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Fatemiyoun or ISIS?

2023-04-12 23:53

Issam Khoury

Fatemiyoun or ISIS?

Since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, the Syrian regime has consistently attempted to attribute numerous violations committed against civilians to the

Since the outbreak of the Syrian revolution, the Syrian regime has consistently attempted to attribute numerous violations committed against civilians to the Islamic State organization. This organization has become synonymous with inhumane acts, leading the international community to readily criticize it without further scrutinizing the underlying violations. The ease with which this criticism is accepted stems from the significant threat the Islamic State poses to various countries' national security.

A recent example of these violations occurred on February 17, 2023, when 53 individuals were killed in the Al-Sukhna area [1] of the Syrian Badia. [2] The Syrian News Agency reported this event on its official website,[3] claiming that the terrorist organization ISIS killed 53 truffle pickers with gunshots to the head and subsequently burned their cars.

Although some ISIS sleeper cells remain active in the Syrian Badia region, specifically near Salamieh [4] and Palmyra, [5] these cells have not engaged with the Bani Khalid clan. This clan is spread across the Al-Rukban camp and the town of Al-Sukhna in the Syrian Badia. Unlike the Islamic State fighters, they consider the Bani Khaled clan and other clans in the Syrian desert as oppressed groups whose rights have been denied due to Liwa Fatemiyoun's [6] dominance, which is supported by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

In fact, when ISIS was at the peak of its power, its operations primarily targeted the Syrian regime in the Salamiyah-Palmyra region and the Al-Shaer fields area, which contains Syrian gas fields. These areas are home to Syrian army military units, which ISIS aimed to exploit in order to strengthen its military capabilities. However, following the collapse of ISIS and the death of its most prominent leaders, its operations have become rare and are now limited to raiding army members returning from the Deir Ezzor region to Damascus in order to seize their ammunition and personal weapons.

As a result, it is highly unlikely that ISIS would kill impoverished individuals whose sole interest lies in collecting agricultural truffles to sell in Homs markets for a modest profit. If the gunmen were thieves claiming loyalty to ISIS, why would they kill unarmed individuals? They could have simply taken the truffles, particularly given that the cost of bullets is higher than that of truffles. Furthermore, if they were thieves, why would they burn the truffle collectors' cars instead of using them or dismantling and selling them as spare parts? The value of these vehicles undoubtedly exceeds that of the truffles.

From a technical perspective, ISIS typically used live bullets to kill its military opponents during battles. The likelihood of them killing poor, defenseless civilians is extremely low. The Bani Khaled tribe is known for not supporting the Syrian regime, making it implausible for ISIS to order their execution on charges of treason. If there were genuine acts of treason, the Islamic State organization's usual punishment would involve beheading with a sharp knife or sword, which was not the case here. This evidence leads us to reject the accusation that the Islamic State organization killed these impoverished individuals from the Bani Khaled tribe.




Upon examining the statement issued by the clan on February 18, 2023, we see a direct accusation against Liwa Fatemiyoun. The Bani Khaled clan reported that 75 civilians were killed in the massacre, not the 53 individuals claimed by the Syrian regime. After obtaining a video documenting the victims' corpses, it became apparent that most of these victims were shot in the head. This indicates that they were not subjected to physical violence prior to the killings but were threatened with the aim of gathering them in one place before being executed with live bullets. Technically, this method aligns with the behavior of the Syrian regime and Iranian militias, as seen in the Tadamon [7] massacre, [8] which was documented as a war crime.

Truffle collectors used to sell their products to members of the Fourth Division of the Syrian Army for 80 thousand Syrian pounds per kilogram, which means that the members of the Fourth Division made a financial profit of approximately one hundred thousand Syrian pounds for every kilogram without any effort or fatigue. Consequently, they had no reason to kill these poor people, which suggests that Liwa Fatemiyoun is the group most likely responsible for the killings for several prominent reasons:

Iranian weapons:


The Al-Sukhna area in the Syrian desert serves as a concentration point for Liwa Fatemiyoun, funded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. The area is characterized by numerous caves in its terrain. Liwa Fatemiyoun fighters have dug many tunnels in this area, establishing crucial security points extending between the provinces of Deir Ezzor and Homs, as well as placing mines in areas believed to be storage centers for weapons smuggled from Iran to Syria via Iraq's land route.

Typically, truffles grow at the edges of caves, as they require shade. The assassination of truffle collectors may be attributed to their proximity to these caves, which could have led them to discover the Iranian weapons storage sites inside Syria.

Religious extremism:


Liwa Fatemiyoun holds extremist views against Sunnis, and Iranian Shiites have utilized it as an advanced tool in Afghanistan to defend Afghan Shiites. Consequently, they harbor extreme animosity toward Sunni groups, particularly the poor without media support. This mindset makes the liquidation of the Bani Khaled clan, opponents of the Syrian regime, a matter of religious and security justification, especially since they maintain constant contact with them due to their geographical location.

Exploiting ISIS:


The primary task of the international anti-terrorist coalition, stationed in Area 55 or the Al-Tanf base, is to eliminate the Islamic State. In contrast, the Israelis' primary task is to sever the land military supply bridge from Tehran to Syria. As a result, Liwa Fatemiyoun is a targeted group, along with all Shiite radical organizations funded by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. If ISIS terrorist cells are eliminated, the international anti-terrorist coalition's priority may shift to cooperating with the Israelis to eradicate Shiite militias. With this in mind, Liwa Fatemiyoun may attempt to conduct terrorist operations and attribute them to the Islamic State to delay their liquidation by the Americans and Israelis.

These three reasons, individually or collectively, may serve as motivation for us to enhance our verification of any operations ascribed by the media to the Islamic State. The beneficiary of these operations is not solely the Islamic State but also regional powers, most notably Tehran, in addition to the Syrian regime. The latter seeks to portray itself as a political regime rather than a radical extremist group, even though this regime has committed numerous war crimes and genocides that surpass the crimes of extremist radical groups.


[1] Al-Sukhnah is a town in eastern Syria under the administration of the Homs Governorate, located east of Homs in the Syrian Desert. Nearby localities include Mayadin and al-Asharah to the east, al-Taybah and Raqqa to the north, Salamieh to the west, and Arak and Palmyra to the southwest. 

[2] The Syrian Desert, also known as the North Arabian Desert, the Jordanian steppe, or the Badiya, is a region of desert, semi-desert, and steppe covering 500,000 square kilometers of the Middle East, including parts of southern Syria, eastern Jordan, northern Saudi Arabia, and western Iraq. 

[3] https://sana.sy/?p=1842964 

[4] Salamieh is a city and district in western Syria, in the Hama Governorate. It is located 33 kilometres southeast of Hama, 45 kilometres northeast of Homs. 

[5] Palmyra is an ancient city in present-day Homs Governorate, Syria. Archaeological finds date back to the Neolithic period, and documents first mention the city in the early second millennium BC. 

[6] Liwa Fatemiyoun, literally "Fatimid Banner", also known as Fatemiyoun Division or Fatemiyoun Brigade, is an Afghan Shia militia formed in 2014 to fight in Syria on the side of the Syrian government. 

[7] The guardian, by Martin Chulov, Middle East correspondent, 26 Apr 2022 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/apr/27/massacre-in-tadamon-how-two-academics-hunted-down-a-syrian-war-criminal

[8] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qbc3j_0Q_i8

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