayyim Inkhil. There is no evidence that Abu Tayyim Inkhil studied at university. While religiously observant, Abu Tayyim Inkhil does not appear to have been an Islamist or Salafi from the outset. He initially joined Katibat al-Shaheed Ahmad al-Ma'araty, the formation of which was announced in a video released in February 2012. This group was led by the man who is now the leader of Liwa al-Khalifa Omar: indeed the group eventually became Liwa al-Khalifa Omar. Ahmad al-Ma'araty, originally from Idlib, was an officer of the Syrian army who served at one of the checkpoints in Inkhil and later defected. He was reported to have been killed at the end of January 2012.
Abu Tayyim Inkhil served as an anti-aircraft gunner (i.e. using a gun mounted on a small truck, for instance) in the group and the first battle he participated in was the Amoud Hawran battle in Busra al-Harir in east Deraa countryside. This battle spanned the end of 2012 and early 2013. In addition, Abu Tayyim Inkhil participated in the capture of Inkhil from the regime (June 2013), the capture of Jasim national hospital (January 2014), the capture of Tel al-Jabiya (April 2014), as well as multiple battles in Quneitra province to capture military points from the regime (saraya).
While Abu Tayyim Inkhil appears to have been initially hostile to Islamist and Salafi groups, a turning point came by around mid-2014, as Abu Tayyim Inkhil left Katibat al-Shaheed Ahmad al-Ma'araty and came under the influence of a paternal cousin who went by the nickname of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi, who would visit him and confer with him on familial grounds. As can deduced from the nickname, this cousin, who had originally been in the ranks of Ahrar al-Sham, was a supporter of the Islamic State. He broke off from Ahrar al-Sham and set up his own group in Inkhil called Jama'at Jund al-Islam, which was announced to be part of the Jaysh al-Jihad group that was formed at the end of January 2015 and primarily based in Quneitra as the main component of Jaysh al-Jihad was Saraya al-Jihad. Although there were suspicions raised at the time of Jaysh al-Jihad's formation that the group was linked to the Islamic State, it was only in May 2015 that a wider rebel initiative against the group was launched.
Abu Tayyim Inkhil was not alone in his immediate family in turning towards the Islamic State. His brother Abu Majid, whose real name is Ahmad Fa'our al-Eid, also turned in this direction. Like Abu Tayyim Inkhil, he had been involved in Katibat al-Shaheed Ahmad al-Ma'araty. Described as "tantamount to the spiritual father" for Katibat al-Shaheed Ahmad al-Ma'araty and one of its founders, Abu Majid was much older than Abu Tayyim Inkhil. It turns out that Abu Majid was also head of the local council in Inkhil responsible for providing services to the population, serving in the position from the time the council was formed in September 2013. He appears to have secured this position because he was among the town notables of the al-Khawabira tribe. Like Abu Tayyim Inkhil, Abu Majid did not initially display open signs of affinity with the Islamic State. For instance, he was still engaging in the habit of smoking, something forbidden by the Islamic State. Yet it should be noted that his son Majid was a member of Jaysh al-Jihad, and was killed in clashes with then al-Qa'ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra in Quneitra at the end of April 2015. It should be noted that in the south, Jabhat al-Nusra tended to be spot Islamic State-linked groups more quickly than other rebels. Yet Majid's affiliation with Jaysh al-Jihad and circumstances of his death were not reported clearly and correctly at the time. However, Majid's death aroused his father's rage against Jabhat al-Nusra, and probably contributed to the sympathies he had been developing towards the Islamic State at the time.
After Jaysh al-Jihad was defeated in Quneitra, the bulk of the Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi contingent retreated with other Jaysh al-Jihad remnants into the Yarmouk Basin, taking refuge with the Islamic State-linked Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk that was based in the area. But Abu Tayyim Inkhil and some others of the Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi contingent appear to have stayed behind in Inkil covertly. In June or July 2015, Abu Tayyim Inkhil (leading the operational contingent) and Abu Majid (taking the role of the planner) carried out an operation targeting a base belonging to Katibat al-Shaheed Ahmad al-Ma'araty. After tying up the personnel in the base, the group aimed to take weapons from the base, believing that valuable war spoils were in the base. These war spoils came from the rebels' capture of Liwa 52 in east Deraa countryside in June 2015. However, the plan of the raid was mistaken as the rebel group's main storage house was elsewhere. Two members of the raiding party were caught, and following the intervention of Inkhil notables, the weapons had to be returned. For his part, Abu Majid denied involvement in the raid, saying that he had nothing to do his brother and his conduct. The case against Abu Majid was dropped partly on the grounds that one could not be held responsible for the actions of one's brother, even as the leader of Katibat al-Shaheed Ahmad al-Ma'araty knew Abu Majid had been involved in the raid.
After the failed raid, Abu Tayyim Inkhil escaped to the Yarmouk Basin (July 2015) and became affiliated with Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk. However, Abu Majid remained in Inkhil, even retaining his position as head of the local council. In November 2015, he was part of a committee urging for a campaign to renovate the mosques and schools of Inkhil in preparation for the coming winter.
The departure of Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi's group and Abu Tayyim Inkhil to the Yarmouk Basin did not mean the end of the Islamic State presence in Inkhil. A few members may have remained or returned, and a new Islamic State-linked group was soon formed in Inkhil under the name of Ansar al-Aqsa (Supporters of al-Aqsa) and led by Malik al-Farwan (Abu Faysal), who had initially been in Katibat al-Shaheed Ahmad al-Ma'araty but then joined Jabhat al-Nusra (which participated in the capture of Inkhil in 2013) and then became involved with the Jund al-Malahem faction before setting up Ansar al-Aqsa. Two other small groups joined with Malik al-Farwan's contingent and possible remnants of the Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi group to form Ansar al-Aqsa. One was led by a certain Ahmad Farid al-Raman, who had defected from the southern Free Syrian Army and Islamist group Jabhat Ansar al-Islam. The other was led by Madin Yusuf al-Nasir, who had previously developed a reputation for his pursuit of women and fondness of going to casinos.
Ansar al-Aqsa, which had some ex-Jabhat al-Nusra members that refused to fight Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk, was initially small and denied having anything to do with the Islamic State, and so its presence in Inkhil was tolerated. Over time, Ansar al-Aqsa grew in strength and eventually began conducting assassination operations, including the killing of an engineer and prominent civil society figure called Bashar al-Dukhi, who was described in the wider media at the time as the head of the Inkhil local council. Conversely, the source connected to the local council denied that Bashar al-Dukhi had succeeded Abu Majid as head of the local council or even received that position at all.
In addition to assassination operations, members of Ansar al-Aqsa had gathered in numbers around one of the mosques in the town, and there had been a proclamation of takfir on the Free Syrian Army. On account of these events, the factions of Inkhil had held meetings and decided that Ansar al-Aqsa had to be destroyed. Abu Faysal was killed as part of the battle in March 2016 against Ansar al-Aqsa, while the surviving remnants fled to the Yarmouk Basin.
After the defeat of Ansar al-Aqsa, Abu Majid also left for the Yarmouk Basin (c. April 2016), apparently being wanted for arrest by many of the rebels at this point. Indeed, rumours circulated that he had participated on the side of Ansar al-Aqsa in the March 2016 battle in Inkhil, even though he had not been openly affiliated with the group prior to the battle.
Indeed, by April 2016, he was no longer involved with the local council. Two explanations have arisen as to the circumstances of his departure from the local council. The first, given by the leader of Liwa al-Khalifa Omar, is that Abu Majid had already been expelled from the local council by the end of 2015 for more open proclamation of Islamic State sympathies. The other explanation from the source connected to the local council is that Abu Majid left the council himself, refraining from participation in the April 2016 elections for the local council. Note that these elections are conducted on a tribal basis and through mutual agreement.
Of the two explanations regarding the end of Abu Majid's tenure as head of the local council, the second one seems more plausible in the chronological connection of events. Faced with growing suspicion regarding his Islamic State sympathies, Abu Majid had no choice but to leave the local council for good and depart for the Yarmouk Basin before he could be arrested.
As for Abu Tayyim Inkhil, he rose through the ranks of Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk and had become a military amir by the time of the formation of Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed. Abu Tayyim Inkhil became general amir of the group after the killing of Abu Hashim al-Rifa'i at the end of June 2017, and he remained in this position until his death. Abu Tayyim Inkhil was not married before he came to the Yarmouk Basin, but apparently got married after he took up residence in the Yarmouk Basin. As for Abu Majid, he is still alive as of the time of writing, and is said to be the Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed amir for the locality of Tasil.