Partisans of the Shi'a Fawj al-Imam al-Hujja militia north of Aleppo.
Liwa Sayf al-Mahdi: A Syrian Army Shi'i Militia (Aug. 6)
Profile of the Syrian Shi'a militia Liwa Sayf al-Mahdi. Unlike other Syrian Shi'a militias profiled by the author (e.g. Quwat al-Ridha and Liwa al-Imam al-Mahdi), Liwa Sayf al-Mahdi isn't affiliated with Lebanese or Iraqi Shi'a groups. Rather, it was set up by and works in conjunction with the elite Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian Army. Its operations are focused mainly on maintaining security in areas around the Sayyida Zainab shrine in suburban Damascus and protecting regime-held petroleum facilities.
Syrian Hezbollah Militias of Nubl and Zahara' (Aug. 15)
Overview of Syrian Shi'a militias based in the Shi'a towns of Nubl and Zahara' north of the city of Aleppo. In addition to the previously-profiled National Ideological Resistance, Quwat al-Ridha, and Local Defence Forces (LDF), Mr. Tamimi examines two in detail, Junud al-Mahdi and Fawj al-Imam al-Hujja, both affiliated with the Lebanese Shi'a Hezbollah movement. Hezbollah's youth wing, the Imam Mahdi Scouts, has a notable presence in the area as well.
In his first recorded message, Abu Muhammad al-Jowlani said on July 28 that Jabhat al-Nusra was splitting from al-Qaeda.
Al-Qa'ida Uncoupling: Jabhat al-Nusra's Rebranding as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (Aug. 22)
The author examines the July 28 announcement by Jabhat al-Nusra that it was dropping its affiliation with al-Qaeda and changing its name to Jabhat Fateh al-Sham. He concludes that the "nominal decoupling" was in fact approved by and coordinated with senior al-Qaeda leaders in an effort to "unify Islamist efforts in Syria and to make it more difficult for the United States and Russia to justify targeting the group." With Nusra/Fateh al-Sham growing in popularity and other rebel groups welcoming the announcement, "the move appears to have paid off so far."
'Stories of the Mujahideen': Unseen Islamic State Biographies (Aug. 24)
Translations of entries in an Islamic state da'wa (religious outreach) series, Qisas al-Mujahideen (Stories of the Mujahideen), which is distributed on the ground in IS territories but not available online. Published by Diwan al-Da'wa wa al-Masajid (the Da'wa and Mosques Department), each is a biography of a jihadist figure, ranging from well-known historical figures to commanders currently in ISIS and others exemplifying the group's ideal. It includes some profiles of women, such as Iman Mustafa al-Bagha, a professor of Islamic jurisprudence at the University of Dammam in Saudi Arabia who resigned her post to join IS. A separate Diwan al-Da'wa wa al-Masajid document translated by the author indicates that IS soldiers are the primary audience for this series, which is aimed at "strengthening the resolve of the mujahid as a soldier of the Caliphate."
Left: A Fawj Maghawir al-Badiya office in Homs governorate. Right: Closer view of the poster at left, featuring the group's emblem and its alternative moniker (Kata'ib al-Sheikh Suleiman al-Shwakh).
Fawj Maghawir al-Badiya: A Syrian Military Intelligence Branch Militia (Aug. 30)
Profile of Fawj Maghawir al-Badiya (The Desert Commandos Regiment), a militia affiliated with Syrian Military Intelligence (Shu'abat al-Mukhabarat al-Askariya). Like many other auxiliary militias created by the regime, it attracts recruits by offering taswiyat al-wada' ("sorting out of affairs"), a kind of amnesty for those who have dodged the draft. Although relatively small (its leader, Suleiman al-Shwakh, told the author that just 25 of its fighters have become "martyrs" since its founding last year), the militia earned accolades for its role in the recapture of Palmyra from IS in March 2016.
The author examines the reaction of IS media outlets to the killing of Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, the group's official spokesman and (according to some accounts) external operations chief, in a U.S. airstrike earlier in the month. Most push back against the idea that Adnani's death will hurt IS. Indeed, an article in the IS weekly Al-Naba' argues that his killing will bolster the resolve of true "mujahideen."
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a research fellow at Middle East Forum's Jihad Intel project.