One of the foreign fighters communities who are backing the Assad regime in Syria are the Hazaras from Afghanistan. In 2012 the Afghan fighters who were operating under the wing of the Iraq-based group Abul Fazl el-Abbas, later in 2013 started to form the Fatimiyyun Brigade after their numbers soared.
The Fatimiyyun brigade, made up of Afghan Shia Hazaras, are the second most capable paramilitary organization mobilized by Iran, after Hezbollah, to keep Iran’s ally Assad afloat. The group’s core is made up of Hazaras who settled before 2011 near the Seyyide Zeyneb shrine in southern Damascus. Because they know the Arabic language rather well, they have not really struggled with coordination in Syria and had put up tough resistance in southern Damascus when the war began.
The Fatimiyyun brigade’s numbers have risen to 20.000 fighters after Iran’s efforts to mobilize Afghan refugees in Iran and especially Tahran and Mashad. The tourism agencies Iran has opened in Kabul and Herad have facilitated the flow of fighters from Afghanistan to Syria.
The Fatimiyyun brigade has fought in the most intense battlefields like in Aleppo and Daraa. They have lost at least two thousand fighters until now.
The brunt of the Afghan fighters in the Fatimiyyun brigade comprises of unemployed, poor and low educated young fighters who are motivated by their desire to defend the shrines of Seyyide Zeyneb and Seyyide Rukiyye.
The Fatimiyyun brigade is backed by Iran in terms of military, logistical and financial support. The Fatimiyyun brigade’s former commander Murteza Atayi who died in Latakia in 2016, claimed in an interview that the Afghan fighters get a monthly payment of 2.500.000 Iranian Toman. Another source claimed that they get 600 dollars a month from Iran.
Those fighters who pass away are met with ceremonies at their crowded funerals where important Iranian state elites pay their respects. This has in turn motivated Afghan refugees to sign up for the Fatimiyyun Brigade. The main motivation for the Fatimiyyun militias is, like all other Iran-backed Shia militias, the protection of the Seyyide Zeynep shrine.
The Fatimiyyun Brigade plays an important part in changing the demographics of Syria in a way that favors Iran. The Fatimiyyun Brigade, after capturing Albukamal near the Syrian-Iraqi border announced that: “For the sake of the Zeynep and Rukiyye shrines, we will continue our fight for the independence of Syria and are ready to go anywhere.”