The Confession of Abu Tahrir al-Urduni: Context and Analysis

Abu Tahrir al-Urduni

Like Nidhal al-Baridi, Abu Tahrir al-Urduni (Nasir Suleiman Qasim) was among those executed for supposed involvement in the assassination of Abu Hashim al-Idlibi, the first amir of Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed (JKBW). Also like Nidhal, Abu Tahrir was later exonerated of responsibility for the assassination of The video clip I uploaded is from the interrogations the group carried out with Abu Tahrir following the assassination of Abu Hashim. In sum, Abu Tahrir affirms in the video that he is of Jordanian nationality and commands the engineering squadron in the military section of JKBW. He says that Nidhal approached him and told him not to go ‘the north’/Iraq (i.e. to go to the areas under the control of the Islamic State, a point confirming the relations between the Islamic State and JKBW). Supposedly, Nidhal and others were planning to hand over control of the Yarmouk Basin area to Abu Obeida Qahtan, and JKBW would withdraw from the area and things would return to as they were in the days of Liwa Shuhada’ al-Yarmouk. As part of the supposed new arrangement, Abu Tahrir would receive the position of overall military commander. However, note that Abu Tahrir does not profess to know what happened following the assassination of Abu Hashim, though the supposed general idea was that he should play a role in creating chaos in the Yarmouk Basin area as part of the conspiracy.

For some context, note that Abu Tahrir was in Liwa Shuhada’ al-Yarmouk prior to the formation of JKBW in May 2016. It would appear that he had previously been involved in the Southern Front group called the Syrian Revolutionaries Front (SRF), which outlived the original Western-backed SRF of northern Syria that was destroyed by Jabhat al-Nusra and other groups in 2014. The southern SRF issued the following statement at the end of August 2015 to affirm that Abu Tahrir was no longer affiliated with the group.

“Southern Front
Syrian Revolutionaries Front

General Command
Monday: 31st August 2015

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

Statement

Concerning news that has been circulated claiming that Abu Tahrir is a military commander with the Syrian Revolutionaries Front, we deny this and affirm the lack of truth of this news, and affirm that Abu Tahrir is not a member of the Syrian Revolutionaries Front and is not affliated with any formation or group with us. And he was expelled more than a year ago, but he has constantly been trying to return on the basis of various pretexts, but he is not trusted in terms of security and we know he has more than one link. And it was clear here that he suffers from psychological illnesses.

We also affirm that all the military commanders in the Syrian Revolutionaries Front are of its sons and well known among the sons of Syria, and there is no non-Syrian member or commander.

General Command
Syrian Revolutionaries Front.”

A correspondent in Deraa for the pro-opposition outlet Enab Baladi affirmed that Abu Tahrir had participated in a number of battles in west Deraa countryside, including the assault on Tel al-Jumu’. The correspondent also claimed that Abu Tahrir was known for his strong links with the Jordanian intelligence.

As with the confessions of Nidhal al-Baridi, be careful about taking Abu Tahrir’s confession at face value (though it is clear he held the position he says he held in JKBW), particularly in light of the fact he was subsequently exonerated of responsibility for the assassination.

The Video Confession of Abu Tahrir al-Urduni of Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed

(Rough translation of the testimony).

– My name is Naser Suleiman Qasim al-Jahmawi of Jordanian nationality. My father’s name is Suleiman. His name is on my passport. I am in Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed, the leader of the engineering squadron in the military division. Nidhal came to me in the base. He asked me saying: What are you intending to do, Abu Tahrir? I said: I am intending to go to the north to Iraq. He said to me: stay here with us and don’t go. In the coming days the area will change entirely. I spoke with him at length: what do you mean by these words? He said: By God we intend to hand over things to Sheikh Abu Obeida as the general amir, and many brothers in the north according to their request, I want to make sure this area avoids the bombing of the coalition aircraft. And Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed will withdraw from this area and it will return to the state it was in the days of Liwa Shuhada’ al-Yarmouk. I rejected this matter later he said: oh Abu Tahrir stay here with us, don’t go, the coming days will be better. I want to cause chaos in this area and explosions: I want this chaos so that I can take hold of security in the area entirely.

I rejected at first, later he said: I want you to place for me a mine on the Jamla-Abideen road. I will give you all the instructions. And you, if when we ask you oh brother, blow it up even if you blow it up in the air but make for me a disturbance in the area, this area. We want there to be caused in it a a security state of affairs so the security authority we want it to be entirely in our hands and Sheikh Abu Obeida will be the general amir for the area.

– And what would you receive?

– The position of military commander in the area. I agreed to this talk and it happened that on the evening of that day I went and dug a small hole and it is present now and I waited there for half an hour and nothing happened and I did not contact them and I returned to the base and I remained in the base for the time.

– Where is the site of the hole?

– It is nearer to Jamla than Abideen on the main road.

– And after the operation of the assassination of Abu Hashim: what happened?

– I don’t know by God about this thing.

Video Confessions of Nidhal al-Baridi of Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed

(Rough transcript of the video)

– There was the Hezbollah group here who wanted to create sleeper cells here in the Yarmouk Basin area and give them aid and military support.

– Fine, with whom have they been in contact?

– They have been in contact with one called Muhammad Yasin Abu Sayfan.

– Muhammad Yasin Abu Sayfan: to whom did he come, I mean whom did the party contact saying that they wanted to offer support? Who would work on the assignments? Who would establish the cells?

– We are the ones who would establish the cells.

– Who? You Nidhal yourself and the group?

– I Nidhal, but in coordination with the general amir.

– With the general amir what did you coordinate?

– Handing over the aircraft- reconnaissance aircraft- in exchange for a financial sum of $1.5 million. The matter turned from a financial sum to an exchange, that there would be the withdrawal of the al-Hajar al-Aswad group in exchange for the aircraft as they would be secured a safe exit.

– So the amir only knew that there would be a swap or exchange: that the aircraft would be in exchange for the withdrawal or the matter of money.

– No, he also had news of the matter of the exchange and we would take money from them.

– But he did not know that you would establish cells here.

– No he knew, and he is the one who gave me the flashstick in which the names were.

– What names?

– The names of people whom he placed directly.

(Rough transcript of the video)

– The assassination of Abu Hashim, who had knowledge of it from the leaders?

– The six people aforementioned.

– Who are they?

– Qahtan, Nidhal, Abu Tahrir, Nadir al-Qaseem, Khalid al-Jamal, Abu Jandal.

– How many meetings did you have before implementing the operation?

– Not all the meetings were such that they were gathered together. For example I was with so-and-so and so-and-so and for example most of the meetings were in the presence of Nadir al-Qaseem, myself and Abu Obeida Qahtan.

– So you were making the plans and distributing the assignments to the rest?

– Yes.

– You mentioned the IEDs that came. How any IEDs did you receive?

– Seven IEDs.

– You distributed how many?

– I distributed two.

– To whom?

– One to Nadir al-Qaseem and the second to Khalid al-Jamal.

– And the rest are where?

– I have them hidden in the house.

– Where in the house?

– In the garden of the house.

– And what is with them?

– With them are the detonation devices.

(Rough transcript of the video)

– Nidhal, tell us about how the prisoners were allowed to escape from the prison. How did the operation happen?

– There was Khalid al-Jamal.

– Khalid al-Jamal: what was his capacity in the formation among you?

– A leader.

– A leader from the six aforementioned.

– He came to me and said there is a group who contacted me- the al-Maghrib group- for the escape of the prisoner.

– Who are the al-Maghrib group?

– The Jews. I said who is the prisoner? He said Ali Jad’a, an intermediary with them for the al-Haramain group from Heet. They wanted to see if they could get him out from the Dawa’esh: the one called Ali Jad’a. Yes Ali Jad’a, we can get him out no problem. Ali Jad’a, he had a companion with him who was Aamer Marhaj, so they got them out.

– But how was the escape operation done?

– I don’t have a review of it.

– But who was responsible for it?

– Those responsible for it were those who had the shift: one called Omran and the second called Noor.

– Okay, those are the ones entrusted with their escape.

– Those who had the shift.

(Rough transcript of the video)

– There was a project on the basis that we establish a border guards brigade with the Jordanian side, to control the area, from al-Mu’allaqa to al-Qusayr, the al-Wahda dam area, and during the discussions with them they informed us that there would be a humanitarian border crossing in service to the citizens of the Basin, and permitting the peoples to farm their lands in the Yarmouk Valley area.

– What did the Jordanian side present you?

– The Jordanian side until now did not present us anything but there was a project but there was the order to delay the matter because of the explosion that happened in Inkhil against the leadership of the Southern Front.

– What were they promising you?

– They were promising us to offer to the brigade 4 by 4 vehicles, with individual light weapons and a humanitarian crossing and a sum of $50,000.

– $50,000 monthly as salaries?

– Expenditures and salaries for the brigade.

– Which brigade is this?

– This brigade was formed under my name. There is no specified name, just border guards, but the brigade affiliated with me and the work entrusted to it.

Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed: Partial List of Personnel Receiving Administrative Necessities

List of names of brothers receiving administrative necessities

No. Name and surname Sector Thing Received Type Notes
1 Abu Ali Saraya Islamic court Dell laptop Core i3 New
2 Abu Omar Shorta Islamic police Dell laptop Core i3 New
3 Abu Bakr al-Jowlani Administrative official of the court Dell laptop Core i3 New
4 Talal al-Numairi/Abu Khalid Diwan of the court Dell laptop Core i3 New
5 Abu Hamza/Zakat Zakat Dell laptop Core i3 New
6 Abu Ahmad al-Masri Hisba HP laptop   Used
7 Abu Yahya Ma’ariya Da’wa and Mosques Asus laptop Core i3 Used
8 Abu Osama al-Der’awi General administration Dell laptop Core i7 New
9 Abu Osama al-Der’awi General administration Dell laptop Core i7 New
10 Abu Imran General administration Dell laptop Core i3 New
11 Asem al-Mali General administration Dell laptop Core i3 New
12 Abu Othman al-Askari Military administration Dell laptop Core i3 New
13 Abu Qasim Inkhil Military administration Dell laptop Core i3 New
14 Abu Hashim al-Askari Military administration Dell laptop and Tab phone Core i3 New
15 Abu Mu’awiya Taslih Arming Dell laptop Core i3 New
16 Abu Mujahid Tayyiba Medical Dell laptop Core i3 New
17 Ra’id al-Baridi Operations Dell laptop Core i3 New
18 Ra’id al-Baridi Operations Dell laptop Core i3 New/with repair
19 Abu Hamza Aqraba School Dell laptop Core i3 New
20 Abu Suhayb Kaziya Investment Dell laptop Core i3 New
21 Firas al-Baridi Amni Lenovo laptop Core i7  
22 Firas al-Baridi Amni Phone Sony T2  
23 Sami al-Aasi Amni Sony laptop Core i2  
24 Abu Muhammad al-Tellawi Amni Phone Sony  
25 Abu Muhammad al-Tellawi Amni Router Hame  
26 Ibrahim al-Muqaddam/Abu Khattab Amni Phone J7  
27 Abu Uday Jabab Amni Phone J3  
28 Abu Uday Jabab Amni Line (x2) Orange  
29 Abu Abdo al-Askari   Laptop (x2)   Used and confiscated from the amnis
30 Abu Abdo al-Askari   Phone Samsung Confiscated from the amnis
31 Abu Obeida al-Ilami   Router (x2) and G4 line    
32 Abu Obeida al-Ilami   Phone (x2) S Dus  
33 Muhammad Mardini Media office Dell laptop Core i7  
34 Muhammad Mardini Media office Asus laptop Core i4  
35 Muhammad Mardini Media office Router and Orange net line Huawei and G4 line  
36 Muhammad Mardini Media office Camera (x3) Canon 700D and Handicam 60 and Handicam 45 and Canon X20 Canon X20 out of service
37 Osama Azizi Media office Dell laptop Core i5  
38 Abu Obeida al-Ilami Media office Dell laptop Core i3  
39 Abu Qatada al-Ilami Media office Router Huawei  

NB: The photos may not be reprinted without the permission of the site’s owners. Contact ajaltamimi[at]jihadology.net for more information.

The Internal Structure of Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed: Analysis

The latest documents in the archives concern the internal structure of the Islamic State’s southern Syrian affiliate Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed (“The Army of Khalid bin al-Waleed”- JKBW) as it existed in spring 2018. As noted previously, in its final weeks of existence in the summer of 2018, JKBW was presented in Islamic State propaganda as Wilayat Hawran (“Hawran province”).

The documents on the internal structure of JKBW were prepared and last modified in spring 2018 by a person who was on the Majlis Shura (“Consultation Council”) of Wilayat Hawran. That person was in fact working as an infiltrator inside JKBW and he also leaked to me the JKBW military personnel database from summer 2017. For that person’s safety, I have redacted his name and kunya from the documents. I will also not mention for which side he was working.

These documents do require some analysis and explanation that the reader may understand them fully. Firstly, it should be realized that the Islamic State’s propaganda is highly misleading. Wilayat Hawran was not suddenly established in summer 2018 but actually existed well before it was announced. Thus, the wali (“provincial governor”) of Hawran- Abu Ali al-Safadi, originally from the Deraa town of Sheikh Maskeen- was the real highest authority in the Yarmouk Basin area, rather than the general amir of JKBW (aka the amir of the Yarmouk Basin area).

At the top alongside the wali of Hawran was his Majlis Shura consisting of six other members. Leaving aside the infiltrator, the other members were as follows:

– Abu Osama al-Der’awi: originally from Sheikh Maskeen. He was the general financial official for Wilayat Hawran.

– Abu Mus’ab (aka Abu Suleiman Barqa): originally from the north Deraa village of Barqa. He had been an official in Fawj al-Qa’qa’ (“The Qa’qa’ Regiment”), which functioned as an Amn Khariji (“external security”) unit for the Islamic State, responsible for operations against enemies of the Islamic State inside their own territory. For references to Fawj al-Qa’qa’, see this testimony published by a former ‘extremist’ member of the Islamic State, who mentions that in Deraa province, problems were created by the fact that at one point there were three Amn Khariji apparatuses for the Islamic State in the area. One affiliated with Fawj al-Qa’qa’, another with JKBW, and another affiliated with Wilayat Dimashq. Fawj al-Qa’qa’ in southern Syria was subsequently integrated into JKBW, and Abu Mus’ab became head of JKBW’s Amn Khariji apparatus.

Prior to the merging of the Fawj al-Qa’qa’ contingent into JKBW, a certain Abu al-Bara’ al-Tel (originally from Tel Shihab, from which many JKBW members came) was managing some Amn Khariji contingents for JKBW. He had headed the Amn Khariji apparatus for Liwa Shuhada’ al-Yarmouk, one of the groups that became JKBW. After JKBW was initially formed in May 2016, an Amn Khariji apparatus for JKBW was led by Abu Ayyub al-Masalama, who had been the amir of Harakat al-Muthanna (another group that became JKBW), but he subsequently fled the Yarmouk Basin in summer 2016, as he did not really buy into Islamic State ideology.

– Abu Suleiman al-Shami: from Quneitra and of Palestinian-Syrian origin. He had resided in the al-Hajar al-Aswad suburb of Damascus. He headed the Shari’i office of JKBW.

– Abu Abdullah Hamam al-Jazrawi: the overall head of the judicial system in the Yarmouk Basin. As his kunya suggests, he was originally from Saudi Arabia. He came from the Islamic State’s territories further north, replacing Abu Ali Saraya (originally from Sheikh Maskeen and a notorious figure in JKBW).

– Abu Hamam al-Shami: originally from Barqa. He was the last general amir of JKBW.

One will also note that a body by the name of “Oversight and Tracking Committee for Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed” appears in the documents. This body’s existence is corroborated by an internal JKBW document that emerged in the final weeks of JKBW’s existence, denying rumours that JKBW had taken up front lines with rebel groups against the Syrian government and its allies, making it clear that it still considered those rebel groups apostates who must repent and give allegiance to the Islamic State. One will note that the document is signed by a certain “Abu Ibrahim al-Shami” as head of Oversight and Tracking. “Abu Ibrahim al-Shami” is actually the same person as Abu Ali al-Safadi.

As for the hierarchical structure of JKBW’s various departments and offices in the first office, most of the names are self-explanatory. For reference for the reader:

– The judge: i.e. overall head of JKBW’s judicial system.
– Zakat: Islamic alms taxation to help the poor.
– Hisba: Islamic public morality enforcement (“commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong”).
– Da’wa: Islamic religious outreach and proselytization.
– Ruqyah office: dealing with exorcism.
– Spoils: dealing with spoils of war seized from the enemy.

Some additional administrative and military matters to note:

– A financial department, as highlighted earlier.

– A public relations sector, which is attested in an internal JKBW document that emerged in June 2018. The document shows the public relations amir at the time was one Abu Fawaz Hashish al-Shammary, originally from Tel Shihab and a lawyer by background. The public relations sector also worked to recruit people from the masses to fight the Syrian government forces and their allies in the final weeks of JKBW’s existence.

– A head of training camps, who would come under the military administration. There would also have been a Shari’i head for the training camps.

– An official dealing with new recruitment into JKBW and personnel monitoring. He presumably would have worked with the public relations sector in the attempts to recruit from the masses in the final weeks of JKBW’s existence.






The Internal Structure of Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed



Islamic State
Wilayat Hawran

In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful


The wali of Wilayat Hawran: the amir Abu Ali al-Safadi

Oversight and Tracking Committee for Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed: the amir Abu Ibrahim al-Shami

The Majlis Shura of Wilayat Hawran

1. Abu Ali al-Safadi (the wali)
2. Abu Osama al-Der’awi (Muhammad Mustafa al-Hamdan)
3. Abu Mus’ab (Fawj al-Qa’qa’)
4. Abu Suleiman al-Shami (General Shari’i Official)
5. [Redacted]
6. The Shari’i judge Abu Abdullah Hamam al-Jazrawi
7. Abu Hamam al-Shami (The General Amir for the Hawdh Area)

NB: No documents displayed here may be reproduced without the permission of the site owners and appropriate credit.

An Analysis of the Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed Military Database

Introduction

It is with great pleasure that I commence this project of the Islamic State Archives in collaboration with Aaron Zelin by presenting an internal database of military personnel for the Islamic State’s southern Syria affiliate Jaysh Khalid bin al-Waleed (“The Army of Khalid bin al-Waleed”- JKBW).

As an introduction for readers, JKBW was formed in May 2016 as a merger between three Syrian jihadi groups: Liwa Shuhada’ al-Yarmouk (“The Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade”), Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiya (“The Islamic al-Muthanna Movement”) and Jama’at al-Mujahideen (“The Group of Mujahideen”). The “Khalid bin al-Waleed” aspect of JKBW’s name refers to the Muslim conqueror Khalid bin al-Waleed, who defeated the Byzantines at the Battle of the Yarmouk, a key engagement that resulted in the Muslim conquest of the Levant in the 7th century CE.

The group’s name becomes understandable when one notes that the formation of JKBW took place in the Yarmouk Basin region in the southwest corner of the southern Syrian province of Deraa. The Israeli-occupied Golan Heights lies to the west of the region while Jordan lies to the south. For convenience, a map of the area is produced below.

The Yarmouk Basin region and its environs

For close followers of Islamic State propaganda output, the links between JKBW and the Islamic State were clear. JKBW propaganda showed similar high quality output, themes and language as Islamic State propaganda, and channels disseminating Islamic State material would readily reproduce JKBW output. In the final weeks of JKBW’s existence in summer 2018, the entity publicly took on the name of Wilayat Hawran (“Hawran province,” referring to the Hawran region of greater southern Syria).

Through most of JKBW’s existence, the group was at war with the Syrian rebels who controlled the Deraa countryside adjacent to its territory. As an Islamic State affiliate, JKBW echoed the Islamic State line in describing the rebels as “apostate Sahwa” (a reference to the Sahwa phenomenon of Sunni tribesmen who fought the Islamic State of Iraq when the U.S. occupied Iraq). However, the war between JKBW and the rebels was a stalemate. On two occasions, JKBW made noteworthy territorial gains against the rebels. In February 2017, JKBW seized the towns of Sahm al-Jowlan and Taseel. In July 2018, the group seized the town of Heet, which it had long besieged. That gain proved to be short-lived though, as a Syrian government offensive on areas out of its control in southern Syria finally turned its attention to the Yarmouk Basin. By August 2018, the JKBW enclave had collapsed completely, as the Syrian government had the overwhelming advantage of firepower and manpower, recruiting some former rebels to fight JKBW.

The Military Database

So why start this project on the Islamic State with an item on JKBW? Quite simply, on account of the uniqueness of the material. Those who study jihadi groups deal with a number of vexing questions, such as:

– How many fighters/members does a particular group have?
– From where do the fighters/members come?
– How do salaries and matters of finance work?

The material presented here can provide significant insight into all of these questions regarding JKBW. In short, the database presented is a list of all military personnel for JKBW in the month of Dhu al-Q’ida of the year 1438 AH (an Islamic calendar dating, corresponding approximately to the period of 24 July-22 August 2017).

This database was obtained from a source who attained a high-rank position in the JKBW but was in fact an infiltrator (for which side exactly I will not disclose). The database contains entries for 516 personnel, listed with the following details:

– Military ID number
– Nickname (kunya/laqab)
– Number of wives
– Number of children
– Allocation of food expenses
– Number of dependent parents
– Number of dependent siblings
– Total salary (kifala)
– Rent subsidy
– Any other notes

In the first instance, it makes sense to explain how the salary scheme (reckoned on a monthly basis) works in the database. The scheme in the database as follows:

– The basic rate- that is, for an unmarried fighter with no dependent parents or siblings- is $40.

– For each wife the fighter had, an extra $40.

– For each child, an extra $28.

– For each dependent parent, an extra $40.

– For each dependent sibling, an extra $28.

– Allocations for food expenses (that is, money spent on kitchens to provide meals for fighters, at a fixed rate of $37 per fighter) are not included as part of the salary.

– Rent subsidies (that is, for fighters renting out homes from the local population, as opposed to those living in confiscated property registered with the JKBW real estate office) are not included as part of the salary.

In determining salaries, no distinction was made between e.g. tank personnel and artillery personnel. The same salary scheme was applied to all. It should be noted that JKBW would have followed the salary scheme applied to personnel in the Islamic State’s formal ‘provinces’ elsewhere in Iraq and Syria. From Islamic State records from those areas that I have posted, one might have noticed the salary scheme was higher, such as a basic rate of $50, an extra $50 per wife and an extra $35 per child. The discrepancy between those data and this database is easily explained though: as the pressures on the Islamic State grew, salaries for personnel were cut. Here then, we have a useful snapshot of how the Islamic State was impacted financially as it lost territory and suffered more and more defeats at the hands of its enemies.

Other Islamic State records indicate that salary calculations were also determined by whether a member owned sabaya (female captives/concubines/sex slaves) and whether those sabaya had children. This does not appear in the JKBW military database, indicating that the phenomenon of sabaya did not exist in JKBW areas, though that is not a testament to JKBW benevolence. It is simply that there were no women eligible to be taken as sabaya in its areas (e.g. Yezidi women).

Next, the issue of number of fighters and types of fighters. The database primarily divides military personnel by geographic sector. All of the areas in the database were frontline zones against the rebels at the time:

– Ain Dhikr, the northwest edge of JKBW’s holdings.
– Taseel, the northeast edge of JKBW’s holdings.
– al-Qusayr, to the southwest of rebel-held Heet.
– Sahm al-Jowlan, to the northeast of Heet.
– Jalin, the eastern edge of JKBW’s holdings.

For the other military personnel categories, most are self-explanatory (e.g. artillery squadron, tanks squadron, fortifications squadron and engineering). The following require some explanation:

– Special assignments/assignments squadron: personnel to be used in battles. As has been commonplace in much of the Syrian civil war, much ‘fighting’ takes the form of ribat (“frontline manning”) and so most of the personnel listed in the various geographic sectors of this database would be known as murabiteen.

– Madhadat: personnel using weapons to fire on and neutralize enemy vehicles.

– Operations: personnel dealing with communications equipment (particularly wireless devices)

– Special assignments (borders): personnel tasked with guarding the borders of the JKBW enclave with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan.

– Mutasayyibeen: personnel placed under monitoring for misconduct and suspended from their positions (hence no salary allocations etc. to them). They could be subjected to Shari’i courses, imprisonment and formal expulsion from JKBW.

Naturally, this database does not include JKBW personnel engaged in various non-military functions, such as:

– Education

– Hisba (‘commanding virtue and forbidding vice’ apparatus)

– Security personnel (both ‘internal’ and ‘external’, the latter conducting operations against the enemy in the heart of its territory)

– Zakat (alms taxation)

– Media production

People could of course transfer from a non-military to a military role and vice versa.

As noted earlier, the question of ‘how many fighters/members does a group have?’ is a notoriously difficult one. Lack of independent reporting on the ground, together with limited knowledge of the day-to-day functions of these groups, impedes the task of reliable estimates. Look, for example, at how inaccurate estimates of the numbers of Islamic State personnel and their families were inside the tiny Baghuz enclave in eastern Syria that recently fell to the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

In contrast, in this database we have a concrete number of JKBW military personnel at a given point in time (516 personnel, of whom 12 are mutasayyibeen). Based on these data, while reasonably assuming a 50-50 split between military and non-military functions and accounting for battlefield losses and new recruitment, it is fair to conclude that at the group’s peak, the total number of JKBW members approximately fluctuated between 800 and 1000. It is highly unlikely that the number of JKBW personnel ever went well beyond 1000.

The final question to consider is the nature of the composition of JKBW’s ranks. The database lists personnel according to nicknames. Many of these nicknames are according to apparent place of origin. The most recurring places in nicknames (in no particular order) appear to be Koaiya (/Koayia), Inkhil, Jamla, Abideen, al-Sheikh Sa’ad, al-Shajra and Nafi’a.

Of these places, al-Sheikh Sa’ad, Koaiya, Jamla, Abideen, Nafi’a and al-Shajra do not come as a surprise. al-Sheikh Sa’ad was once a base for Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiya, prior to the routing of the group from the area by the rebels and its retreat into the Yarmouk Basin area controlled by Liwa Shuhada’ al-Yarmouk in spring 2016. The other five villages were all originally controlled by Liwa Shuhada’ al-Yarmouk and constituted the core of JKBW territory on its foundation in 2016. Some clans and families from these places have been associated with JKBW: namely, the al-Baridi clan of Jamla that formed a foundation for Liwa Shuhada’ al-Yarmouk, the al-Ja’ouni clan of al-Shajra, the al-Ashawasha family of the al-Sababiha clan of Koaiya, and the al-Masri clan of Abideen.

The association of particular clans and families with JKBW has had ramifications in the aftermath of JKBW’s defeat. This has most notably been the case in Jamla, where members of the al-Samuri clan (often perceived to be supporters of the Syrian government) perceive the al-Baridi clan to be responsible for the rise of the Islamic State in the Yarmouk Basin.

However, one should avoid thinking about JKBW solely in terms of clans and tribes. For example, one can also find Baridis and Ja’ounis who opposed JKBW and/or had nothing to do with the group. A few Samuris became involved in JKBW. Interestingly, the former head of the Deraa provincial council- Hani al-Hamdan- is from Koaiya.

It may strike the reader as more surprising that there are many JKBW members from Inkhil, a north Deraa town well outside JKBW’s zone of control. One would often hear on an anecdotal level that many people from Inkhil had joined JKBW. In fact, at the time this database was produced, the amir of JKBW was from Inkhil (Abu Tayyim Inkhil).

Besides Inkhil, other recurring place names from outside JKBW’s zone of control include Nasiriya (Quneitra/west Deraa), Qarqas (Quneitra), Tel Shihab (names in the form of Tel/al-Tellawi and Tel Shihab) and Qita (a village to the west of al-Sanamayn in north Deraa countryside).

Some of the kunyas appear to suggest the presence of non-Syrians in the ranks of JKBW, but rather amusingly, they turn out to be misleading. For example, Abu Hamza al-Almani (“Abu Hamza the German”) was not in fact German but actually from the Deraa town of Ibta’ and married to a woman from Koaiya. He took the nickname al-Almani because of his seemingly Germanic physical features. Similarly, Abu Ruqayya al-Malizi (“Abu Ruqayya the Malaysian”) was not from Malaysia but the Deraa town of Da’el. Abu Omar al-Sini (“Abu Omar the Chinese”) was not from China but the Deraa town of al-Sheikh Maskeen.

Other nicknames take after weapons: thus Hawin means ‘mortar’, Kornet refers to the Kornet missile and another calls himself after the Howitzer. Perhaps the funniest name in the whole database is Abu Shadi Kola. I have heard from a friend from the Yarmouk Basin village of Ma’ariya that Abu Shadi Kola was originally from Quneitra, and that the name derives from the fact that he used to distribute cola drinks to shops.

On a personal level, I am familiar with some of the names that appear on this list. Abu al-Muthanna Taseel, for example, is the notorious Marwan Zain al-Abideen, who appeared as “Abu al-Muthanna al-Ansari” in an official JKBW video on reform of the education system. Abu Hazim Tawheed in the arming office sector is Abu Bakr al-Hazim, originally from Quneitra. I communicated with him multiple times via Facebook. He was killed in August 2017. Others I recognize from Facebook include Abu Uday Inkhil, Abu Qasim al-Inkhili and Abu Qays Sahm.

The database of course has its limitations in talking about the exact composition of the group’s ranks. For the lack of other sources, it will not be possible to track the life stories and real names of many of these personnel. There are other details missing such as the ages of the personnel.