The Army of Islam, led by Zahran Alloush, is trying to survive in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Damascus. It is facing both Syrian regime airstrikes and the anti-corruption internal revolution. Add to this the daily uninterrupted clashes and continuous attempts on the part of the Syrian regime forces to advance in the direction of Douma.
An-Nahar learned from Aram Dumaini, a Syrian activist and director of the Syria press agency in Damascus and its countryside, that the regime attempts were “to no avail given the strong response of the Free Army factions on the four fronts of Rihan, Tal Kurdi, the Harasta military hospital (Karam al-Rasas region) and al-Aliya farms.”
Regarding the field developments, the Syrian regime media outlets are reporting the destruction of the Army of Islam fortifications on these fronts. Dumaini, however, said that “the regions of Rihani, Tal Kurdi and al-Alia are still under FSA control and the regime forces are not making any progress. There are other factions fighting and confronting the Syrian regime alongside the Army of Islam, the largest being the Army of the Nation, which regained the town of Hawsh al-Fara from the regime forces in the past days after the latter had controlled it for hours.”
Lately, Alloush is best known through his mention in a dossier that documented the kidnappings in Adra by his army and other factions such as al-Ajnad, Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra, which kidnapped individuals and families from the city of Adra al-Omaliyah.
According to Dumaini: “These prisoners are loyal to the regime. They are fighting within its ranks, and they include officers who are now with the Free Army, which wanted to make a swap deal whereby they would be released in exchange for the regime’s release of prisoners from its prisons. However, the [regime] refused to make any kind of deals or even talk about the subject. It deemed the prisoners missing and evaded its responsibilities toward them.”
The regime media outlets used Alloush’s attempt to draft an agreement on the issue of prisoners and reported it as a start of a dialogue with the regime. However, Dumaini denied any “deal between the Army of Islam and the Syrian regime,” and added that “such a dialogue cannot happen on an individual or personal basis given that there is a unified military command in East Ghouta, judiciary and local councils, and civil and revolutionary bodies, and no one can reduce the decision-making process to himself alone, especially when such fateful decisions are involved at such a difficult stage.”
Dumaini talked about the demonstrations and movements raging in Douma, and pointed out that “these are not against anyone, but against traders controlling food products and against corruption. These demonstrations are calling on the international community to open humanitarian corridors for East Ghouta and putting an end to the daily shelling practiced by the Syrian regime forces. These practices are killing dozens of martyrs and wounding hundreds of people by directly and intentionally targeting residential communities and neighborhoods and popular markets.”
Following in the footsteps of the Islamic State
Syrian opposition sources consider Alloush to be following in the footsteps of the Islamic State (IS) in his practices, especially after the Army of Islam carried out a death sentence against civilian Maher Ibn Mohammad Kashouh, in cooperation with the unified judiciary in East Ghouta, for crimes that included “dealing with the regime and giving the names of Ghouta residents wanted [by the judiciary], cursing God, practicing witchcraft, taking drugs, committing adultery for two years and carrying out kidnapping operations.” The sources said that the death penalty was carried out using IS’ method, as Kashouh was crucified and beheaded.
These sources recalled the Army of Islam arrest of the commander of Jond al-Haq, Abu Yasser al-Nessr, and another leader with him. Sources said: “Jond al-Haq and the moderate brigades in East Ghouta still maintain the Free Syrian Army name and have not resorted to any other Islamic appellation. The arrest was made due to the demands of protesters for prosecutions against corrupt traders, which triggered demonstrations in Douma calling for his release from the Touba prison, which is affiliated with the Army of Islam.”
Civilians blame corruption on the Army of Islam. Civilians attempted to break into the Adala relief organization to condemn hunger as well as the rocketing prices. The guards of the institution, affiliated with the Army of Islam, opened fire on civilians. According to sources, “The city is still experiencing massive demonstrations calling for the dispatch of food aid and the trial of traders due to high prices. Meanwhile, the leadership stands idle as it detains commanders of the Free Army.”
The actions of both the Army of Islam and Alloush prove that there is no hope when it comes to the opposition, except for the united factions in the south of Damascus, known as the Military Operations Center, which includes more than 25,000 fighters. Meanwhile, Western countries are striving to maintain the moderation of these factions after several other extremist or moderate factions have turned into thugs or followers of a regime similar to Bashar al-Assad's.
Who is Zahran Alloush?
Alloush (born 1970) is married to three women. He is the son of Sheikh Abdullah Alloush, a Salafist authority in Damascus. He joined the faculty of law at the Damascus University and studied for a master's degree and then completed his studies at the Islamic University in Medina. He had been known for his missionary activities since 1987, which prompted the Syrian regime to prosecute him. The Palestine Branch arrested him in 2009 on charges of possessing weapons that the security forces found in his car. He came out of Sednaya prison two years later under a general amnesty three months into the beginning of the revolution. A total of 1,500 detainees from the Salafist and jihadist groups were also released at the time.
Right after his release, he worked to establish a military force to fight Assad. The force was dubbed the Battalion of Islam and then expanded to become the Brigade of Islam. In 2013, he formed the Army of Islam, which included more than 45 factions of the Free Syrian Army. Some believe that he is the man responsible for the disappearance of Syrian activist Razan Zeitouneh and her companions, especially since he is known for attacking advocates of democracy by saying that democracy leads to the separation of people into teams and parties, which leads to rivalry and strife between them.
Alloush embraces the Salafist jihadist ideology and calls for an Islamic state. He is opposed to both the Republican and the Democratic regimes. His speeches call for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate state, which in his opinion is the state of the Umayyad Caliphate, not the Rashidiya Caliphate.