Throughout the civil war in Syria, there has often been a tendency to talk about or analyse the various insurgent groups that have emerged over the years in semi-abstract ways. This tendency is a function of both the focus on policy analysis and the wider obstacles facing researchers.
Policy analysis, which aims to present insights to policy-makers, does not necessarily have the time or space to probe these groups in a level of depth that might be more satisfying to a historian. Instead, there was often talk about who was a 'moderate'/'radical' or a potential partner for external support for various policy goals such as putting military pressure on the Syrian government to agree to a 'political transition' or finding local partners to combat the Islamic State. This meant there was focus on more general aspects of various groups such as where they fell on the ideological and religious spectra (e.g. Islamist or jihadist as opposed to being more secular) and their banners and colours (with the Syrian flag associated with the political opposition often being taken as a sign of 'moderation').
Within the realm of 'terrorism studies' and in wider media discourse, the name of the 'Order of Nine Angles' (O9A), conventionally described as a Nazi Satanist organisation, has become increasingly prominent in recent years, partly on account of some well-publicised instances of criminal activity in which the O9A's name has come up. Most notable in this regard is the case of Ethan Melzer, who was sentenced in March 2023 to 45 years in prison for attempting to murder American military personnel, material support for terrorism, and illegal transmission of information.
According to the press release on his sentencing, Melzer had infiltrated the U.S. army "in service of a neo-Nazi, white supremacist, and jihadist group" (referring to O9A), and he is described as having been a "member of O9A," whose supposed members are encouraged to carry out 'insight roles' to gain experience and prepare to commit acts of violence, all as part of the ultimate aim of causing the "demise of Western civilisation." Part of Melzer's plans for a "jihadi attack" within the U.S. army involved communicating with a purported member of al-Qa'ida, and the release also notes that Melzer consumed Islamic State propaganda.
Melzer's case and other instances of murder and criminal activity have been used to promote the idea that the O9A constitutes an extremely dangerous threat, with Nick Lowles of 'Hope Not Hate' describing O9A as "the most extreme and dangerous far right group operating in Britain" (and also the whole world, apparently) while calling for it to be outlawed as a terrorist organisation. A similar impression was conveyed by the 'Counter-Extremism Project', which once described David Myatt as the founder of O9A and listed him as one of the world's "top 20 most dangerous extremists around the world."
Prior to the current war between Israel and Hamas, various 'new groups' in Iraq were claiming attacks on U.S. forces both in Iraq and Syria as part of a bid to force them out of both countries. These groups, normally operating under the moniker of the 'Islamic Resistance,' have often only been identified through social media (in particular, Telegram) and have generally been careful not to disclose information about possible connections with other existing armed factions in Iraq, especially prominent pro-Iranian ones that have brigades on the registers of the Popular Mobilisation (Hashd Sha'abi) Commission (e.g. Kata'ib Hezbollah and Harakat al-Nujaba')
By now, reports about the plight of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region of western China (East Turkestan) have become widespread on an international level. For example, many mainstream media outlets in the West have run stories on Uyghurs and reported on various forms of oppression they have faced at the hands of China's government. In other words, the Uyghur cause has become much more prominent on an international level, and this remains true even if much of the global media focus right now is on Gaza or the response of Muslim countries towards China on this issue has fallen far short of what one might expect of 'Muslim solidarity.'
The group called the Turkestan Islamic Party, whose existence as a fighting force is most visible in Syria where a branch was set up largely by Uyghur refugees who had been residing in Turkey and then 'migrated' to Syria, provides China an opportunity to frame its policies in Xinjiang as part of a fight against terrorism and jihadism.
The National Defence Forces (NDF) is one of the best-known pro-Syrian government auxiliary formations in the Syrian civil war, first emerging at the end of 2012 as a nationwide organisation of various pro-government armed groups that emerged in the 2011-2012 period. Iran and Hezbollah played a role in the creation, training and arming of the NDF initially, but this does not mean that the NDF should be seen as some sort of 'Iranian proxy' or Iranian/Hezbollah-backed 'parallel army' in Syria, but rather simply one of multiple contributions by the Syrian government's allies to bolstering the forces on its side. Organisationally, Iran and Hezbollah have been much more closely involved in the 'Local Defence Forces' network that first emerged during this same period.
The NDF is itself organised into a 'general secretariat' (al-amana al-aama) and various provincial and local 'centres' (marakiz). The following post presents a first-of-its-kind archive of NDF 'martyrs' (killed personnel): namely, the 'martyrs' of the NDF's al-Suwayda' centre, which is based in the primarily Druze province of al-Suwayda' in southern Syria. The NDF was for years one of the more powerful pro-government factions in the province, and the al-Suwayda' centre claimed over 200 'martyrs' as of 2018. However, these records supplied to me by the al-Suwayda' centre and spanning the years 2012-2020, only list 145 'martyrs.'
By now, the story of the disappearance of Russian-Israeli researcher Elizabeth Tsurkov in Iraq is internationally known. It has been thought that the most likely suspect behind the disappearance is an armed faction linked to Iran. For a while, discussions of her fate were speculative, but it is now clear that she is alive in exclusive 'confessions' in a clip broadcast by al-Rabi'a TV, which is run by the Iraqi journalist Ghazwan Jasim.
In general, Jasim has good relations with the Iraqi Shi'a factions that are closer to Iran, though he is not an obvious frontman for a single group (in contrast to how, for instance, al-Ahed TV belongs to Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, or al-Etejah TV belongs to Kata'ib Hezbollah). Jasim has faced harassment from Sadrists for being a supposed trumpet for the Sadrists' Shi'a rivals. When he and his channel were subject to harassment, Kata'ib Hezbollah endorsed his channel as a supposed example of free and professional press. Before setting up al-Rab'ia TV, Jasim once secured an exclusive interview with Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis (the deputy head of Iraq's 'Popular Mobilization Forces' who was close to Iran and killed in the American assassination of Qasim Soleimani in 2020).
Thus, with the exclusive given to al-Rabi'a TV, it becomes more difficult to say which precise group is holding Tsurkov. While accusations have been made that Kata'ib Hezbollah abducted her, giving the exclusive to al-Etejah TV would have made the group's responsibility obvious. All that can be said is that the matter is clearly out of the hands of the Iraqi government (which would certainly have broadcast a confession on state TV if its regular security apparatuses had arrested her), and that some group with links to Iran is probably holding her. I also do not buy the idea, touted by some observers, that Tsurkov has been taken to Iran.
قدمت بلدة حضر الدرزية الواقعة في محافظة القنيطرة على الحدود مع الجولان السوري المحتل، أكثر من ١٠٠ "شهيد" اثناء الحرب في سوريا. لقد وثقتُ أسماءهم في أرشيف، وفي هذا المنشور أقدم بالتفصيل سيرة واحد منهم ألا وهو المقاتل "منهال أحمد حسون" الذي ارتقى في تاريخ ٣ نوفمبر ٢٠١٧ دفاعاً عن بلدته، علماً أنّ "دنيال محمد حسون" من مرتبات "المقاومة الإسلامية- حزب الله" ارتقى في نفس اليوم وفي نفس المعركة. ويُذكر أن بيت حسون من أكبر العائلات في القرية. واليكم السيرة كما ظهرت في "بطاقة الشهيد" التي نشرت في مجلة محلية. واتقدم بجزيل الشكر الى أحد اقربائه الذي اعطاني البطاقة.
cum vicus Druzius Hadr, qui in provincia Syriaca meridiana Kunaetra Collibus Golan ab Israel occupatis vicina situs est, bello Syriaco centum martyres et amplius optulerit, nomina in archivo posteris tradidi. nunc vitam scribo martyris qui Manhal Ahmad Hassoun dicitur et ex maiori vici domo processit et eodem die quo alius martyr qui ex eodem vico ortus ad Factionem Dei pertinuerat, occisus est. sciat lector notitiam per 'tabulam martyris' quae in libello locali apparuit et mihi a quodam familiari data est relatam esse.
The Druze village of Hadr in the southwest Syrian province of al-Qunaytra on the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights has more than 100 'martyrs' during the war in Syria. I have documented an archive of them here. In this post, I document the life of one of those 'martyrs': Manhal Ahmad Hassoun, who comes from one of the larger families of Hadr (Hassoun) and was killed on the same day as another 'martyr' from Hadr who had been affiliated with Hezbollah (Daniel Muhammad Hassoun). The documentation here comes from Manhal's 'martyr card' as featured in a local publication. The card was kindly sent to me by one of his relatives and I translate it below.
في ظل الصراع بين اسرائيل وحماس، هناك مخواف أمريكية من استهداف القوات الأمريكية الموجودة في سوريا والعراق من قبل التشكيلات التي تدعمها إيران، فضلاً عن احتمالية تصاعد في الهجمات على القوات الأمريكية في حال قيام اسرائيل بغزو غزة بهدف القضاء على حماس.
ولا نستغرب هذه الهجمات حيث استمرت مند سنين في محاولة طرد القوات الأمريكية من سوريا والعراق، ومن المنطقي أن نتوقع تصاعداً في ظل الدعم الأمريكي لاسرائيل في الماضي واثناء الصراع الجاري، بل من المعقول أن نعدّ الوجود الأمريكي في منطقة التنف على وجه التحديد خدمةً لاسرائيل، بما أنّ الغاية الرئيسية وراء فرز الجنود الأمريكان الى تلك المنطقة هي منع ما يسمى ب"طريق بري" ابتداءً من إيران ووصولاً الى لبنان، بدلاً من الذريعة الأمريكية الرسمية المتمثلة في "مكافحة داعش" . بعبارة أخرى، تسعى المهمة الأمريكية في التنف الى تخفيض التهديد المدرك لاسرائيل من قبل تشكيلات محور المقاومة، مهما قال المسؤولون الأمريكان في الأمر.