I previously profiled the Russian-backed 'ISIS Hunters' formation in a post on this site. On 27 April 2020, I conducted an interview with 'Aqrab al-Sahara' ('The Desert Scorpion'), a friend who was affiliated with the group and has now returned to civilian life. The interview is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own. Note the exclusive photos are provided by the interviewee.
Q: Can you tell me a little about yourself? When you were born? From which town you are? What you were doing before the crisis? When did you first bear arms?
A: I was born in Latakia, 11 March 1979. My work is in home decoration, polishing and painting floor tiles. I completed my obligatory service in 2000. And when the accursed events began, I myself like many in the country, stood against any destructive action. You can say from the beginning of the events we granted our lives to the country. And I am well known in my neighbourhood and the neighbouring neighbourhoods for how I stood in the face of the sectarian demonstrations and was exposed to many threats and the publishing of my photos on the Facebook pages on the basis that I am a shabih. I have a brother who was a colonel and was martyred on the borders with Turkey, and my maternal uncle was martyred in the Adra labour city and had the rank of brigadier general. I participated in the battle to liberate East Ghouta, and I participated in the liberation and protection of the oil fields in Deir az-Zour with the Russian friends [allies].
Q: With which formations did you work? Or did you only work with the ISIS Hunters?
A: Contingents affiliated with the V Corps and the ISIS Hunters.
Q: When did you join the ISIS Hunters? And for what reasons did you join it?
A: No specific reason. I participated in the battle to liberate Ghouta as leader of a contingent and after it I became a trainer of arms and tactics in the ISIS Hunters formation.
Q: Right. And within the ISIS Hunters you participated in battles of the Homs desert and Deir az-Zour?
A: Palmyra desert, I participated in protecting the oil fields, and in Deir az-Zour.
Q: And after that you left the formation?
A: Yes, and I was honoured twice in the ISIS Hunters formation with decorations.
Q: Were you wounded in the battles ever?
A: Praise be to God I was not wounded.
Q: How do you assess the current situation in Syria today? In military and livelihood terms.
A: In military terms there is no fear for Syria with the presence of fighters who do not fear death and a president who does not fear the enemies. Syria is powerful with the presence of the leader Bashar. In terms of livelihood the situation is difficult after 10 years of war. We have put hope n God that the sorrow will disappear from our beloved country as soon as possible as we offer a service to the world in our annihilation of global terrorism.
Q: Before concluding there are a few things regarding the ISIS Hunters that I would like to ask about. The formation is outside the V Corps right?
A: Independent formation.
Q: May I ask what was the monthly salary? And was there taswiya al-wad' [status regularization] for the personnel?
A: There is no taswiya, and the salary begins at $300, and there are rewards according to the excellence of work. And among the conditions of joining the formation's ranks is that the fighter cannot be a deserter from military service or legally wanted. And the ISIS Hunters formation has offered martyrs: the battle of the Conoco field in Deir az-Zour and al-Aqeirebat in Hama countryside. Conoco was in confronting the American enemy and the Dawa'esh [Islamic State guys].
Q: Regarding that battle in Conoco, in which the American occupier attacked the Syrian forces, was the ISIS Hunters the only formation participating in the battle along with the Russian friends?
A: According to my knowledge only the Russian friends and the ISIS Hunters.