Top terrorist commanders in Syria: Who are these guys?

Top terrorist commanders in Syria: Who are these guys?
Fri Oct 4, 2013 11:05:18

If we confine our choices to militant leaders with broad appeal in the Syrian crisis, we get the following five, listed in order.

1. Hassan Abboud, the general head of the Islamic movement of Ahrar Al-Sham, spearheaded the joint position of what some are calling the Islamic Alliance, but which is looser than an alliance of mainly northern-based militias. They have rejected the Syrian National Council (SNC) and US backed exile groups. Al-Nusra was one of the groups that signed the alliance, along with #3 and #4 below.

2. Zahran Alloush, the general commander of Jaysh al-Islam or Islam Army, a group of more than 50 brigades. He is the son of a Saudi-based religious scholar named sheikh Abdullah Mohammed Alloush. Syrian authorities released him from prison in mid-2011. He was incarcerated for his Salafist opposition activities in Sidnaya prison along with #1 and #3. He states that the external opposition does not represent him or his group and that there is no chance at negotiations with the Syrian government. His Islam Army flies the black flag and not the Syrian flag.

3. Ahmad Aisa al-Shaykh, or Abu Aissa, the commander of Suqour al-Sham Brigade, Falcons of Syria Brigade, based in Idlib Province.

4. Abdul Qader Al-Salih, the high commander of Liwa al-Tawhid, Unity Brigade, in Aleppo. (The formal top leader is Abdelaziz Salame)

5. Bashar Al-Zoubi, the commander of Liwa al-Yarmouk in the south of Syria around Dera’a Province. The Supreme Military Command (the US backed leadership of the Free Syrian Army) has named him the commander of the Southern Front. He is the only member of this top-five who has not expressed a wish to see an Islamist Syria.

Taken together, these rebel leaders represent not even half of the insurgency. The top five are not enough to run the rebellion, but they are either major actors in their core areas or very big nationally, or both. A small group on the national level can be a superpower in its own hometown. There are many more powerful rebel commanders in Syria. We look forward to adding and correcting.

These are people who have significant influence over the insurgency. They are swing voters.

Over the last several months, the insurgency has undergone a “Darwinian” shakedown. Powerful leaders are emerging and smaller militias are lining up with the larger sharks. All the same, we are only at the beginning of this process. The opposition remains extremely fragmented and volatile.

Any discussion of Geneva II talks to end the Syrian conflict will be sterile without these commanders at the table. The top four say they are unwilling to sit at the negotiation table with the government. In fact, their main issue with the National Coalition is that the NC is considering negotiating with the government.

It is hard to imagine any of them backtracking on this position in the near future.

Other Powerful Commanders

If one is considering military might alone, one must add the head of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In military terms, he is stronger than Bashar al-Zoubi, our #5. But he doesn’t have appeal outside the extremist hardline segment. So here we go:
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – al-Qaeda
Abu Mohammad al-Golani of al-Nusra Front or Jabhat al-Nusra – al-Qaeda
• Salih Muslim Muhammad/Sipan Hemo, the commander of the Kurdish Peoples Defense Units (YPG) in Syria. The YPG is the military arm of the PYD (Partiya Yekitiya Demokrat) the leader of which is Salih Muslim Muhammad. This is the Syrian branch of the PKK, which is kept under civilian control so Salih Muslim PYD and not Hemo is perhaps the correct listing. It has been battling Nusra and ISIS over the last several months for control of the Northeast.
Abu Sayeh Juneidi of Farouq Brigades, one of the largest and well-known units of the FSA (Homs). It placed itself under Suquor al-Sham commander Ahmed Abu Issa in Sept 2012. (Farouq seems weakened of late).
Jamal Maarouf (Abu Khalid) of Shuhada Souria, Syrian Martyrs’ Brigade, Idlib governate, FSA. Jamal claims to have 18,000 fighters between Idlib and Aleppo, but like all troop estimates, this should be taken with a grain of salt. He’s a non-Islamist leader. He is both religious and conservative, but not Ikhwan and not Salafi, just not ideological.
Mohammed al-Khatib of Furqan Brigades, active in west of Damascus down toward the Golan. Also not irrelevant.
Ziad Haj Obaid commands Ahfad Rasoul with two others. He is on the Arms Committee for the Supreme Military Command. Much of Ahfad’s funding came from Qatar, which may explain its recent weakness.
    There are more who we lack info on.

Further Notes on Commanders:

Journalist Hassan Hassan published an important article “The Army of Islam Is Winning in Syria” arguing that the Islamic Army led by Zahran Alloush is probably now stronger than Hassan Abboud’s Ahrar al-Sham. This is hard to tell, but it is worth quoting him at length.

“But today, Salafi-leaning insurgents are the single most dominant force in rebel-held areas. Liwa al-Islam, which is the central player in the Army of Islam, now dwarfs both the FSA and radical militias such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, which long played a prominent role in the region. These groups had coordinated with each other through a Damascus military council, but Ahrar al-Sham pulled out of the council shortly after the merger, issuing an angry statement that criticized “the hegemony of certain factions and the exclusion of [other] effective ones.”…

“Saudi Arabia appears to be central to the merger of rebel groups around Damascus. Liwa al-Islam chief Zahran Alloush is backed by Riyadh, while both Ahrar al-Sham, which is supported by Qatar, and Jabhat al-Nusra have been excluded from the new grouping. Although Liwa al-Islam had been part of the Saudi-backed FSA, the spokesman of the new grouping told an Arabic television channel that the Army of Islam is not part of the FSA. This is likely because the FSA has lost the trust of many rebel groups, and adopting a religious language will be more effective in countering the appeal of radical groups — which is what happened after the announcement of the merger, as various Islamists and moderate groups welcomed the move.”

Zahran Alloush, Liwa al-Islam, who founded the Islam Army a week ago. He peaks of the resurrection of the Omayyad Empire and cleansing of Alawites from Damascus. He does not have much faith in democracy, claiming that a committee of Islamic scholars will decide on the form of government and the role that minorities will play in a future state. He calls for Muslims from the world over to come do their duty in Syria and fight Jihad. He claims that every insurgent commander is an Islamist and argues that the reason the Assad government surrounded Damascus and suppressed its people is because the people’s natural inclination is to build an Islamic state following the spirit of the Ommayad state. In his interview with Aljazeera, he is asked about his relationship with Idriss, Commander in Chief of the FSA and SMC member; Alloush said: “Idriss should be more serious and active in helping the Mujahidin and not listen to orders he gets from here and there to favor certain groups with aid in order to advance foreign agendas that are being promoted for our umma.”

Abdul Qader Saleh also is powerful as things stand today, but should Aleppo fall entirely into rebel hands and should Liwa al-Tawhid remain dominant there, Abdul Qader will become powerful indeed. Aleppo is the capital of the North and it and its suburbs include about half the population under rebel control. Abdul Qader Saleh’s relationship with the Turks. One story about the fall of Aleppo centers around the defection of Mohammad Miflih, who at the time was head of air-force intelligence in Aleppo. Miflih was infamous for massacring protestors in Hama early in the revolution, so when he decided to defect, he knew that he wouldn’t be received very well by the opposition.  The story has it that Miflih coordinated his defection with the Turks, who offered to provide him protection but in return Miflih had to allow the rebels into the city. In the meantime, the Turks had the rebels assemble their forces and entered the city, starting with the Salahaldin neighborhood. They named the battle for Aleppo – Furqan. A video released in August 2012 shows a group of rebel commanders including Abdul Qader Saleh and an al-Nusra commander.

Bashar Zoubi, Liwa Yarmouk: This militia is not huge, Zoubi says around 5,000, but if you want a southern faction, it’s probably the biggest. He seems much less Salafist & more SMC/Western linked than the brigades that have linked up with Zahran Alloush’s Islam Army around Damascus. The Dera’a front in general seems less Salafist, with weapons coming in from Jordan and Saudi Arabia. The US, Jordan and Saudi are working together to avoid building up Islamists. Although a Dara’a source suggests that many of the Dara’a militias are placing themselves under Zahran Alloush since his dramatic announcement of the formation of the Army of Islam, Liwa Yarmouk and several other power hitters around Dara’a have not.

Hassan Abboud, the head of Ahrar Ash-Sham, meaning “Islamic Movement of the Freemen of Syria.” It is the principal organization operating under the umbrella of the Syrian Islamic Front or SIF. On Sept. 24, 2013, Aboud spearheaded the formation of what was called the Islamic Alliance. Liwa al-Tawhid, Liwa al-Islam and Suqour al-Sham were included in this loose “alliance,” as well as Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda linked group.


string(1211) "[{"id":"1521598","sort":"3101312","contenttypeid":"21","pic":"/2013/10/01/alalam_635162334877907588_25f_4x3.jpg","title":"Lavrov doubts Syria opposition presence in talks"} ,{"id":"1521625","sort":"3101313","contenttypeid":"21","pic":"/2013/10/01/alalam_635162390540083011_25f_4x3.jpg","title":"Syria chemical disarmament officially starts"} ,{"id":"1521833","sort":"3101314","contenttypeid":"21","pic":"/2013/10/02/alalam_635163205654218975_25f_4x3.jpg","title":"Syria al-Qaeda leader killed in Dara’a"} ,{"id":"1521968","sort":"3101315","contenttypeid":"21","pic":"/2013/10/03/alalam_635163983786254345_25f_4x3.jpg","title":"UN chemical team heads to unknown site in Syria"} ,{"id":"1521980","sort":"3101316","contenttypeid":"21","pic":"/2013/10/03/alalam_635163977177976180_25f_4x3.jpg","title":"Putin hails world powers deal on Syria CWs"} ,{"id":"1521992","sort":"3101317","contenttypeid":"21","pic":"/2013/10/03/alalam_635164030317633787_25f_4x3.jpg","title":"Syria militants call for ‘trial’ of al-Qaeda in Aleppo"} ,{"id":"1522138","sort":"3101318","contenttypeid":"21","pic":"/2013/10/04/alalam_635164777151092922_25f_4x3.jpg","title":"Turkish parliament renews permit to send troops to Syria"} ]"