Kata’ib Sayyid al Shuhada (KSS) is an Iraqi militia that has fought in both Iraq and Syria and is closely connected to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Houthis. Its leader is Abu Mustafa al Sheibani, a U.S.-designated terrorist who also assisted in forming the IRGC-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) and Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) militias.
The group was founded in 2013. Its first public announcements were three martyrdom notices for members killed fighting in southern Damascus alongside Syrian regime forces. In Syria, KSS operates within the fold of the mixed Syrian and Iraqi Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas, another Iranian-backed militia.
KSS follows the same Shiite jihadist ideology as fellow pro-Iranian Iraqi militias, framing its fight in Syria as a defense of Shiites and the Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zaynab. In a 2013 interview, KSS’s information office stated that the group sent 500 militants to Syria. Other media statements have affirmed the presence of KSS fighters in rural Damascus along the frontlines in eastern Ghouta. The Associated Press has reported that KSS fighters enter Syria via Iran.
In 2015, KSS declared Saudi Arabia “a legitimate and permissible target” after that country executed a prominent Shiite cleric. A 2018 KSS statement indicated the group was ready to send fighters to Yemen. KSS’s leader wrote, “I am a soldier standing at the signal of Sayyid Abdel Malek al Houthi [leader of the Houthis].” Both of these actions indicate that KSS firmly sees itself as part of a global Shiite jihadist movement. In June 2020, the Republican Study Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives recommended designating KSS as a terrorist group. The recommendation also included other PMF factions Badr Organization, Kataib al-Imam Ali, Liwa Abu al-Fadhal al-Abbas, and Jund al-Islam.
KSS follows the same global Shiite jihadist ideology as other IRGC-backed Shiite militant groups such as Asaib Ahl al-Haq (AAH) and Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH). Its militant activity in Syria was framed as a holy war to protect the Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zaynab, and KSS has publicly pledged its loyalty to the Houthis, indicating its support for a global Shiite armed movement.
Shiite-militia expert Phillip Smyth claimed in late 2013 that KSS appears to be closely tied to the Badr Organization, both ideologically and in terms of shared fighters in Syria. KSS claims to have sent 500 militants to Syria in 2013, where it fought alongside the Syrian regime until at least 2015.
The group corresponds to the 14th Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) brigade. KSS is connected to the Syrian Liwa al-Muntadhir and corresponds to the 7th PMF Brigade led by Daghir al-Mousawi. According to Smyth, KSS may be essentially a front for the military arm of the Sayyid al-Shuhada Movement, a jihadist political group allegedly backed by Iran and based in Basra, Iraq. Many of KSS’s reported casualties have been militants from the Basra region.
KSS receives funding directly from the IRGC’s Quds Force—a special branch of the IRGC tasked with achieving sensitive missions beyond Iran’s borders—and, as a member of the PMF, from the Iraqi government.
Based on its reported losses, apparently KSS largely recruits from the southern Iraqi city of Basra, as well as from the Dhi Qar Province. On September 15, 2016, KSS released a new call for recruits.
An August 2016 video, which has since been removed by YouTube, showed KSS fighters training in Syria with heavy machine guns. The group also receives training directly from the IRGC. The U.S. Treasury Department accused IRGC commander Ahmed Foruzandeh of training the Basra-based Sayyid al-Shuhada movement. Shiite-militia expert Phillip Smyth believes KSS is a front for the Sayyid al-Shuhada organization’s military arm.
KSS has also reportedly trained extensively in the use of drones. KSS Secretary General Abu Waala al Wa’eli expressed “enthusiasm for drone warfare” and stated in a 2019 interview, “We are working day and night to develop drones that can be put together in a living room.”
Also Known As
- Kata’ib Abu Fadl al-Abbas
- Kata’ib Karbala
- Battalion of the Sayyid’s Martyrs