Hizballah Cavalcade: Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada Emerges: Updates on the New Iraqi Shia Militia Supplying Fighters to Syria

NOTE: For prior parts in the Hizballah Cavalcade series you can view an archive of it all here.

Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada Emerges: Updates on the New Iraqi Shia Militia Supplying Fighters to Syria

By Phillip Smyth (psmyth@jihadology.net)

Click here for a PDF version of this post

Untitled335

Figure 1: A KSS member salutes the group’s flag.

When Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada (KSS) first announced their presence to the world, little was known about the organization, its leadership, or its force size. Funerals the group held for three of its fallen fighters in May not only announced the group’s existence, but also pointed to a strong link with Iran. However, following these funerals, little was heard from the group. Nevertheless, it would appear that starting in August the organization has fully redeveloped its messaging and online propaganda. This campaign has included well-organized and professional group funerals for members killed fighting in Syria, brand new and far-less amateurish imagery, and the introduction of some more unique features in KSS’s propaganda. Even the group’s uniforms have undergone a type of remake, featuring the KSS’s logo and patches showing their fighter’s commitments to “Defending Sayydiah Zaynab”.

The group has also been more open when it came to the numbers of its fighters deployed to Syria. In an Al-Sharqiya interview held with KSS’s information office, the group claimed to have sent 500 members to Syria.[1] Public announcements by the group have also established that since July, KSS has deployed a number of combat units to more rural zones around Damascus, particularly the frontlines in East Ghouta.

Additionally, via official websites belonging to the Badr Organization Military Wing, it is possible that a closer relationship exists between KSS and the Badr Organization. Since Badr did not announce its involvement in Syria until July, 2013, this may be a signal that KSS was used as a front group to send Badr fighters to Syria.

In terms of a social media presence, KSS has tried to reinvent itself. When the group’s more private group page was removed from Facebook, the organization simultaneously established a new Facebook page and more private profiles to disseminate photos and other information about the group. Since August, KSS has posted 1-4 unique new photographs of their activities in Syria. Additionally, other pro-Shia militia-in-Syria Facebook pages have re-posted their photographs.

Social media stature aside, the group’s rapid public growth, increased professionalism, combat deployments, and growing presence in Iraq—beyond its original base in Basra, demonstrates KSS as a rapidly growing Shia militia force. It is likely KSS will continue to announce its militant activities in Syria.

The Fighters

The fighters of Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada appear to be uniformed with clear identifiable insignia. The combatants carry arms which are familiar to other Shia militia groups, particularly the PKM machine gun, RPG-7s, Kalashnikov-type assault rifles, and the popular SVD-style sniper rifle. KSS fighters have also been photographed with anti-material sniper rifles.

Untitled336

Figure 2: A KSS fighter with a customized Kalashnikov-type rifle and an SVD style sniper rifle.

Untitled337

Figure 3: A KSS fighter poses with a mortar.

Untitled338

Figure 4: A KSS fighter poses on rubble with an SVD style sniper rifle. Note the KSS logo patch.

Untitled339

Figure 5: A KSS fighter holds an RPG-7.

Untitled340 

Figure 6: KSS fighters pose with a PKM machine gun.

Untitled341

Figure 7: A small unit of KSS fighters holding a mixture of Kalashnikov type rifles, an SVD style sniper rifle, and a PKM machine gun

Untitled342

Figure 8: This KSS fighter appears to be holding a Steyr HS .50 style,  .50 caliber bolt action anti-material sniper rifle. The rifle could also be an Iranian copy of the HS .50.

Untitled343

Figure 9: Diya Issawi’s brother (left), pictured in a white turban of commonly found with Shia clerics. He was listed by KSS

Untitled344

Figure 10: KSS members “Enjoy a simple modest lunch”. This photo was issued by the group to demonstrate the humility of their fighters.

The KSS’s New Martyrs

On August 20, a main Facebook page which publishes information about Shia militia operations and deaths in Syria, claimed that Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada was operating in East Ghouta. During their operations in the area, the page reported three fighters as killed-in-action, with another five missing (listed in the post as, “Fate unknown”).

On August 24, KSS released eight martyrdom announcements in the form of more professionally designed graphics. The photographs were first released on the KSS and then the Badr Organization Military Wing’s official Facebook page. The posted images presumably show the eight fighters who were killed or who were missing in East Ghouta, in Rif Dimashq. It is important to note that on August 21, East Ghouta was also the reported as the scene of the deadliest chemical weapons attack within Syria.[2] According to American Military University’s In Homeland Security Blog chief correspondent and chemical weapons expert, William Tucker, it is possible these KSS fighters were, “bracketing the kill box”.[3] Meaning, they had generally surrounded the area where the chemical weapons were used and then attacked any Syrian rebel elements which may have tried to breakout.

However, a video emerged on September 1st showing some of the KSS fighters being killed in an assault by rebel forces.  A longer video of the engagement was released on September 7th. The KSS fighters were reportedly stationed in what rebels referred to as a train station in East Ghouta. This would suggest that some of the KSS fighters may have been guarding transportation links in the area.

** Warning: Graphic Imagery **

In the video, it is clear to see that KSS fighters openly wear the insignia for their organization during combat operations. Some KSS and possibly Hizballah fighters are shown with Shia Islamic paraphernalia. One card removed from the pocket of a dead fighter featured a stylized photo of the assassinated Hizballah terror-leader, Imad Mughniyeh.[4]

Untitled345

Figure 11: Eight of the dead KSS members are featured on this poster.

Name: Amir al-Badlawi

Death Announced: September 5, 2013

Untitled346

Name: Muhammed Radi al-Shumaylawi

Death Announced: August 24, 2013. Funeral held on August 27, 2013.

Untitled347

Name:  Al-Said Hasan ‘Ali Farhoud al-Furaydawi

Death Announced: August 11, 2013

Untitled348

Name: Sejjad al-Shibani

Death Announced: August 23, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013, funeral reportedly held on August 27, 2013.

Untitled349

Name: Walid al-‘Abudi

Death Announced: August 23, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013.

Untitled350

Name: ‘Ali Hamza al-Deraghi al-Sadiqi

Death Announced: August 23, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013, funeral reportedly held on August 27, 2013.

Untitled351

Untitled352

Figure 12: Sadiqi is shown in a car with what may be another KSS member and a Kalashnikov style rifle.

Untitled353

Figure 13: An official KSS release of Sadiqi with other KSS fighters.

Name: Zulfiqar al-Raseetmawi

Death Announced: August 25, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013, funeral reportedly held on August 27, 2013.

Untitled354

Name: Muhammed ‘Abd al-Husayn al-Faridawi

Death Announced: August 25, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013, funeral reportedly held on August 27, 2013.

Untitled355

Name: Ala al-Ka’bi

Death Announced: August 23, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013, funeral reportedly held on August 27, 2013.

Untitled356

Name: Watheq Hashem al-‘Anzi

Death Announced: August 23, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013, funeral reportedly held on August 27, 2013.

Untitled357

Untitled358

Figure 14: An officially produced martyrdom post

Name: ‘Ali Sami al-Zubaydi

Death Announced: August 23, 2013, reportedly killed on August 20, 2013, funeral reportedly held on August 27, 2013.

Notes: Zubaydi was one of the few KSS dead who had other photos of him in Syria uploaded to a number of pro-Shia militia Facebook pages.

Untitled359

Untitled360

Figure 15: Zubaydi is pictured smoking a cigarette while sitting with another KSS fighter in Syria.

Untitled361

Figure 16: Zubaydi is shown with other KSS fighters.

Untitled362

Figure 17: KSS held a funeral for four of their members in Basra, Iraq on August 27, 2013. The group funeral mimicked those held by other Iranian-backed Shia groups operating in Syria. Four caskets can be seen mounted to the tops of white Chevrolet SUVs.

Untitled363

Figure 18: The KSS honor guard surrounds a casket and flies flags belonging to the group.

Untitled364

Figure 19: Posters of Iran’s late Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini (left) and Iran’s current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei (right) are carried by the honor guard for the August 27th funeral.

Untitled365

Figure 20: The KSS honor guard holds posters in honoring their fallen and the Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei.

Untitled366

Figure 21: An Iraqi Shia woman strikes a grief pose in between two SUVs carrying the caskets of KSS’s dead. The poster behind the woman features 11 KSS fighters who were killed in Syria. The Ayatollah Khamenei is also shown on this poster.

Untitled367

Figure 22: Iraqi Shia women are shown grieving next to the convoy of SUVs carrying Muhammed ‘Abd al-Husayn al-Faridawi’s casket.

Untitled368

Figure 23: The convoy of KSS dead driving through Iraq’s Diyala Province.  According to analyst Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, this convoy was reported by pro-Iraqi Sunni protest pages as having taken place in Meqdadiya.

Untitled369

Figure 24: Another shot of the group funeral for four of KSS’s members.

Gruesome Uploads: KSS Promotes Their Kills

** Warning: Graphic Imagery **

One unusual feature found in KSS’s photographic propaganda from June-August, 2013 has been the group’s images featuring dead anti-Assad fighters. Compared to other Iraqi Shia organizations which have contributed fighters, KSS has posted a disproportionate amount of images promoting their “Kills” in relation to photographs of their own fighters.

The posting of graphic images of dead Syrian rebels has actually been a growing trend with the group since the first image-posts by KSS appeared online on various social media outlets. In fact, the only film purporting to show KSS fighters in Syria actually showed them standing over and inspecting their dead foes.

In a number of these photos, KSS militiamen are shown putting their feet on the faces of dead rebel militants. In some cases, captions for some of the more gruesome photographs mocked dead rebel fighters. One of the photographed dead rebels, whose torso had been ripped open and internal organs were exposed, had “Hahaha” written for the photo caption. Other graphic photos (note: These have not been included) have shown a rebel’s brain spilling from his head. Captions often included accusations that dead rebels were nothing but, “Saudi terrorists”.

Untitled370 Untitled371

Figure 25: A KSS fighter stand next to dead rebels.

Untitled372

Figure 26: Another photo of a KSS fighter placing his foot on the face of a dead rebel fighter. Note the black headband often worn by Sunni Islamist elements.

Untitled373 Untitled374 Untitled375

Figure 27: A KSS member’s boot is shown pressed against a dead rebel’s face.

Untitled376

Figure 28: A KSS member steps on the face of a dead rebel fighter.

Untitled377

Figure 29: KSS fighters pose with Syrian rebels they have killed.

Untitled378

Figure 30: A collection of dead rebels is claimed by KSS.

Untitled379 Untitled380 

Figure 31: A KSS photo showing numerous dead rebels.

Untitled381 

Figure 32: KSS fighters pose with a man they claim was a rebel fighter.

Khamenei, Hakim, Khomeini & Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada

Unlike other Iraqi Shia organizations which have sent fighters to Syria, the main—generally the only—religious figure the KSS has featured on its propaganda imagery has been that of Iranian Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. In some instances, Ayatollah Khomeini is shown. This is a sharp contrast from groups such as Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq, which has shown Iraq’s late Grand Ayatollah Muhammed Sadiq Sadr along with Khamenei. In fact, only one KSS poster has shown an Iraqi clerical leader other than Khamenei or Khomeini, Ayatollah Muhammed Baqir Hakim. Hakim was instrumental in the formation of the Badr Brigade, which today has morphed into the Badr Organization (see section below for possible KSS connections to the Badr Organization).

Untitled382

Figure 33: A KSS fighter holds the group’s flag as he and other KSS fighters look into the sky. In the sky, Khamenei smiles down at them. The Zaynab shrine’s golden dome can be seen by Khamenei.

Untitled383

Figure 34: Khamenei is shown waving to KSS fighters as they stand in front of the golden dome of the Zaynab shrine.

Untitled384 

Figure 35: Khamenei and Khomeini smile down on three KSS fighters who were killed in Syria.

Untitled385 

Figure 36: Martyrdom poster for Hadi Jasm al-‘Azawi. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is shown on the right.  Ayatollah Muhammed Baqir al-Hakim, the pro-Iranian founding member and leader of the Badr Brigade, is shown on the left.

The Badr Connection

Another development which started in late-July, 2013 was the appearance of growing links between Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada and Iraq’s Badr Organization. Around this time, the Badr Organization formally announced it had sent forces to Syria.

The Badr Organization Military Wing’s official Facebook page has not only published a number of KSS deaths, but has also posted special photographs implying possible joint Badr-KSS cooperation in Syria. Making the connection more unique was the fact that other Iranian-backed Shia organizations operating in Syria have not published similar styles of photos. The Badr Organization Military Wing has also published many KSS announcements regarding deaths of KSS fighters.

Untitled386

Figure 37: An official KSS poster released on the Badr Organization Armed Wing’s Facebook page. This could suggest that the fighters found in Kata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada have some type of connection to the Badr Organization’s Armed Wing.

Untitled387 

Figure 38: A Badr Organization Military Wing photo showing a fighter and featuring the combined symbols of the Badr Organization and KSS.

Untitled388

Figure 39: Another photo showing militiamen and a combined KSS-Badr Organization logo.


[1] See: http://www.alsharqiya.com/?p=67524, August 27, 2013.

[3] Personal conversation, August 27, 2013.

[4] H/T to othm_ali and @pettybooshwah for sending me videos of rebel operations which killed the KSS fighters.