It is easy to be preoccupied with all the latest developments in the Syrian civil war while neglecting the more distant history of the conflict. In this particular case I want to illustrate the growth of Hezbollah's influence in the Homs area through focusing on the life of one As'ad Muhammad Hussein (Abu Jihad). For the life of this individual, I am reliant on the testimony of one of his children.
"The martyr commander As'ad Muhammad Hussein."
As'ad was originally from the village of Umm al-Amad in the Homs countryside. The village has a population of around 20,000 inhabitants. The main families in it are:
In addition, the village has some 700 'martyrs' and missing people.
As'ad was born in 1969. Prior to the civil war, he was an engineering officer in the Syrian army, having graduated from the al-Assad academy for military engineering. As'ad formally retired from the military in 2009. However, with the onset of the civil war in Syria (c. 2011-2012), he initially worked on protecting his home locality of Umm al-Amad, keeping watch over its entrances alongside the youth and men of the locality. Then, at the wider level, he became affiliated with Hezbollah and worked with the Syrian army's III Corps (Third Legion) in the 'central region' of Syria (i.e. Homs and Hama), helping to bolster (in coordination with Hezbollah) popular committees in the region. The popular committees, it should be noted, were among the earliest types of pro-government auxiliary formations.
As'ad's specialities were in military engineering and military information and he was involved in operations in Homs city, north Homs countryside, east Homs countryside and Hama and its countryside. In fact, As'ad had a role in the establishment and development of Quwat al-Ridha ('The Ridha Forces'), a Hezbollah-affiliated force of Syrian fighters that first emerged in the Homs area. It will be recalled that Hamza Ibrahim Hayder (al-Hajj Abu Mustafa)- a Hezbollah commander originally from Kafrdan in the Beqaa Valley and killed in fighting in the al-Khalidiya neighbourhood of Homs city in June 2013- led the Quwat al-Ridha nucleus of fighters during the Homs city operations in the first half of 2013. As'ad himself had contact and links with the Quwat al-Ridha leadership and through his expertise in information he played a prominent role in the capture of the al-Khalidiya neighbourhood from the rebels by the end of July 2013.
On 22 December 2013, As'ad's house was damaged through a bombing that occurred in front of it and a local high school in Umm al-Amad. The bombing killed 25 people, while As'ad and his family members were wounded. After As'ad recovered from his wounds, he moved to the al-Abbasiya neighbourhood in Homs city because of the damage to his house.
As'ad was killed on 29 April 2014 as he tried to stop a car bomb from reaching a site in al-Abbasiya neighbourhood where a bombing had taken place only minutes before.
It is said that As'ad (who had 7 children) is the one who gave his home village of Umm al-Amad the nickname of Umm al-Shuhada' (Mother of Martyrs). As'ad had a brother (Ahmad Muhammad Hussein) who was killed while working in the emergence police in Homs. From the family within the extended Hussein family, they have more than 25 'martyrs' who were killed in various parts of Syria.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a research fellow at Middle East Forum's Jihad Intel project.