Jamal Maarouf, AKA Abu Khalid, is the face behind Kata’ib wa Alwiyat Shuhada’ Souriyya [the Syria Martyrs Brigades], a coalition of various bands of war. I will be calling this band The Shields, in reference to its logo.
In early September 2012, Jamal Maarouf gained fame when his Coalition released a YouTube video showing him with a few of his fighters posing near burning pieces of a camouflage-painted aircraft and examining the bloodied corpse of the pilot, tangled in a parachute.
Who is Jamal Maarouf, aka Abu Khalid?
A pious man and a husband of three, Abu Khalid in essence stands for traditional values, a mixture of Islam and rural mores rather than political ideology. In the absence of operational political and judicial structures in his territory in Jabal Al-Zawiyeh, he reportedly relies on Sharia to resolve disputes, but remains willing to let such matters be decided by a local government should one be established. Abu Khalid does not advocate the establishment of an Islamic State, is wary of Salafi groups and hates the [Muslim] Brotherhood. But, in operational matters, he cooperates with all. Syria’s Martyrs Brigades currently include 45,000 strong.
— Ammar Abdulhamid, in Syrian Revolution Digest, September 1, 2012.
Jamal Maarouf’s career as a militant began in 2004. After completing his service in the Syrian army, he joined Fatah al Islam, an offshoot of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Movement.
“We didn’t know it was part of Syrian intelligence,” he said. “The idea when we enlisted in Fatah al Islam was we would be fighting the Americans in Iraq and that we wouldn’t have any armed work outside Iraq.”
He came back to Syria after 10 days, mainly because he didn’t have any sympathy for the tactics of al-Qaeda.
“Al Qaida does not pay attention to whether it’s positive or negative, or if it’s good or not,” he said. “I met with (al Qaida). We disagreed about many things, including killing Shiites. We refused to kill women and children.”
How did he get involved in the revolution against the Assad regime?
“We formed before the revolution as peaceful cells, but after the killing and torture took place in Syria, we decided to carry weapons,” Abu Khalid said.
“Since the 18th of March , we were involved with the demonstrations [against the regime of Assad],” he said. “I was there when they raided the Omari Mosque, and started shooting bullets at the protesters.”
On March the 18th 2011, Syrian security forces attacked large anti-government demonstrations in Daraa.
After the 18 March 2011 massacre, Maarouf created the Tawhid Brigade [Unification, or Monotheism Brigade; Arabic: كتائب التوحيد].
Logo of the Tawhid Coalition.
Al-Tawhid in Aleppo was founded by Abdul-Aziz Salameh (Hajji Anadan, or Abou Jom’a), Abdulqadir Saleh (Hajji Marei), a fellow from Tal Rifa’at (Hajji Tal Rifa’at) and Ammar Dadikhi from Eizaz (AKA Azaz).
At one point, several groups carrying the name of Al-Tawhid appeared acting in Idlib, Daraa and Aleppo. Jamal Maarouf was one of the founders of the Al-Tawhid in Idlib, but the group was never part of the battles in Aleppo.
He began running guns in Jordan in June 2011.
Getting those weapons has become increasingly difficult as the conflict has dragged on, however. Two weeks after Abu Khalid had procured weapons inside Jordan at inflated prices — $8,000 for an M4 rifle, and $1 per bullet — he still had not been able to get them across the border. [source]
Most of the cross-border smuggling, he said, now requires bribing Jordanian army officers. For fighters trying to enter Syria from Jordan with weapons, the price has gone up to nearly $2,000 per person.
“If the border guards want to help, they have to do it secretively and individually, without the government knowing,” he said. “The border guards are really acting from a humanitarian point of view.”
The money for the weapons, he said, comes not from hostile governments, as the Syrian government has claimed, but from individual donors.
“The funding is coming from Syrians in the Gulf and Europe, as individual actions, from our own network,” he said. “We’re not going to allow any non-Syrian people to have any power, even if that person is a Muslim or Arab. But we don’t mind any kind of cooperation,” even from the U.S.
“Our goal now is to end the regime, even if another million people are killed,” he said. “We think it’s going to be a long war. Not less than one year.”
“It’s not a revolution for Salafis or the Muslim Brotherhood, it’s a people’s revolution. But each string is trying to pull things in their direction,” he said. “We wish a moderate Islamist trend, as happened in Egypt, to give the rights to the people.”
Last week, Jamaal held a large gathering, of both the Syria Martyrs Brigades and the Vanguards Brigades:
His band and his coalition are integrated into the Free Syrian Army.