Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk Appoints a New Leader

27 May 2016

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

After the assassination of its first leader al-Khal in mid-November 2015, the pro-Islamic State (IS) Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk (Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade) based in southwest Deraa province along the border with the Golan Heights appointed Abu Obeida Qahtan as new leader. Qahtan, of Palestinian Syrian origin, is a jihadi veteran and apparently among the founders of Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk. His presence in the group is also rather exceptional in that he is originally from the Yarmouk camp in Damascus, not a native of the Yarmouk Valley/Basin (Wadi/Hawdh al-Yarmouk) where Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk is based and draws most of its manpower.

In this context, two important local clans are the landowning Baridis, from which al-Khal came, and the Ja'ounis, from which his deputy Abu Abdullah al-Ja'ouni (also killed in mid-November 2015 alongside al-Khal) came. According to a Ja'ouni from the Hawdh al-Yarmouk locality of Shajra that is controlled by Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk, the Ja'ounis are Palestinian in origin but have long been present in Shajra. As for foreign members (muhajireen), the only known case until now has been an Israeli Arab who paraglided into Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk territory from the Golan Heights in October 2015, clearly with a prior exceptional agreement from al-Khal, who otherwise rejected muhajireen.

Therefore, it is all the more surprising to learn that a new amir of Saudi origin has been appointed to succeed Abu Obeida Qahtan. Hints of a change in the leadership of Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk came to light around 5 March or so. The pro-opposition site All4Syria then reported on 8 March:

"In a step that was surprising to many observers, Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk has announced the appointment of a new amir for the brigade who is the Saudi 'Abu Abdullah al-Madani' succeeding the prior amir for the brigade: Abu Obeida al-Qahtani [sic: Abu Obeida Qahtan].

Activists of the area controlled by the brigade affirmed the issuing of an internal decision that was not announced through the brigade's media in this specific case.

The previous amir had received his position months ago following the killing of a number of the first set of leaders in Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk in an explosion on 15 November last year, at the head of whom was al-Khal, the amir at that time."

On the same day (8 March), a Twitter account in Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk's name put out a statement announcing the appointment of Abu Abdullah al-Madani as leader. A Telegram account and a Facebook account in the group's name have also put out this statement today (see here and here for screenshots).

The statement is dated 7 March and follows the same wording as the statement that was put out by Liwa Shuhada' al-Yarmouk announcing the appointment of Abu Obeida Qahtan after al-Khal's death. The authenticity of the statement is not in dispute.


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