The Islamic State claimed a suicide bombing west of Daraa in southern Syrian yesterday, saying 50 men from the “Crusader Russian Forces” and “the Apostate Nusayri Army” (a derogatory reference to Bashar al Assad’s soldiers) were killed or wounded in the explosion.
The so-called caliphate identified the “martyrdom-seeking” jihadist as “brother Abu al-Zubayr al-Ansari” and added an interesting note. Al-Ansari was dispatched by a new Islamic State “province,” Wilayah Hawran, which was apparently established to operate in southwestern Syria, near the Jordanian border.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s organization has long operated in the area, but usually through a group known as Jaysh Khalid bin al-Walid. So the introduction of the brand name “Wilayah Hawran” in Daraa is a new development.
The Islamic State takes a swipe at the anti-Assad rebel groups that recently quit the fight in Daraa’s countryside. The group claims that al-Ansari arrived in an area “surrendered” to the regime “by the apostate Awakenings a few days ago.” The self-declared caliphate refers to rebel groups as part of the “Awakenings,” a term derived from the original uprisings against the jihadists in Iraq. Al-Ansari allegedly managed to kill 35 people, including a Syrian “officer,” while wounding 15 others and also destroying “two tanks” and “numerous vehicles.”
Al Masdar News, a pro-Assad regime media outlet, seemingly confirmed the gist of the Islamic State’s own account, saying that “[s]cores of Syrian Army soldiers were killed and injured as a suicide blast rocks their position in Zaizoun town of west Daraa countryside.”
The Assad regime, along with its Russian and Iranian-backed allies, launched an offensive in Daraa in mid-June. The Syrian-Russian-Iranian axis was able to quickly force other rebels in the area to capitulate. Various regime-sponsored reports claim that American-supplied arms were captured in the process.
The UN has warned that the offensive has created yet another humanitarian crisis inside Syria.
Other jihadist insurgents in Syria — including Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, the “Guardians of Religion” organization and others — recently tried to jumpstart their own operations against the Assad regime in and around Daraa. But this effort failed to produce any significant activity.
The Islamic State has had more success. While Wilayah Hawran is a new name for the Islamic State’s arm in Daraa, the group has a long-established presence in southern Syria.
Jaysh Khalid bin al-Walid was first known as the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, which was established in southern Syria in 2012. The US State Department designated the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade as a terrorist organization in June 2016. After absorbing some other factions, the group changed its name to Jaysh Khalid bin al-Walid (or the Army of Khalid bin al-Walid). In July 2017, both the State Department and the United Nations updated their terrorist designation pages to reflect this rebranding. The UN noted that Jaysh Khalid bin al-Walid, which has sworn allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s organization, was thought to have “about 2,000 fighters,” though it isn’t clear how many jihadists are currently in its ranks.
In recent weeks, Jaysh Khalid bin al-Walid has also attacked the Assad regime and its allies in Daraa. For instance, the group released a set of photos purportedly documenting rocket launches aimed at Assad’s men in the town of Sheikh Maskin earlier this month.
Jaysh Khalid bin al-Walid’s photos from an attack on the Assad regime in Sheikh Maskin earlier this month: