Is the Eighth Brigade Copying the Regime’s Behaviour or Following Tribal Custom?

Last week, a local Russian-backed armed group attacked the town of Al-Mutaaiyah in the eastern part of the Daraa governorate, destroying and burning some houses and expelling their owners.

The attack came in retaliation for the killing of Talal Al-Shaqran, a commander in the Eighth Brigade of the Fifth Corps, which is based in the eastern Daraa governorate town of Bosra Al-Sham. Al-Shaqran was formerly an opposition commander but reached a “settlement” with regime forces in mid-2018 as part of the reconciliation agreement that saw Damascus nominally retake most of southern Syria. After the agreement, Al-Shaqran and his faction of 80 fighters joined the Russian-backed Eighth Brigade.

Al-Shaqran was killed during an attack by the Eighth Brigade on Al-Mutaaiyah near the Syrian-Jordanian border. The aim of the attack was to arrest Maamoun Tweirish, who was also affiliated with the Eighth Brigade. A personal dispute between Tweirish and a local member of the regime’s Military Security branch had led the killing of the latter. Tweirish surrendered himself to the Eighth Brigade, which detained him for one month before releasing him and placing him with a local notable, the result of a tribal reconciliation agreement. However, after hearing news that he might be handed over to the Daraa branch of Criminal Security, Tweirish fled to Al-Mutaaiyah and asked residents for protection. During Al-Shaqran’s attack on the town to search for Tweirish, there was an exchange of gunfire with residents that killed Al-Shaqran and injured three other men. 

After Al-Shaqran’s death, his group attacked Al-Mutaaiyah a second time, burning 10 houses and demolishing two others, leaving their residents homeless. The incident recalled the regime’s burning and destruction of opposition members’ homes in Daraa following the outbreak of rebellion in 2011. Those attacks were systematic reprisals aimed at terrorising residents and preventing them from participating in peaceful demonstrations.

Eighth Brigade sources told a correspondent for The Syria Report in the area that the home demolitions constituted an “individual incident” and a “natural response to the killing of Al-Shaqran”. The sources attributed the burning and demolition to relatives of Al-Shaqran and members of his faction, justifying their actions as “a social custom rooted in tribal society”. They added that the burning of homes and expulsion of residents were part of the process of exacting revenge for the killing.

However, sources told The Syria Report the issue went beyond tribal revenge and constituted a form of looting, as the armed faction also seized 50 motorcycles, dozens of mobile phones, and money from residents of Al-Mutaaiyeh. Dozens of Al-Mutaaiyeh townspeople were also arrested, and one of them violently beaten, leading to his death a few days later.

The area has witnessed previous, similar attacks by other armed groups. A faction working with the Daraa branch of Military Security burnt down homes in the town of Umm Walad in eastern Daraa several months ago, against a backdrop of multiple assassinations between the group and regime opponents. Several families from Umm Walad were displaced after their homes were destroyed in the attacks.

In the Hauran area of southern Syria, where tribal bonds and culture remain very strong, the homes of people involved in murders are sometimes destroyed as part of tribal revenge custom. In some cases, the destruction may also extend to the homes of the alleged murderers’ relatives. It is not customary for residents of the destroyed homes to be compensated for the destruction even after reaching a tribal reconciliation agreement with the other party. Rather, they rehabilitate their homes at their own expense.