On the defensive in Daraa, reported Islamic State affiliates deploy ‘unheard of’ suicide bombings

AMMAN: As a coalition of rebel brigades goes on the offensive against suspected Islamic State affiliates, the latter are reportedly using suicide bombers, including children, to maintain control over their corner of southwest Daraa province.

“The scale of the [suicide] operations, unheard of in Daraa, comes as the Islamic State cells' territory is shrinking...they are trying to stop the rebels' progress by using suicide car bombs,” Mohammed al-Rafai, spokesman for the Southern Front-affiliated Jaish al-Yarmouk, told Syria Direct Monday.

The Southern Front, alongside Jaish Fatah al-Junub and Jaish al-Islam “liberated the village of Adawan” in the western Daraa countryside on Monday, Abu Rashid al-Hourani, spokesman for Southern Front's Liwa Awwal Mahaam Khassa, told Syria Direct Tuesday. That victory follows the capture of two other villages and four military checkpoints since late last week, he added. 

Adawan sits adjacent to a piece of territory controlled by the two brigades that are reportedly sympathetic to the Islamic State in Daraa: Harakat al-Muthanna and Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk. Although both deny any official connection with the Islamic State, area rebels repeatedly accuse them of cooperating with IS and using shared tactics and ideology.

Young LSY fighter who conducted a suicide car bomb operation in Inkhil last month. Photo courtesy of fata1182.

On March 21, Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk broke six kilometers out of the pocket of territory they control in the southwest corner of Daraa province, a smattering of villages sandwiched between the Israeli and Jordanian borders encircled for more than a year by rebel brigades. During that offensive, they captured two villages belonging to Nusra and Ahrar a-Sham.

Three days later, the Southern Front announced the formation of a joint operations room to “expel Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk and Harakat al-Muthanna from those areas they recently captured,” according to a copy of the operations room announcement published March 25 by UK-based al-Arabi al-Jadeed.

Nearly two weeks after that announcement, the rebel coalition appears to have reversed Liwa Shuhada Yarmouk and Muthanna's gains by capturing three villages and four military checkpoints.

“What remains of Harakat al-Muthanna has withdrawn to areas of Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk control” over the past five days, said FSA spokesman al-Hourani.

For the first time in Daraa province, Liwa Shuhada al-Yarmouk and Harakat al-Muthanna have made liberal use of suicide bombers against rebel brigades during the recent fighting.

The IS-affiliated brigades conducted eight suicide car bomb attacks against rebel positions over the past two weeks, the pro-opposition Revolutionary Martyrs' Documentation Center that records casualties in Daraa province told Syria Direct Monday.

One of Liwa Shuhada Yarmouk's suicide bombers was 14 years old, citizen journalist Abu Mohammed told Syria Direct from Inkhil city on Monday, site of the attack.

“In a lot of battles we find a number of dead children, under 18 years old, that the Islamic State is using in its battles.”

Waleed Khaled a-Noufal

Waleed a-Noufal was born in Ankhel in northern Daraa province. He attended high school in Ankhel but could not continue his study because of security reasons. Waleed worked as an activist in his local city council and the Umayya Media Center. In 2013, he moved to Jordan and finished his high school degree. Waleed wants to bring about a solution to the current crisis through his reporting.

Dan Wilkofsky

Dan Wilkofsky was a 2013-2014 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) in Amman, Jordan, where he worked with Talal Abu Ghazaleh Translation and the Ministry of Social Development. He has a BA in Classics (Latin) and Middle East Studies from Brown University.