The Syrian civil war has seen a large number of auxiliary formations arise in support of the Syrian government and its armed forces. Among these formations is the Zilzal Groups (aka Zilzal Brigade). The word 'zilzal' means 'earthquake' in Arabic and the full name of the formation is the Zilzal Groups of Assad's Syria.
On 1 March 2019 I interviewed Tariq Zuhdi al-Kharisha, who is commander of the the Zilzal Groups and a member of the leadership of the Deir az-Zor branch of the Arab Socialist Movement. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.
Emblem of the Zilzal Groups/Brigade.
Q: When were the Zilzal Groups formed and what was the reason for the formation?
A: The Zilzal Groups of Assad's Syria were formed in 2013. The reason for the formation is to defend the homeland and preserve every particle of soil in all areas of the Syrian Arab Republic, and so that we may be an auxiliary for our intrepid forces in all the field while not allowing the imperialists, the followers of the Zionists, to occupy us.
Q: In which area were the Zilzal Groups formed? And in which areas have they fought?
A: They were formed in Deir az-Zor province and they have fought in al-Jafra, al-Mari'iya, al-Maqabir, al-Baghiliya, Hawija al-Sakr, al-Sina'a, al-Rashdiya and the Tharda mountains. And we participated in the battles of Palmyra, the Sharifa and Ithriya area on the al-Raqqa route, and Khanaser and Tel Maragha on the Ithriya-Khanaser route, and the al-Ghur al-Gharbi area on the Homs-Masyaf route. They have also fought in al-Hasakah when the Da'esh [Islamic State] gangs penetrated into the town of al-Hasakah in Ghuweiran and al-Nashwa al-Gharbiya.
Tariq Zuhdi al-Kharisha
Q: And how many martyrs have the groups offered?
A: May God have mercy on them and make them among the pious martyrs. The Zilzal Groups of Assad's Syria have offered around 50 martyrs and a number of wounded.
Q: The groups are currently affiliated with which side (e.g. the military intelligence or the National Defence)?
A: To the forces of the Syrian Arab Army, but we are not affiliated with the National Defence Forces.
Q: All members of the groups are from the ranks of the Arab Socialist Movement?
A: No, mixed, but they believe in an eternal message and one cause.
Q: Have the friends (for example the Islamic Resistance- Hezbollah) helped you in training and arming members?
A: We are honoured to be among the ranks of the Islamic Resistance- Hezbollah, but those who armed and trained the members are officers of the Syrian Arab Army and our wise leadership. And we are all in one trench to defeat terrorism and whoso takes it upon himself to infringe on our sacred lands.
Q: Currently in which areas do the groups operate?
A: In the Syrian badiya.
Q: How is the security situation in the Syrian badiya currently? Are there problems of Da'esh cells for example?
A: We are operating on the land and we constitute an immune fortress by the instructions of our wise leadership. We will not allow them to pass except over our bodies if they are found. Of course the Da'esh gangs are doomed to demise: they and whoso has employed them and supported them.
Q: So generally the security situation in the Syrian badiya is very good.
A: Undoubtedly, though one must continuously take precaution and care.
Q: Lastly can you tell me a little about yourself?
A: I am Sheikh Tariq Zuhdi from one of the sheikhs of the Bani Sakhr clan of the al-Kharshan tribe in the Syrian Arab Republic. I was born in Deir az-Zor in Syria and I am of the inhabitants of the city (the Jabaila neighbourhood). I was born in 1981 and I am a member of the leadership of the Deir az-Zor branch of the Arab Socialist Movement. I am also a member of the Council of Sheikhs of the Iraqi and Arab Tribes in the Syrian Arab Republic. Before the terrorist attack against our beloved homeland I worked in business.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a research fellow at Middle East Forum's Jihad Intelproject.