IntroductionThe Hamza Division was formed in April 2016 through the merger of five pre-existing Free Syrian Army (FSA) factions, announcing their intent to strengthen the fight against ISIS in north Aleppo.*“‘Al-Hamza Division’ a new military formation in the countryside of Aleppo to fight the ‘Islamic State,’” Al-Durar Al-Shamiya, April 23, 2016, https://eldorar.com/node/97274.x The group previously existed as the Hamza Brigade, formed in 2013. *Erika Solomon “Isis uses humility as tactic for conquest,” Financial Times, July 27, 2014, https://www.ft.com/content/716dddd0-140f-11e4-9acb-00144feabdc0; “بيان تشكيل لواء الحمزة الثوري,” YouTube video, 5:33, posted by “احمد الوافي,” July 22, 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SlCaRtingf4.x At that time, the Division received support from both Turkey and the international coalition.*“Al-Hamza Division... Five factions merged in the “Free’ north of Aleppo,” Enab Baladi, April 25, 2016, https://www.enabbaladi.net/archives/76333.x In 2021, the Syrian National Army (SNA), the broader structure within which all Turkish-backed factions reside, formed a committee to investigate the crimes being committed by member groups. The final report found that most accusations of torture, theft, and kidnapping were leveled against the Sultan Murad Division and the Hamza Division.* Wladimir van Wilgenburg, “Turkish-backed groups continue looting Afrin: UN report,” Kurdistan 24, March 12, 2022, https://www.kurdistan24.net/en/story/27586-Turkish-backed-groups-continue-looting-Afrin:-UN-report.x The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims that the Hamza Division bulldozed agricultural land in Ras Al-Ain.*“To turn into joint military base | Al-Hamza Division and Turkish Intelligence destroy 12 houses in Ras Al-Ain,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, March 23, 2022, https://www.syriahr.com/en/244234/.x
LeadershipSayf Balud (a.k.a. Sayf Abu Bakr) replaced Yasser Abu al-Sheikh, killed in battle against ISIS in April 2016, as the leader of the Hamza Division. *Nicholas Heras, “Turkey’s Man in Syria—Sayf Boulad Abu Bakr,” Jamestown Foundation, November 11, 2018, https://jamestown.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/November-2018_MLM.pdf.x Previous to this position, Balud had served as a member of the Syrian Arab Army, was allegedly a convert of ISIS, and was a prominent member of other FSA militias.* Nicholas Heras, “Turkey’s Man in Syria—Sayf Boulad Abu Bakr,” Jamestown Foundation, November 11, 2018, https://jamestown.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/November-2018_MLM.pdf.x
Base of OperationsAleppo countryside in Syria*“Al-Hamza Division... Five factions merged in the ‘Free’ north of Aleppo,” Enab Baladi, April 25, 2016, https://www.enabbaladi.net/archives/76333.x
Membership Size and RelevanceIn 2018, Turkey deployed 600 members of the Kurdish Falcon Brigade to join the Hamza Division. The group was made up of 400 Kurdish and 200 Arab fighters equipped and trained by Turkey. The formation and deployment of the group may have been an effort to counter accusations of anti-Kurdish discrimination and violence against Kurds in Syria.*Suraj Sharma, “Turkey sends ‘Kurdish Falcon’ force to Afrin to counter anti-Kurd image,“ Middle East Eye, February 26, 2018, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkey-sends-kurdish-falcon-force-afrin-counter-anti-kurd-image.x
Recruitment and PropagandaNATO placed Turkey on the Child Soldier Prevention Act list for its support of the Sultan Murad Division, a group known to recruit and deploy child soldiers.*“Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic,” United Nations, October 2, 2020, 10, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G20/210/90/PDF/G2021090.pdf?OpenElement.x Balud claims to have received permission from the Turkish president’s office to recruit soldiers for the invasion of Afrin during Operation Olive Branch.*Nicholas Heras, “Turkey’s Man in Syria—Sayf Boulad Abu Bakr,” Jamestown Foundation, November 11, 2018, https://jamestown.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/November-2018_MLM.pdf.x
- 2021: A report by the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria accused the Hamza Division of torture, ill-treatment, and even murder in their detention centers in Hawar, Killis, Rai, and other informal prisons.*Human Rights Council, “Report of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic (A/HRC/49/77),” February 8, 2022, https://reliefweb.int/report/syrian-arab-republic/report-independent-international-commission-inquiry-syrian-arab-17.x
- May 2020: Locals in Afrin demanded the expulsion of the Hamza Division, as well as an explanation for the presence of naked women within their prisons.*“After two years of detention in Al-Hamza prison | ‘Al-Hamza Division’ releases two sisters from Afrin, while the fate of other detained women remains unknown,” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, May 28, 2020, https://www.syriahr.com/en/195064/.x
- March 2020: Iinfighting between FSA factions and civilians led to the discovery of an illegal women’s prison run by the Hamza Division in Afrin.*Shawn Carrié, “Discovery of illegal prison beckons new scrutiny of Turkish-backed forces in Afrin,” Rudaw, March 6, 2020, https://www.rudaw.net/english/middleeast/syria/030620202.x
Extremists: Their Words. Their Actions.
On October 27, 2018, domestic terrorist Robert D. Bowers carried out an anti-Semitic attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. He fired on congregants as they gathered for worship, killing 11 people and wounding six others.
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