Emblem of The Leopards of Homs. The Arabic reads: "Fuhud Homs: Fawj al-Maham al-Khasa" (The Leopards of Homs: Special Operations Regiment). See older emblems of the militia here.
The Homs area has seen the creation and growth of multiple militias on the regime side over the course of the Syrian civil war, including Liwa Khaybar (The Khaybar Brigade) and Quwat al-Ridha (The Ridha Forces, part of Syrian Hezbollah). The Leopards of Homs (hereafter: Fuhud Homs) is another such formation. According to the militia's media office, the formation dates back to 2013 in its first iteration, but was established with its current affiliation in 2015. In terms of Fuhud Homs' relations with other pro-Assad militias, it should be noted that the leader of the formation is one Shadi Jum'a, a close associate of Abu Ja'afar (aka The Scorpion), who, as will be recalled, is the leader of Liwa Khaybar and one of the founders of the National Defence Forces (NDF) in Homs. The link between the two men is apparent from a post written by The Scorpion in late December 2015, referring to the bomb attacks that had most recently taken place in the city of Homs at that time:
"My brothers...heroes...I implore those who bore arms with me against the terrorists from the first of the events ['events'- a pro-regime term for the civil war]: my brother Muhammad al-Ali, my brother Shadi Jum'a, my brother Muhannad [typo?- Muhammad] al-Hajji, all my brothers in the National Defence in Homs, the family of Ghanim al-Sayis, the resisters, and I refrain from mentioning the rest of the names: we must do something for our people in Homs, our children, women and brothers are being killed every day. Others besides us will not protect our people, we do not want rebellion, and we will not direct our arms against our state that we have protected with our people, but we will not barter, and we only want to protect our areas.
The Scorpion himself clarifies to me that there is a distinction between the Fuhud Homs of Shadi Jum'a and the Fuhud Forces [aka Fuhud Groups] contingent of Suheil al-Hassan's well-known Tiger Forces militia. The latter's leader- Muhammad al-Hajji, was killed last month fighting the Islamic State (IS) in the vicinity of Palmyra, and was the brother of the group's founder and prior leader Ali al-Hajji, who was killed in fighting in the Sahl al-Ghab in August 2015. The brothers were from the Talkalakh area of Homs.
In contrast with the Fuhud Forces, Shadi Jum'a was originally working with The Scorpion and the Homs NDF circles (which is presumably what the Fuhud Homs media office means by the militia's original iteration in 2013). By May 2014, Shadi Jum'a was already identified as leader of a militia contingent in an account of a prominent incident of infighting that took place between pro-regime militias in the city of Homs. In 2015, he established Fuhud Homs in its present iteration of affiliation with prominent regime businessman Rami Makhlouf's al-Bustan Association. Thus the Fuhud Homs media office denies an NDF affiliation in the current formation (contrary to an al-Quds al-Arabi report that mentions Fuhud Homs).
It should further be recalled that the al-Bustan Association officially has other militias under its umbrella, most notably the Dir' al-Watan Forces led by the Iraqi Shi'i militia commander Hayder al-Jiburi, which partly constitutes a project of providing cover for Liwa Dhu al-Fiqar under the supposed framework of the Syrian state in order to counter criticism of Iraqi Shi'i militia intervention on behalf of the Assad regime. On its own media page, Fuhud Homs mentions the al-Bustan Association affiliation in one post:
"And from Fuhud Homs- Special Operations Regiment (al-Bustan Association)- one of the popular defence formations- we pledge to God, the homeland and the leader of the homeland to complete the path of victory behind him, and shoulder to shoulder with our Syrian Arab Army, until victory, rebuilding and returning with Syria more beautiful than what it was under the protection of its leadership.
Soldiers of Assad, Fuhud Homs, Guardians of the Den."
In its current iteration, Fuhud Homs has advertised operations on two main fronts, though unlike other pro-Assad militias there appears to be a lack of distinct insignia for fighters on the ground. The first main front comprises engagements against IS in the Homs desert, with the ongoing fighting involving the strategic asset of al-Maher gas field. Operations in the Homs desert have also involved securing the Jazal oil field area as well as combat on the Qaryatayn and Palmyra fronts. The other major operations front for Fuhud Homs is participation in the ongoing siege of the rebel-held Damascus suburb town of Darayya, during which Fuhud Homs has claimed more than one 'martyr' (fallen fighter). One such 'martyr' was Hayder al-Nasir, who was reportedly from Bayt al-Tawil street in the Wadi al-Dhahab neighbourhood of Homs city and was killed in December 2015 by sniper fire as he tried to help a wounded companion. More recently on the Darayya front, Fuhud Homs claimed a 'martyr' called Tamam al-Ali, who was reportedly from the Karm al-Zaytoun neighbourhood of Homs city and was killed in late April 2016.
Fuhud Homs also claimed a number of 'martyrs' in May 2015 as Palmyra fell to IS. A table below gives their names and reported origins. The majority of these 'martyrs' appear to come from predominantly Alawite areas. One should also note that other sources beyond Fuhud Homs giving the names of these 'martyrs' do not necessarily agree on group affiliation. For example one of the pages cited attributes some of these 'martyrs' to the NDF. This may be a product of overlap in affiliation or simple error. There are also some discrepancies in origins that may be a result of conflation with place of residence.
|Ali al-Sheikh||Bayt al-Tawil Street|
|Mohsen Makhlouf||Zahara', Homs [?]|
|Raghed Sadiq||Karam al-Louz, Homs|
|Muhammad al-Suleiman||Ein Hussein, Homs [?]|
|Salah Ibrahim||Al-Mukharram, Homs|
|Mudhhir al-Hassan||Wadi al-Dhahab|
|Hafez Gharra||Ram al-Anz, Homs|
|Muntajib Sarhan||Ram al-Anz, Homs|
|Samer al-Barudi||Warida, Homs [a Christian village]|
In short, the case of Fuhud Homs presents an interesting insight into the evolution of the pro-Assad militia networks in the Homs area. The militias will likely compete among each other for influence in the Assad regime rump state as they will probably continue to grow in power, partly because they present a better financial alternative for recruits than the regular Syrian Arab Army, which faces an ongoing crisis with the declining value of the Syrian pound.
Update (19 September 2016): Shadi Jum'a was announced to have been killed in August 2016, as per the post below.
As a result, the militia has partly renamed itself:
"Leopards of Homs: Martyr Leader Shadi Jum'a Regiment."
At present, the militia is led by one Amin Jum'a and has its main base in the al-Walid suburb of Homs. In terms of military engagements, the group has appeared in August 2016 on fronts in East Ghouta, Darayya, east Homs countryside (where Shadi Jum'a was killed) and Aleppo.