Suqour al-Sham

FormedSeptember 2011
DisbandedGroup is active.
First AttackMay 28, 2012: Suqour al-Sham cooperated with Shuhada Jebel al-Zawiyah Battalion to attack a government checkpoint and seized weaponry. This is the first verified Suqoud al-Sham attack in public records, although the organization has been operating since late 2011. (Unknown casualties) [1]
Last AttackFebruary 2014: The SOHR reported that ISIS besieged several hundred Suqour al-Sham fighters in Hama. After attempts to break the siege failed, the two organizations declared a ceasefire. (Unknown casualties) [2]
UpdatedNovember 5, 2014

Narrative Summary

In 2011, when President Bashar al-Assad’s forces began to use violence to put down protests in Syria, Ahmad Abu Eissa and his two brothers joined skirmishes between armed civilians and the government in Sarjeh, Idlib. After his two brothers were killed in the fighting in fall 2011, Eissa organized local rebels into Suqour al-Sham, “The Hawks of Syria,” which attacked regime forces with inexpensive methods like IEDs. The organization quickly became one of the most powerful opposition forces in Idlib, absorbing some smaller groups and affiliating with others. [3] In 2012, Suqour al-Sham identified itself as a member of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).  Although it was more strictly Islamist than most groups in the FSA umbrella at the time, Suqour al-Sham intended to create a civil state that would guarantee rights for all and hold general elections. [4] [5]

In September 2012, the organization became a founding member of the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF). Suqour al-Sham, along with Liwa al-Tawhid, was one of the largest and most powerful of the roughly twenty militant groups that made up the SILF. Eissa was named the head of the umbrella organization. [6] Most member organizations of the SILF recognized and often coordinated with the Supreme Military Council (SMC).

In late 2013, Suqour al-Sham left the SILF and joined six other powerful Islamist opposition groups to form the Islamic Front, of which Eissa was again named leader. [7] Joining the Islamic Front marked an escalation in Suqour al-Sham’s Islamic rhetoric and Eissa rejected his previous call for a civil state, instead joining the rest of the Islamic Front in renouncing ties with the West and calling for a more strictly Islamic state. [8]

Although it was once one of the strongest members in the Islamic Front, Suqour al-Sham was weakened in 2014, partly as a result of violent conflict with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). [9] Suqour al-Sham’s top military commander was killed by an ISIS attack in February 2014. Around the same time, its top religious leader and two of its largest and most effective constituent brigades, Liwa Dawoud and Liwa Siyoof al-Haq, defected to protest the fighting. [10] Liwa Siyoof al-Haq subsequently formed a new organization with ISIS defectors, and the group declared itself neutral in the conflict. Most recently, ISIS and Suqour al-Sham declared a ceasefire after a battle in which ISIS held hundreds of Suqour al-Sham’s members under siege in Hama. [11] [12]

Leadership

  1. Ahmad Abu Eissa, also spelled as Abu Issa and also known as Ahmed al-Sheikh (Unknown to Present): Eissa is the commander of Suqour al-Sham. Unlike most opposition group leaders, who are military defectors, Eissa was a civilian before the war. He led the establishment of the SILF and was later named the head of the Islamic Front at its inception.[13]
  2. Abu Abderrahman al-Sarmini (Unknown to January 12, 2014): Sarmini was Suqour al-Sham’s top religious leader. He resigned to protest the growing violence with ISIS.[14]
  3. Mohammed al-Dik, also known as Abu Hussein (Unknown to February 2014): Suqour al-Sham’s military commander, Hussein was killed by ISIS in February 2014.[15]

Ideology & Goals

Suqour al-Sham was established as an Islamist opposition organization and was one of the stricter Islamist groups in the SILF. [16] However, it was considered more moderate in its religious rhetoric than a handful of other notable opposition groups (such as Ahrar al-Sham, ISIS, and al-Nusra) until joining the Islamic Front. In the early days of the organization, Eissa was a proponent of a moderate Islamist state that would hold elections and guarantee full rights for minorities and seculars. Within weeks of joining the Islamic Front, however, Eissa recanted his support for a civil state. Since then, the group has renounced all ties to the West and supports a completely Islamic state in Syria. [17]

Size Estimates

Designated/Listed

Suqour al-Sham has not been designated as a terrorist organization.

Resources

Qatar reportedly backs the Islamic Front financially. [19] Most of Suqour al-Sham’s weapons come from the Syrian military through raids of regime compounds, defectors, or sales from corrupt officers. [20]

Geographical Locations

Suqour al-Sham was formed in Jabal al-Zawiya in the province of Idlib and has since expanded into Aleppo and Damascus. [21] It remains headquartered in Idlib. [22]

Targets & Tactics

Suqour al-Sham fights largely through small arms skirmishes and IEDs. The organization has been careful to note that its car bombs are not martyrdom or suicide operations; instead, they give captives or suspected spies cars that have been secretly rigged with explosives, and remotely detonate them when they reach a military checkpoint. As of July 2012, they intentionally avoided civilian areas when conducting operations. [23]

Political Activities

Suqour al-Sham plays an active role in the formation of Islamist opposition coalitions in Syria. Abu Eissa was named the official leader of both the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front and the Islamic Front. [24]

Major Attacks

Although Suqour al-Sham claims many attacks, few are verified by credible sources.

  1. May 28, 2012: Suqour al-Sham attacked a government checkpoint, working with Shuhada Jebel al-Zawiyah Battalion, and seized weaponry. (Unknown casualties).[25]
  2. October 9, 2012: Suqour al-Sham fighters seized the town of Maarat al Nauman from government forces. (Unknown casualties).[26]
  3. July 31, 2013: Suqour al-Sham coordinated with a number of Islamic Front organizations, as well as al-Nusra Front, to overrun several military camps in Idlib. (Unknown casualties).[27]
  4. February 2014: The SOHR reported that ISIS had besieged several hundred Suqour al-Sham fighters in Hama. After attempts to break the siege failed, the two organizations signed a ceasefire agreement. (Unknown casualties).[28]

Relationships with Other Groups

Suqour al-Sham has been active in opposition coalitions in Syria. It was first affiliated with the Free Syrian Army before it became a founding a member of the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (SILF), which largely fell under the umbrella of the Supreme Military Council (SMC). [29] Eissa was the head of the SILF.

In December 2013, it became a founding member of the Islamic Front, an umbrella organization composed of some of the strongest Islamist opposition groups in the country. Suqour al-Sham was one of the most influential groups in the Islamic Front, particularly in Idlib, and Eissa again was installed as the head of the organization. [30] [31]

Suqour al-Sham was internally divided in its conflict with ISIS, which flared at the beginning of 2014. Its top religious leader, Abu Abderrahman al-Sarmini, defected in January 2014 to protest the conflict, and was soon followed by an entire brigade; Liwa Siyoof al-Haq, one of Suqour al-Sham’s strongest factions, declared peace with ISIS and then defected to form the Army of the Levant (Jaysh al-Sham) with deserting ISIS members. Around the same time, ISIS killed Suqour al-Sham’s top military commander, Mohamad al-Dik. [32] Days after al-Dik’s death and with hundreds of their fighters besieged by ISIS in Hama, Suqour al-Sham and ISIS agreed to a ceasefire. [33] [34]


References

  1. ^ Berman, Asher. "Rebel Groups in Jebel Al-Zawiyah." Backgrounders (26 July 2011): 2. Institute for the Study of War. Web. 29 July 2014. <http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Backgrounder_RebelGroupsJebelAlZawiyah_31July.pdf>.
  2. ^ Roggio, Bill. "Suqour Al Sham, ISIS Agree to Ceasefire." Long War Journal. Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, 5 Feb. 2014. Web. 27 July 2014. <http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2014/02/suqour_al_sham_isis_agree_to_c.php>.
  3. ^ Berman, Asher. "Rebel Groups in Jebel Al-Zawiyah." Backgrounders (26 July 2011): 5. Institute for the Study of War. Web. 29 July 2014. <http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Backgrounder_RebelGroupsJebelAlZawiyah_31July.pdf>.
  4. ^ Lund, Aron. "The Politics of the Islamic Front, Part 2: An Umbrella Organization." Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. N.p., 15 Jan. 2014. Web. 27 July 2014. <http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=54204>.
  5. ^ Berman, Asher. "Rebel Groups in Jebel Al-Zawiyah." Backgrounders (26 July 2011): 5. Institute for the Study of War. Web. 29 July 2014. <http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Backgrounder_RebelGroupsJebelAlZawiyah_31July.pdf>.
  6. ^ Sinjab, Lina. "Guide to the Syrian Rebels." BBC News. N.p., 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 24 July 2014. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-24403003>.
  7. ^ Syzbala, Valerie. A Power Move by Syria's Rebel Forces. Rep. Institute for the Study of War, 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 24 July 2014. <http://iswsyria.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-power-move-by-syrias-rebel-forces.html>.
  8. ^ Lund, Aron. "The Politics of the Islamic Front, Part 2: An Umbrella Organization." Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. N.p., 15 Jan. 2014. Web. 27 July 2014. <http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=54204>.
  9. ^ Lund, Aron. "Politics of the Islamic Front, Part 6: Stagnation?" Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. N.p., 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 28 July 2014. <http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=55334>.
  10. ^ Hassan, Hassan. "Front to Back." Foreign Policy. N.p., 4 Mar. 2014. Web. 27 July 2014. <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/04/islamic_front_isis_syria>.
  11. ^ Hassan, Hassan. "Front to Back." Foreign Policy. N.p., 4 Mar. 2014. Web. 27 July 2014. <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/04/islamic_front_isis_syria>.
  12. ^ Roggio, Bill. "Suqour Al Sham, ISIS Agree to Ceasefire." Long War Journal. Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, 5 Feb. 2014. Web. 27 July 2014. <http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2014/02/suqour_al_sham_isis_agree_to_c.php>.
  13. ^ {{Syzbala, Valerie. A Power Move by Syria's Rebel Forces. Rep. Institute for the Study of War, 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 24 July 2014. <http://iswsyria.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-power-move-by-syrias-rebel-forces.html>.}} {{Sinjab, Lina. "Guide to the Syrian Rebels.
  14. ^ {{Lund, Aron. "Politics of the Islamic Front, Part 6: Stagnation?" Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. N.p., 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 28 July 2014. <http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=55334>.}}
  15. ^ {{Agencies. "Al-Qaeda Fighters Kill Syrian Rebel Leaders." Al Jazeera. N.p., 2 Feb. 2014. Web. 28 July 2014. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/02/al-qaeda-fighters-kill-syrian-rebel-leader-2014229511898140.html>.}}
  16. ^ Lund, Aron. "The Non-State Militant Landscape in Syria." CTC Sentinel. The Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, 27 Aug. 2013. Web. 28 July 2014. <https%3A%2F%2Fwww.ctc.usma.edu%2Fposts%2Fthe-non-state-militant-landscape-in-syria>.
  17. ^ Lund, Aron. "The Politics of the Islamic Front, Part 2: An Umbrella Organization." Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. N.p., 15 Jan. 2014. Web. 27 July 2014. <http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=54204>.
  18. ^ {{"Guide to the Syrian Rebels." BBC News. N.p., 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 20 July 2014. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-24403003>.}}
  19. ^ Oweis, Khaled, and Erika Solomon. "Syria Islamists Unite as Faction-fighting Goes on." Reuters. N.p., 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 28 July 2014. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/22/us-syria-crisis-islamists-idUSBRE9AL0T420131122>.
  20. ^ Berman, Asher. "Rebel Groups in Jebel Al-Zawiyah." Backgrounders (26 July 2011): 6. Institute for the Study of War. Web. 29 July 2014. <http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Backgrounder_RebelGroupsJebelAlZawiyah_31July.pdf>.
  21. ^ Sinjab, Lina. "Guide to the Syrian Rebels." BBC News. N.p., 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 24 July 2014. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-24403003>.
  22. ^ Lund, Aron. "Politics of the Islamic Front, Part 6: Stagnation?" Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. N.p., 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 28 July 2014. <http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=55334>.
  23. ^ Berman, Asher. "Rebel Groups in Jebel Al-Zawiyah." Backgrounders (26 July 2011): 6. Institute for the Study of War. Web. 29 July 2014. <http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Backgrounder_RebelGroupsJebelAlZawiyah_31July.pdf>.
  24. ^ Syzbala, Valerie. A Power Move by Syria's Rebel Forces. Rep. Institute for the Study of War, 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 24 July 2014. <http://iswsyria.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-power-move-by-syrias-rebel-forces.html>.
  25. ^ {{Berman, Asher. "Rebel Groups in Jebel Al-Zawiyah." Backgrounders (26 July 2011): 2. Institute for the Study of War. Web. 29 July 2014. <http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Backgrounder_RebelGroupsJebelAlZawiyah_31July.pdf>.}}
  26. ^ {{Karouny, Mariam. "Syria's Islamist Rebels Join Forces against Assad." Reuters. N.p., 11 Mar. 2012. Web. 27 July 2014. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/10/11/us-syria-crisis-rebels-idUSBRE89A0Y920121011>.}}
  27. ^ {{Roggio, Bill. "Al Nusrah Front Launches Joint Assaults with Numerous Syrian Rebel Groups." Long War Journal. Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, 31 July 2013. Web. 29 July 2014. <http://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2013/07/al_nusrah_front_laun_1
  28. ^ {{Roggio, Bill. "Suqour Al Sham, ISIS Agree to Ceasefire." Long War Journal. Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, 5 Feb. 2014. Web. 27 July 2014. <http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2014/02/suqour_al_sham_isis_agree_to_c.php>.}}
  29. ^ Syzbala, Valerie. A Power Move by Syria's Rebel Forces. Rep. Institute for the Study of War, 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 24 July 2014. <http://iswsyria.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-power-move-by-syrias-rebel-forces.html>.
  30. ^ Syzbala, Valerie. A Power Move by Syria's Rebel Forces. Rep. Institute for the Study of War, 22 Nov. 2013. Web. 24 July 2014. <http://iswsyria.blogspot.com/2013/11/a-power-move-by-syrias-rebel-forces.html>.
  31. ^ Sinjab, Lina. "Guide to the Syrian Rebels." BBC News. N.p., 13 Dec. 2013. Web. 24 July 2014. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-24403003>.
  32. ^ Lund, Aron. "Politics of the Islamic Front, Part 6: Stagnation?" Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. N.p., 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 28 July 2014. <http://carnegieendowment.org/syriaincrisis/?fa=55334>.
  33. ^ Hassan, Hassan. "Front to Back." Foreign Policy. N.p., 4 Mar. 2014. Web. 27 July 2014. <http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/04/islamic_front_isis_syria>.
  34. ^ Roggio, Bill. "Suqour Al Sham, ISIS Agree to Ceasefire." Long War Journal. Foundation for the Defense of Democracy, 5 Feb. 2014. Web. 27 July 2014. <http://www.longwarjournal.org/threat-matrix/archives/2014/02/suqour_al_sham_isis_agree_to_c.php>.

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