Home Human Rights Journalism Ongoing Violations Without Accountability: Islamic State Members in the Syrian National Army

Ongoing Violations Without Accountability: Islamic State Members in the Syrian National Army


The present report provides detailed information on 27 IS leaders and fighters who joined the ranks of the SNA

by z.ujayli
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Executive Summary

The present report is concerned with the issue of Islamic State (IS) members joining the ranks of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) of the Syrian Interim Government (SIG), operating under the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces. In this report, Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) cites 27 names of former IS members now positioned in the SNA as 11 first and second-level leaders, 6 security officials, and 10 members of different ranks.

We collected detailed information on these 27 individuals as part of a total of 65 former IS members currently active in the ranks of the SNA which we will share with UN bodies. STJ obtained evidence of violations committed by these individuals while they served in IS, and later in the SNA. Furthermore, we identified which SNA groups the individuals joined — many which recruited Syrian civilians and fighters to fight as mercenaries in Libya and Azerbaijan.

While preparing this report, our team noted that the SNA concealed the identity of multiple leaders and fighters in member lists provided to the Turkish government.

For this paper, STJ conducted 28 interviews with leaders and fighters within the SNA and their families, as well as witnesses acquainted with the individuals discussed. This report is a part of a wider effort to collect information on former IS members who are now active in the Syrian territories among various parties in the conflict.

STJ discovered that the following SNA groups include IS members:

  1. The Military Police service, led by Ahmed Ibrahim al-Kurdi and affiliated with the Ministry of Defense of the SIG, headed by Abdulrahman Mustafa and operating under the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, under the presidency of Naser al-Hariri;
  2. Tajammu Ahrar al-Sharqiya/Gathering of Free Men of the East, led by Abu Hatem Shaqra;
  3. The Eastern Army/Jaysh al-Sharqiya, led by Major Hussein Hamadi.
  4. Martyrs of Badr Army/Jaysh Shuhada’a Badr, led by Abu al-Hasan Shuhada’;
  5. The Mu’tasim Division, led by Mu’tasim Abbas;
  6. The Sultan Murad Division, led by Fahim Issa;
  7. The al-Hamza/al-Hamzat Division, led by Sayf Abu Bakr;
  8. The Malek Shah division, led by Mahmoud al-Baz.

The Formation of the Syrian National Army  

On 17 May 2016, the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces elected Jawad Abu Hatab Prime Minister of the SIG.[1][2] Later, on 30 August 2017, the Syrian Islamic Council  and the SIG called for the formation of a united army which combines most of the Syrian opposition armed groups.[3] The Forces of Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo,[4] which is active in the Syrian Badia, was the first group to welcome the call on 2 September 2017.[5] On 4 September 2017 the SIG appointed Jawad Abu Hatab as the Defense minister.[6] On 18 September 2017, the SIG announced the formation of the general staff and the appointment of Abdul Jabbar al-Oqaidi and Hassan Marei Hamadeh as Deputy Ministers of Defense.

Turkey played a decisive and clear role in the formation of the SNA. On 24 October 2017, al-Modon newspaper published a detailed article under the title “Euphrates Shield Armed Groups to a Regular Army” in which it revealed a meeting at the headquarters of the Turkish Special Forces attended by the governor of Gaziantep, the governor of Kilis, the commander of the Turkish Special Forces, representatives of the Turkish intelligence service, members of the SIG, the deputy head of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, and the leaders of SNA groups active in the Euphrates Shield area. The meeting led to multiple agreements,[7] including the conversion of the armed groups from segregated forces to an integrated regular army in two stages.

The first stage was the formation of three corps:

  1. The National Army Corps
  2. The Sultan Murad Corps
  3. The Levant Front/al-Jabha al-Shamiya Corps.

The second stage would strip the armed groups of their names and begin addressing them as one regular army with the following structure:

  • Legions including three squads each;
  • Squads including three brigades each;
  • Brigades including three battalions each.

To read the report in full as a PDF, follow this link.

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[1] On 12 July 2016, the government formed by Jawad Abu Hatab gained 68 votes out of 98 form the participants in the confidence session held by the General Authority of the National Coalition for Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces. The new ministry made up of 10 ministers: Dr. Jawad Abu Hatab, Prime Minister and Minister of Interior and Defense; 2. Eng. Akram Tohme, Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs; 3. Abdullah Hamadeh, Minister of Finance and Economy; 4. Dr. Muhammad Firas Al-Jundi, Minister of Health; 5. Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Daghim, Minister of Higher Education; 6. Eng. Jamal Kalash, Minister of Agriculture; 7. Eng. Abdullah Razzouk, Minister of Services; 8. Dr. Imad Barq, Minister of Education; 9. Dr. Abdel Moneim Al-Halabi, Minister of Finance; 10. Dr. Yaqoub Al-Ammar, Minister of Local Administration. Counselor Hassan Bakri was appointed as the Secretary-General of the Government. The government witnessed several changes in its composition, the most important of which was the resignation of the Minister of Finance and the assignment of Jawad Abu Hatab himself to the position, thus occupying four positions (the Prime Minister, the Ministr of Interior and the Minister of Defense and Finance).

[2] A man in the news…Abu Hatab a surgeon with the rank of Minister of Defense, Enab Baladi Newspaper, 5 September 2017, https://www.enabbaladi.net/archives/171238 (Last accessed: 16 June 2021).

[3] Calls to form a ‘National Army’ in Syria, Enab Baladi Newspaper, 31 August 2017, https://www.enabbaladi.net/archives/170544 (Last accessed: 16 June 2021).

[4] The Forces of Martyr Ahmad al-Abdo agree to the proposal to establish a National Army, Enab Baladi newspaper, 2 September 2017, https://www.enabbaladi.net/archives/170871 (Last accessed: 16 June 2021).

[5] Other group who welcomed the call and joined the union: The Lions of the East Army/Jaysh Usud al-Sharqiya, the Levant Front/al-Jabha al-Shamiya, Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant/Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiyya, The Sham Legion/Faylaq al-Sham, al-Naser Union, Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement, Free Idlib Army, the Central Division, the Sultan Murad Division, the 23rd Division, the 1st Coastal Division and Ansar al-Sunnah.

[6] “Bayan”, the Facebook page of the SIG, 5 September 2019, https://www.facebook.com/syriaig/photos/a.437508956326466/1397306770346675/?type=3&theater (Last accessed: 16 June 2021).

[7] Euphrates Shield groups to a regular army, al-Modon, 24 October 2017, https://www.almodon.com/arabworld/2017/10/24/%D9%81%D8%B5%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%84-%D8%AF%D8%B1%D8%B9-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%81%D8%B1%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A5%D9%84%D9%89-%D8%AC%D9%8A%D8%B4-%D9%86%D8%B8%D8%A7%D9%85%D9%8A?fbclid=IwAR1S8CYkM3Rg0KoXkWIhIgoQNrkswncZlT8e6daY4SXVeZjZJmKDW8Xuafk (Last accessed: 16 June 2021).

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