"And I have found both freedom and safety in my madness, the freedom of loneliness and the safety from being understood, for those who understand us enslave something in us. But let me not be too proud of my safety. Even a Thief in a jail is safe from another thief. "

Khalil Gibran (How I Became a Madman)



Sunday, April 16, 2017

Al-Ghalibun: Inside Story of a Syrian Hezbollah Group- Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi's Blog

The rise of multiple militia factions in Syria that come under the mantra of 'Syrian Hezbollah' is now a well-established aspect of the conflict. The most well-known of these groups is Quwat al-Ridha whose origins lie in the Homs area. One problem in researching these groups is the difficulty in obtaining much concrete information about them, with a general reluctance on the part of their members and leaders to talk to outsiders.
A case-in-point of this open-source obscurity is al-Ghalibun ("Those who overcome"- a reference to Qur'an 37:173: 'And indeed our soldiers are the ones who overcome'). The group has a social media presence that emerged in 2015, but aside references to some areas of operations (e.g. in Aleppo and Quneitra provinces and Palmyra), some 'martyr' claims and name and emblem changes, precious little data of value can be found in that social media presence.
However, a friend who was in al-Ghalibun was able to speak with me about the group. When I first came to know him, he was still in the group and refused to tell me anything about it, indicating at the time that he was not authorised to speak about it. In subsequently speaking to me about al-Ghalibun, he was not doing so as a 'defector' purporting to expose inside dirt on the group. Rather, he had simply left al-Ghalibun out of a desire to find a better source of income to support his family. This friend still knows people in the group, and prefers the regime in Syria over the rebels/opposition. His information has proven helpful in the account I present below.
While, as stated above, al-Ghalibun's social media profile emerged in 2015, its origins apparently go back much further to the 2012-2013 period. Its existence was simply kept low-key in those earlier years. From elsewhere in the Syrian civil war, there are of course many examples of groups that trace their beginnings to the earlier years of the Syrian civil war but did not emerge with a clear profile on social media until much later (e.g. Liwa al-Baqir in Aleppo and the Leopards of Homs).

At the head of al-Ghalibun has been a man going by the name of Abu al-Meqdad, his real name being Rami Yusuf. Originally from Latakia province, he was of Alawite origin but is said to have converted some time ago to Shi'i Islam (that is, the Twelver denomination, which is hereby the denomination specified in this piece). He has also had long-standing connections with Hezbollah, reputedly participating in the 2006 war against Israel. For comparison, the same claim of participating in the 2006 war against Israel is made about the two brothers who established Liwa al-Baqir: al-Hajj Hamza and al-Hajj Khalid. A current al-Ghalibun member from Jablah in Latakia province also affirmed the claim that Abu al-Meqdad participated in the 2006 war against Israel.