Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Latakia Massacres: The "Moderate" Backdrop

Latakia Massacres: The "Moderate" Backdrop 
November 22, 2015
(last edits, major improvements all over, Nov. 24)

The clearest blame for the 2013 Latakia Massacres, in Human Rights Watch's investigation, fell on Islamist groups not beholden to Western-approved “moderate” opposition, as is supposedly the case with the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Those units under its central command anyway were not clearly implicated in the killings, which is convenient since they answer to the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the Turkey-based "legitimate representatives of the Syrian people," to some minds.

This SNC proclaims the usual standards for things like Human Rights. On the basis of this affiliation, being almost the SNC's army, the Free Syrian Army presents itself as a moderating force in the Latakia offensive and beyond. They claim to be bitterly opposed both to the Syrian government and to Islamic extremists, with no gripe against civilians of any religion or political belief and no tolerance for violations of human rights - for civilians anyway. 

However, FSA fighters on the ground are disparate, only loosely linked to the SNC or even the FSA's command, and those with a notable presence on the battlefield tend to be Islamist and often brutal. The true prevalence of sectarian attitudes among them is worth considering, as some were clearly involved in the battles that enabled the massacres, and possibly in the killings themselves.

If the attitudes of those fighters follows the patterns presented below, it's a bad sign. Whatever its fighters and commanders did or didn't do, leaders of the "moderate" FSA and linked SNC (and their activist support network) helped make the crime happen. Some encouraged the criminal thinking that fed into the massacre, while others have moved to conceal the crime or even blame it on "the Assad regime." Others yet apparently assisted in the kidnapping of hundreds of civilians and in conveying the terrorist groups' demands. And that's just from what we can see publicly.

The SNC Affirms its Principles
The SNC's first word on the August 4 rebel takeover and massacre in Latakia was this on August 5: "The Syrian Coalition applauds Free Syrian Army fighters on the Syrian Coast, as well as their fellow fighters across Syria.” Noting they were previously used for "artillery strikes on innocent civilians," they gushed at the “liberation” of "the military posts of Inbata, Baruda, and Tela.”

Shamieh Darwish protected by a rebel fighter on a video
released by Ansar al-Din. She and here disabled son were
then executed and buried in the backyard.(HRW report)
But these areas are towns, not military posts. That's why there were civilians there, who were massacred, mainly on the 4th (see picture at right for one of those found in the "post" of Barouda). On the 5th the SNC says these “posts” arenow under the control of FSA fighters who will now defend and protect civilians in those areas." At this point there were no more free-range civilians - all had been killed, captured, or run too far away to kill anyway.

Was the FSA actually there? Was it there the day before? The double use of "now" suggests they meant to leave this question open but leaning towards late arrival. It also suggests they and probably the SNC know damn well there was a massacre that day. But they never stopped, punished, or even reported one. 

The statement goes on to affirm that the FSA has no problem with the Alawi or any group of Syria's people and promised again "the new Syria will ... safeguard the rights of all citizens." Within days of this test case of the "new Syria," there were credible reports of an atrocity and the SNC felt compelled to come back with this "principled" refutation on August 9:
The FSA issued a statement about the Syrian Coast in which they pledge to protect civilians and families in the area, ... they will only target ... Assad’s militia. The statement emphasizes that the role of the FSA is not to target civilians but to protect them from Assad forces.
They say nothing about protecting them from the Islamist brigades that seemingly took the lead in this glorious “liberation.” There's no open mention of a massacre or rumors of one, but it seems these were the reason for this reminder.

After Human Rights Watch issued its report on the aftermath of the victory in October, the FSA's Supreme Military Council (SMC) was given and failed this chance (HRW PDF) to address the problem. The SMC said it “wholeheartedly condemns the alleged atrocities...” It's alleged - neither confirmed nor denied. Why the difficulty in figuring out whether or not a massive bloodbath occurred just one day prior to their alleged period of control, and somewhat into that period?

The killings, the statement continues, were allegedly “committed by extremist groups," and "we stress that the (five centrally blamed groups) do not represent the values of the FSA or the Syrian revolution. These extremists have attacked the FSA and have killed numerous FSA officers.” But if any of those FSA guys were killed during this joint operation, it would be "friendly fire" by the Islamists they either chose to fight alongside, or pretended to fight alongside, just to seem relevant. Take your pick.

Consider this even sharper statement from the SNC, as quoted by Global Post, that almost blames the Syrian government for the massacre: “The incident reported by HRW in today's report does not represent an effort by the true Syrian opposition, but rather a shameful one-time attack by outlier extremist groups that thrive under the hand of [President Bashar al-Assad's] regime” the statement read.They  forgot to mention the hand of Iran or Russia in the creation of these groups, whose Latakia massacres at least "thrived" in an area removed from government control. In fact, the same SNC had just described the area as under the control of the "Free Syrian Army." Islamist slaughter jackals enjoyed free reign there. "Allegedly."

And like the FSA, the SNC leaders in Turkey never reported, confirmed, denied, or brought up the very real atrocity until someone else forced them to address it. And then, as we can see, they addressed it poorly. They don't even know if it happened, but they seem sure it was a "one-time attack," certainly not part of any dangerous pattern set to repeat or needing careful study. No, they suggest - it was shameful and bad, but just a fluke, and apparently not worth mentioning.

It's at least ironic that on Aug. 4 - the day the massacre was launched and seemingly the worst day by far, as hundreds of Alawites were being slaughtered just a ways south, the Syrian National Coalition in Turkey requested "an Immediate Investigation into Human Rights Abuses" in Syria, all of which they thought were by "Assad." And then, in October, their allied FSA's supreme military council who said out loud it “encourages Human Rights Watch and the international community to focus on the institutional crimes against humanity being committed by Assad’s security apparatus,” apparently instead of this "alleged" terrorist crime. The SMC has therefore moved to hush this up, to protect the killers who were allies of the FSA and maybe the FSA itself. The SNC leaders in Turkey rubber stamp this.

SNC Members Call for “Balance of Terror” 
Anas Ayrout, CNN Arabic image
Anas Ayrout, CNN Arabi Salafist preacher, would-be Baniyas emir, member of Syrian Islamic Liberation Front, "Sheikh" Anas Ayrout spoke to Reuters' Khaled Oweis on July 10, 2013, "by telephone from Istanbul, where he attended a meeting of the opposition National Coalition (SNC), of which he is a member." In a public message to Syria's anti-government fighters, less than a month before some of them carried out their massacre, Ayrout said, in part, the following: 
 "One has to concentrate on their strongholds and on their dwellings and their infrastructure. If (Alawites) continue living as they're doing in peace and safety while wedded to the regime they will not be affected. They will not think of abandoning Assad ... (Alawites) are relaxed while areas that have slipped out of regime control are always under shelling (by government forces), always in pain ... If you do not create a balance of terror, the battle will not be decided. ... We have to drive them out of their homes like they drove us out. They have to feel pain like we feel pain ... We do not favor a sectarian war. But they brought it upon themselves."
He later "clarified," as CNN Arabic reported, (Google translated) "I deny what was attributed to the statements, inciting the content on the Alawite sect.” Is he disputing what Oweis put in parentheses? Who else with "homes" and "areas" could he mean that "brought (a sectarian war) upon themselves?" Ayrout also took the chance to “stress my full commitment to the principles of Syrian Revolution and full equality for all Syrians and," as if offering a qualifier, "in conformity with the law of God." And he complained about media distortion.

Citizens no longer "immune," a "balance of 
terror" ... attempted. (HRW report)
But an August 14 report from Al-Monitor passed on Ayrout's comments along with some other statements in a similar tone. SNC member Saleh al-Mubarak, for example, "told Al-Monitor that he endorses the opposition’s attack on Latakia’s countryside “so that the battle may be moved to the ruling family’s heartland, and the Alawites be given notice that they cannot be safe if the rest of the people are unsafe.”" FSA commander Mohammad Moussa is quoted as saying "the objective is to reach Qardaha (the ruling Assad family's home town) and hurt them like they are hurting us. The Alawites have been huddling in their mountain thinking that they can destroy Syria and remain immune."

All three seem to be saying the same; The Alawi as a whole are "destroying Syria" without consequence, by supporting the government as it supposedly attacks all Sunnis, who are all rebelling. To solve the problem the whole Alawi community must be hurt, become unsafe, feel terror, flee and - it was hoped - stop supporting the government so all that can stop. 

That's the essence of terrorism, and these folks publicly argued that the battle to liberate the Syrian people could not be achieved without it. And they're probably right. Lots of terrorism on the ground and by NATO from the Sky, with no humanitarian stoppers, could finally win this in a matter of, say 27 months tops. It's not a popular thing to say, but for the rebel victory so many insist on, this will have to happen sooner or later. For that to happen and be sustainable (supported by public opinion) someone would have to make the case for it first, as these guys were bravely doing.

They don't say anything about killing off all the Alawi (like some on their side have), but killing at least some is inevitable under any such course of action. And, again, these goals were voiced from leaders of the SNC/FSA, whose fighters would swear they were there to protect. How did or would the Free Syrian Army balance the acknowledged need to terrorize the citizens of Latakia with their stated goal of protecting them?

SNC Kidnapping Manager? 
Even if no FSA fighter or Islamist SNC chatterbox is implicated in personally shooting or slicing the families of Sheikh Nabhan Mountain, one of the latter - a border-crossing Islamist organizer of some importance - is implicated in the part where about 200 citizens were stolen. 

"respected Aussie imam"
Fedaa Majzoub
Fedaa Majzoub, an Australian member of the SNC and founder of the Turkey-based "Syrian Islamic Council," is considered a "respected Aussie imam," described as an "honest broker" trying to "build bridges" between the SNC and the newly-created FSA, by one journalist who interviewed him on August 7, 2012. He was in Salma, Latakia at the time, one year before the massacre in question launched from there. (Sydney Morning Herald, Aug. 7, 2012

His younger brother Mustafa Majzoub was a "respected cleric" doing "humanitarian work," according to family propagandists including Fedaa, when he was killed fighting near Salma, just 12 days after Fedaa's interview there. (VDC has Aug 19 and non-civilian). Mustafa had called for Jihad against the Alawites, and clearly did die in fighting, shortly after helping capture (and perhaps "slaughter") dozens of "Shabiha." And this was at the edge of the 2013 massacre, as if hoping it would happen then. (see Crikey, Jan 2014) Fedaa was there too ... "building bridges" at the future massacre launch site. - a bridge later used to impart a bit of FSA-SNC “legitimacy” and expectations of "moderation" to 2013's genocidal campaign.

Dr. Tim Anderson writes for Pravda how Fedaa was involved in the hostage-taking portion of this massacre as well as with the attack on the nearby Christian village of Kessab in March, 2014. As for the former, in December 2013 Syria's Communications Minister Omran al-Zoubi told an Australian delegation including Anderson how Majzoub was responsible for the kidnapping of 106 people in Latakia, using Australian telephone networks, and yet moved freely through Europe with no sign of concern from any of those governments.

Majzoub denies involvement in the Latakia kidnapping, telling Aussie media "I heard about it, I know about it but I was not involved in it at all." He claimed he had been in Europe, working on preparations for the Geneva peace talks, and suggested the smear was made up to tarnish his reputation in these talks. (see again Crikey). 

However, Majzoub admits his involvement in the Kessab kidnappings - which happened after these prior charges - but he called them a humanitarian “evacuations” (again, see Pravda). So relocating non-Sunni people in the path of extremist offensives, with the work done by the attackers after the conquest, is sometimes his area of expertise. But he says, as surely as his brother was a civilian, someone else must have run that aspect in the Latakia case. Maybe Fedaa just doesn't have good enough contacts in or interest in the Salma front? Maybe the Geneva stuff was keeping him so busy his slow Australian phone couldn't make the necessary calls in the remaining time? 

Now let's consider the hostages he probably helped manage (referring to details covered for now at the intro post). If Fedaa was involved, his contacts would be someone in the mix of people who ended up doing the holding. HRW heard at least 225 captives, first split-up between ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA), and Suqour al-Izz. Only the apparent bad guy/fall guy groups for sure had any number – 120 to ISIS, and 105 to allied JMA, as seen in a video with the group's local leader (still at right). The woman speaking is in that says there are “about 105” of them. It sounds like the Syrians implicate Majzoub in this batch especially, and 106 might be the exact number. 

HRW heard that all 225 prisoners (or at least "control over the hostage file") were transferred to Ahrar al-Sham in September, who are made to seem the good guys in this drama. Many of the children at least were eventually released (the rest, I'm not actually sure...). But along the way, of course their husbands, fathers, etc. were murdered, their homes were destroyed, and then they suffered whatever abuses in the captivity of people who think of them as devil-inspired infidels. That's generally not clear, but one boy at least listed by HRW as a hostage (Jaffar al-Sheikh Ibrahim, age 7) is also reported (Jaffar al-Sheikh, but age 4) as dead, stabbed to death by his captors, on or before August 7.

Anyway, Fedaa Majzoub, who is respected, insists he had no hand in managing this “humanitarian relocation” like he did in Kessab. But all the clues suggest minister al-Zoubi was probably correct.

"Opposition Activists”
Finally, let's consider the nonviolent activists who help the opposition fighters report their version of events to the world, and are generally treated as credible and dedicated to truth and justice. Three at least come into focus in this Latakia offensive … one of whom died, one with a similar name, and one of whom is unnamed but does surprisingly well on the truth part. 

Among those killed on the bloody first day was Abo al-Hasan Ammar, as the VDC records him, a civilian from Salma. Occupation: Media Activist, killed 2013-08-04 by shooting. Notes: “Martyred during covering the battles taking place in Lattakia Suburbs.” 

There doesn't seem to much information about him around; he's not Ammar Hassan, media spokesman, Member coordinators revolution, Latakia News Network, as mentioned here. (L.N.N. Youtube channel - nothing added since August, 2013, but late in the month, long after the 4th). This activist with a similar name was still speaking on August 6 as "Ammar Hassan, a local activist in Latakia," telling Reuters' Oweis 60 rebel fighters died in the offensive and "Assad is sending huge reinforcement from Latakia, but liberation will continue.” 

Rather this is the Abou Al Hassan Ammar (FSA spokesman) listed as killed in action at the Wikipedia page for 2013 Latakia offensive, citing a Facebook post now gone (but copied here). The date isn't mentioned, and VDC's data isn't gospel, but it seems he died on the 4th. It does seem strange to have 2 media activists in the same small area with Hassan and Ammar in the names, but not too strange. Both names are common. Alternately, this is somehow one guy, and Oweis spoke to him before he died, or he died after the 6th. 

As for Abu Hassan, with a fighter-like nom-d'guerre, he was more than likely he a straight supporter of the operation, killed while filming it. However … consider how pro-rebel and Assad-blaming but ostensibly moderate activists like Razan Zaitouneh sometimes report on extreme crimes of the Islamist groups and wind up disappearing. With such a massive and important crime planned for that day, with such complicated PR aspects to manage, any deaths in the slim media pool might be of interest. That is, it's possible he was distrusted by someone involved and assassinated at the outset, to prevent him reporting the wrong things. 

At any rate, Abu Hassan cannot be the activist(s) HRW spoke to, who wound up covering events (his replacement(s)?) One who might be Ammar Hassan, but unnamed, sounds like he might have been wearing a black ski mask. Responsible for coordinating between the attacking groups (ISIS, etc.), he alerted HRW to the murder of over 100 men and abduction of hundreds of women and children so: “We caught 150 women and 40 children, and killed all the men … We want a prisoner exchange without conditions,” or else … unspecified. That's an opposition activist, and I'm sure he's far from the first of his kind. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Latakia Massacres, August 2013

Latakia Massacres, August 2013 
November 19, 2015
(incomplete, last edits (hostages) Nov. 20)

This post will serve as a "masterlist" for a few posts on the  August, 2013 massacre or cluster of massacres around Sheikh Nabhan mountain in Latakia province. Event intro, expanded from the FSA-ISIS teamwork post, and may be added to.  ...It's not a recent case, but relevant. I and others covered it at the time on this page at A Closer Look On Syria (and more on the talk page). Somewhat over 200 civilians and non-combatants were killed, mainly on August 4, in the worst-yet accepted rebel massacre of civilians of the Alawi (Alawite) faith. That's of course the localized offshoot Shia Islam shared by President Assad, whose family hails from Qardaha, Latakia, just south of the area in question. 

The full details of the incident matter, but what matters more is how and why such a thing can happen – who carried it out, who supported it, what's been done about that, etc. That will be the main thrust of the Latakia massacres posts here, collected below. But for those who need it, below that list, the rest of this post is occupied with a starter or refresher on the horror of this incident.

* The "Moderate" Backdrop
* FSA-ISIS Teamwork in the Latakia Massacres?
** Rebel Death Records Correlation (sub-analysis)

Introduction to the Events
Opposition groups proudly announced and praised the rebel military offensive called the battle of Aisha, mother of believers (Umm al-Momineen), a sectarian reference to early Islamic history, or besides a few other names, the “Operation to Liberate the Coast.” Fought by various mainly Islamist factions working in tandem, it ran from August 4 to August 18, ending in defeat and Syrian recapture of all towns. How it began was with a plan set before the 4th but only sprung then, just before the holy feast of Eid. Fresh recruits were brought in across the nearby Turkish border and assembled with local and regional fighters from at least 20 different but allied Islamist groups including Jabhat al-Nusra and a relatively new groups called Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham as well as groups calling themselves part of a “Free Syrian Army.”

Early on that first day, the attackers set out from the rebel-held Sunni village of Salma (I think the name means "peaceful") and overran the Syrian army defenses in the area just to the south.  The army post in Durin was at least circumvented, the Shiekh Nabhan mountain post (also called Barouda tower) was totally neutralized, and then the small, undefended villages - populated by Alawi citizens - were "liberated." This info-graphic I made at the time may not be totally accurate but at least helps understand the scene.

About a dozen towns total were overrun, most of them on that same day. Surprised citizens who tried to run away were gunned down on the road (see inset photo by a proud Saudi rebel, details here). Others were killed inside their homes. These were not isolated minor abuses; during their occupation, especially on the first day, these villages witnessed incredible brutality. Jonathan Steele later reported for the Guardian:
Shadi, a 32-year-old officer in a local defence unit that is separate from the Syrian army, was lightly wounded during the government's counter-attack. "When we got into the village of Balouta I saw a baby's head hanging from a tree. There was a woman's body which had been sliced in half from head to toe and each half was hanging from separate apple trees. It made me feel I wanted to do something wild," he recalled. ... Ali, a member of the regular army, said he also saw the baby's head.
To many, such extremes might be hard to swallow, but the best evidence leaves such things all too plausible. Consider the report Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued in October after a field study in Latakia and independent research. Their detailed report  could serve as a main source, and I largely stopped researching when I saw how they had it fairly well covered. It's a rare case of a HRW report that both addressed a massacre rebels denied, and didn't even try to blame the Syrian government for it. They actually researched it and published a detailed report dedicated to blaming Islamist rebel factions for "War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity." It will be heavily cited from here on, and is available here:

"You can still see their blood" - Executions, indiscriminate shooting, and hostage taking by opposition forces in Latakia countryside. PDF, 113 pages. Researched and written by Lama Fakih, Human Rights Watch, October 11, 2013. Read or download page
(note: the endnotes don't seem to work, on my end anyway)

See also, HRW video on this investigation:

Soldiers, Men, People ... Just Semantics?
Opposition sources call the surrounding villages military posts, or claims each town had one, or roadblocks between, or all men were armed, or whatever. Human Rights Watch heard from “an opposition activist in Latakia who coordinates between and assists the armed opposition groups fighting there” who told them outright “We caught 150 women and 40 children, and killed all the men.” explaining “They were all carrying weapons.” (from report, see below). In some cases they cite specifics – soldiers killed, weapons seized. But they specify just one village for that - Barouda - probably meaning the tower 5-700 meters from there. HRW heard and found credible that “government forces were only based in three government positions outside the villages and that once these bases were overrun on August 4 and the soldiers had retreated there were no government forces or pro-government militias inside the villages on that day.” Considering the map above, it only makes sense that 2-3 bases should suffice for an area a few kilometers square.

HRW's researcher and author, Lama Fakih, saw credible evidence for at least 205 civilian/noncombatant fatalities, noting that's probably an incomplete tally. 190 of those had been identified. Compare that to early rebel boats: "We killed 200 (of Assad's men) on Sunday alone, and yesterday at least 40," one fighter in the area told Reuters. (Oweis) The actual word used was probably "Shabiha," which is more ambiguous and can mean just "Alawites, mostly men." An activist with the involved Ahrar al-Jabal Brigade said 175 were killed, Reuters reported, "describing them as soldiers and militiamen who were manning roadblocks linking the mountain villages." (same link)

However, pro-government sources and HRW seem to agree only about 30 soldiers were killed initially. Checking opposition records, the whole span of operation (Aug. 4-18) shows maybe 50 or so listed (probably incomplete but close) and that includes at least a few massacre victims who happened to be military/NDF (see here at ACLOS)

If only these or that 30-40 died at first, the 175-240 number rebels boasted about must have been or included the civilians of the villages. Those were mostly men; the records and accounts HRW's Fakih considered specify at least 18 children and 57 women killed, besides an implied 115+ non-combatant men (civilian or military but killed at home with their families instead of out in fighting, like six Shakuhi men from Beit Shakouhi ("House of Shakouhi") killed on August 4 and 6, which HRW missed). At least one other man HRW heard about had a gun and went down fighting, and others may well have, but apparently not the way rebels claimed.

175 may be the soldiers plus the 115+ adult men, militarized post-mortem as regime fighters, and rounded off. Maybe "roadblocks" means non-rebel villages/support base/safe haven for their opponents in the field, impediments to progress in the regime-change campaign. If so, that wasn't a lie in their minds, just a bit of semantics. Note also the difference in provided tallies; 240 vs. 175 is a difference of 65. That's close to the number of women and/or most of the women and children killed. That might be more semantics, disagreement over whether “Assad's men” have to be actual men or just Alawites. At right is the body of one of the 57+ women killed, this one while doing chores. Her body was left behind and scavenged by wild animals before seen by a news team from al-Mayadeen as they came in with liberating soldiers weeks later (see video here).

clearing of a mass grave in Sleibeh al-Hamboushiya
Most victims' bodies were discovered in scattered mass graves once order was restored later in the month. Some graves were rigged with explosives. Some bodies were charred. Most victims were simply shot but in several cases their throats were sliced - one young girl witnessed the rest of her family killed this way, HRW heard.  The heads were cut off of of some bound victims, as Fakih saw in photos.

Genocidal Intent
A graffiti tag I found in a video from  one of the villages (but lost the source for now) and had translated adds a bit here:
Main line:
ســاع اللاذقية
Messenger(s) (of? to?) Lattakia
A basic Google search suggests this is not the name of a group anyone has noted much. May not implicate anyone in particular. But the attached writing specifying the message is of interest. Lower left corner, no guesses yet. Upper right, scrawled-in (likely by someone else, before or after):
مصير كل علوي الذبح  
The fate of every Alawite is for slaughtering
(another reading was every body of Alawi /every Alawi body is for slaughtering - either is pretty consistent with all shapes, and makes some sense in context, but we're all leaning to the "fate" reading - might be bad grammar, with slaughter ذبح being the better form of the word.)
Message sent, and received. Grafitti HRW's Fakih saw boasted in silver paint “The heroes of Khirbet al-Jawz to the genocide of Alawites.” This is a Free Syrian Army Brigade, but apparently not controlled by the FSA central command, a problem addressed in the FSA-ISIS post. Disturbingly, however, the FSA-affiliated "moderate" and "legitimate" Syrian National Coalition had many of its members before and after the massacres urging genocidal and terrorist tactics as a necessity in winning their war. (post forthcoming)

The HRW report doesn't mention rape in the massacre (others do) but does note a credible report of "the corpses of six women, stripped naked, on the roof of a home at the beginning of al-Hamboushieh village."

Most inhabitants who fled haven't returned except to recover family members' bodies and close that chapter of their lives. As long as Salma remained out of government control, the villages were as unsafe as people had warned. It seems the terrorists wanted to deny Alawi their "safe havens" and in this case, they achieved their goal.

(may be moved)
Now let's consider the hostages taken in the offensive, starting with the video with 105 women and children, as considered here at ACLOS (still at right, JMA/ISIS flag). The woman speaking is Eleen Shakouhi from al-Hamboushieh, HRW heard, and as translated by us and HRW, she names the villages they came from and says the treatment is "okay." The man holding them has been identified as local leader of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA). He says:
"Thanks to God we broke into these villages and found women and children. Men had fled and left the women and children. We captured women and children, and put them in a good place and good health care ... and we treat them according to Islamic law and the Islamic religion... "
The men just fled, he says in this video to the world, perhaps filmed by al-Jazeera, by the way. He surely didn't expect anyone to believe that, it's just a thing you say when the widows and orphans of your victims are sitting right there. But he also says in some cases, Alawite parents actually killed their children before the rebels could get there and save them - "we treat them better than their own parents."

In contrast, HRW, the Human Rights Watchdog, heard from “an opposition activist in Latakia (unnamed) who coordinates between and assists the armed opposition groups fighting there” who explained how, on August 5 (or by then?) , the second day of the offensive:
“We caught 150 women and 40 children, and killed all the men. ... They were all carrying weapons. ... We want a prisoner exchange without conditions.” 
He has no problem admitting the bulk of the massacre, and kidnapping of civilians, directly to HRW. The demand of course asks "or else what?" and that might point to a willingness to carry the massacre even further. That's an "opposition activist" there.

On the 6th, the same activist told them, the prisoners were split up between the groups he worked with: JMA, the Islamic State (ISIS/Daesh), Jabhat al-Nusra, and Suquor al-Izz. Out of HRW's five centrally involved terrorist groups, only Ahrar al-Sham is absent from that deal.  But  "later in September," they heard, "control over the hostage file was transferred to Ahrar al-Sham.” In early September, ISIS held 110-120, JMA 105, the other two groups (like Ahrar al-Sham, painted as good guys in this drama) unclear, perhaps zero.

So the total number was in excess of 215 to 225 plus the others' holdings, if any. General Kifah Milhem, head of Military Intelligence in Latakia, heard then from "an armed opposition group" (not specified) "who stated that he had the abducted ... 70 women and 50 children from Latakia." By numbers, that's likely Islamic State's batch, 120 and not 110. Still, rounded off.

Gen. Milhem spoke on the 9th, and was still waiting for the list of demands from Daesh. Some reported the demands for release of one batch of hostages was the release of 4 Libyan fighters, a sizable cash payment, and a video-recorded anti-government protest in the town square.

As for the "or else what?" - the implied threat to kill the captives just like they killed their men - at times it seems it was a "whatever" thing to their Salafist captors. Consider entry 21 on HRW's list of identified hostages, presumably alive and being negotiated over: Jaffar al-Sheikh Ibrahim, age 7 (Imad al-Sheikh Ibrahim’s child). An early pro-government social media alert (Facebook, still available) named this child - Jafar alSheikh, but aged 4, from Nabatah - and claimed he was already dead. Explained: "he was scared so he asked for water to drink ... a bearded man stabbed him to death." That may be confused or untrue, but reported back on August 7 by an informed source.  A 3-year-old sibling is listed by HRW, but also as a living hostage. It seems Jafar was probably taken alive as a hostage, but from there ... if pressed, Fakih would probably acknowledge they can't be sure if he was or wasn't killed afterwards.

As far as I know (not that far), the rest of the stolen people, including most women, remain in captivity two years later or have died by now. Some of the children at least were later released, the rest would take a little more research. But with the main mission accomplished, many or all of these 200+ could well be released with or without their demands being fully met. And it's likely that this acknowledged tally was made only after secretly skimming off some villagers to keep or pass on as sex slaves and the like. These they would simply never admit to (as far as I know, that's zero, or 20).

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Aleppo, is That You?

November 17, 2015

I haven't even done much today except master a bad-ass trance remix of a horrible techno song I made on cassette tape 20 years ago ... it sounds tight and snarly, and made a great sountrack to noticing good views today, especially on my latest good work. And ... the first time ever, 2 new viewers from Syria not just in a week but in a day. Maybe the 2nd time, but unusual. 

They came in a cluster. 4 page views in the span before I checked, including 2 of Chlorine, where was Tennari, no particular traffic source evident ... (I watch these things.) #1 for that moment!

I didn't even realize 'til recently how totally Aleppo was off the internet, until I read that it was finally re-appearing a week or so ago, after finally ditching their routes through Turkey. If this pattern holds, and I'm excited that it might, I don't know, I hope it does. It's a good sign in general, and good for the profile of our still-underrated work. Welcome, Aleppo! Snarl on!

Extra-viewed posts in that span/recently: Chlorine:where was Tennari, more for FSA-ISIS-Latakia, tips for commenting here. Oh cool, I hope so. :)

Aleppo events, covered here, not a lot. Nothing? The Syria master list is nationwide, has nothing about Aleppo, except a few mentions. Huh. I didn't notice that before. At ACLOS, much. See all pages. Accepting new info, etc.  I'm Caustic Logic there, as here, a main voice. My actual name is Adam, in case that helps.

To add: anyone who missed this should see it, re: "barrel bombs" on Aleppo. One of humanitarian interventionism's more reliable champios, Human Rights Watch CEO Ken Roth, made this classic double-blunder earlier this year. As noted, the shared tweet used an image of Gaza after Israeli bombing and called it Syrian government bombing of Aleppo (or rather said "it really is this bad." ...) When that was called out, he said it was telling how Aleppo's devastation looked that bad. It didn't. But the picture he used to show how Aleppo really looked was bad ... not as bad. Problem is, that was a photo from a Christian district suffering Islamist rebel shelling and fending off an invasion. I suggested some other dramatic images HRW could mis-attribute, one of which (Kobane after US-led bombing/defeat of Daesh), it turns out they already did, also to prove Syrian barrel bombing.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Latakia Massacres: Rebel Deaths Correlated by Groups

Latakia Massacres: Rebel Deaths Correlated by Groups 
And Overview of the Groups
November 14, (incomplete)
last edits Nov. 24 (Abu Taha corrected)

 "Martyr" "Abo Abdulrahman" from Libya,
Member of ISIS or FSA - lists disagree
Still struggling with my post on ISIS-FSA teamwork, I need some work space for this project to compare rebel deaths recorded in the HRW report (read or download page) compared to entries in the VDC database. A couple of interesting details were emerging, and it deserved a space to see how many more and to compare them.

HRW found 20 opposition groups groups were involved, and I see 17 listed, besides "FSA under Salem Idriss' command," which was claimed to be present but may not have been. Named fighters killed in the operation are provided for most groups.

For the VDC side, first, I'll use the entries collected here at ACLOS, (rebel "martyrs" with martyrdom location: Latakia), and later I'll look for further VDC matches.

I'll also use this a space where all groups can be listed, to provide basic details and some specifics for each.

1 Ahrar al-Sham

-Wikipedia page, as Harakat Ahrar ash-Sham al-Islamiyya (Arabic: حركة أحرار الشام الإسلامية ‎ Ahrār ash-Shām, meaning "Islamic Movement of the Free Men of the Levant") A coalition of Islamist brigades that "cooperates with the Free Syrian Army and other secular rebel groups; however, it does not maintain ties with the Syrian National Council," and have "their own strict and secretive leadership, receiving the majority of their funding and support from donors in Kuwait." Ahrar al-Sham was a founding and leading member of the Syrian Islamic Front, and was a member of the Turkish-sponsored 2015 Idlib "army of conquest" along with Al-Nusra. 

HRW heard that Ahrar al-Sham "assumed responsibility for the hostages taken during the offensive," "announced on its website that it had participated in a coordinated operation to “liberate” four villages," (Isterbeh, Nabata(misspelled), Hamboushia, Abu Makka) and posted video of them breaking into homes in a fifth (Balouta). At least six naked dead women were evidenced in Hamboushiya, as the report notes. Ahrar al-Sham initially held no hostages, in September given responsibility for all of them.

Reuters, Oct. 11 reports a sort of denial from the group: "If someone uses a weapon against you, you have to fight them. If they do not, you must not kill them," and that's it. The unstated half could be that the Alawites raised the sword against them (all Sunnis) so the Alawites have to die. That vague statement was from "Ahrar al-Sham's political office in Raqqa." Raqqa was taken over by Islamists in March, 2013, and then taken by Daesh (ISIS) as their capitol in mid-August, just as this Latakia offensive was ending. So if Ahrar al-Sham had its offices there two months later, it suggests they were working with the Islamic State at that time (the Wikipedia entry doesn't mention any alliance or breaking of it, as it does with the other two).

HRW found "three Moroccan fighters from Ahrar al-Sham that were killed in Esterbeh on August 4." These overflows from "Sham al-ISlam", I'm guessing, are named:
-  Abu Omar al-Maghrabi
= Abu Omar al-Maghrebi, died in "Astrabeh Village" "Rank: FSA"
- Abu Moaz al-Maghrabi 

= Abu Moaz al-Maghrebi, died in Astrabeh Village. Also "FSA"
- Abu Adam al-Maghrabi 
= Abo Adam al-Maghrebi, died in "Astrabeh Village". Also "FSA"

So, Ahrar al-Sham, who cooperates with the FSA (besides with al-Nusra and, in this case at least, with ISIS) but isn't a member or beholden to any of their rules or commands, is listed by the VDC under a simplified "FSA" heading. From this and the rest, it seems "FSA" means against Assad, not ISIS, and not even al-Nusra. Except the one guy that was Nusra and the one that was Daesh ... (see each entry below). Everyone else is under that vague umbrella. Or, considering joint command, etc. ... "FSA" might mean more in this case, like some "free" fighters deputized by agreement just before the deal (who knows?).

Also of note: HRW reports "In one of the videos, lieutenant colonel Hussein al-Harmoush, the brigade commander from Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Maghdad al-Aswad battalion, is identified by name and seen shooting in the operation."  That's either a nickname taken in honor of an FSA Godfather, the late Lt. Col. Hussein Harmoush or quite a coincidence.

2 ISIS/Islamic State/Daesh
Should need no introduction... 

four fighters from ISIS killed during the operation:
- Abu Moqatel al-Tunisi (a Tunisian national), killed in Esterbeh on August 4
= Abu Muqatel al-Tunesi From Tunisia. Rank: "Islamic State of Iraq and Sham." Later changed to ISIS. Died in "Astrabeh Village" by Aug. 5.
- Abu A`bed al-Rehman al-Mesra’ni killed in an unidentified location on August 4
=? Abo Abdulrahman al-Libee, from Libya, died in "Lattakia" "Rank: FSA" (photo, dead)
- Hamza al-Shishani (a Chechen)

= no match?
- Abd al-Hakim al-Alaiwi 

= no match? 
- no mtch?
=? Mohammad al-Shahi ISIS, from UAE, killed August 15, doesn't say where

3 Jabhat al-Nusra
Introduction perhaps forthcoming...

HRW: "three fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra killed on August 4"
- Abu Zabir al-Maghrabi (a Moroccan), killed in Abu Makkeh
= Abu Zubair al-Maghrebi From Morocco. Rank: Jabhat Nusra. Died in "Lattakia: Boumka village" by Aug. 5
- Abu Hamza al-Maghrabi (a Moroccan) killed in Barouda
= Abu Hamze al-Maghrebi, died in 'Lattakia: Baruda' (by Aug. 5) Rank: FSA. (photo, alive)
- Abu Ibrahim al-Libi (a Libyan) killed in Barouda
= Abo Ibrahem al-Lebi From Libya. Rank Jabhat Nusra. Died in "Lattakia: Baruda" by Aug. 5

4 Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA)
Wikipedia page - (JMA, Arabic: جيش المهاجرين والأنصار‎ Army of Emigrants and Supporters), formerly known as the Muhajireen Brigade (Katibat al-Muhajireen), " briefly affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), but after changes in leadership it took an increasingly hostile stance against it. In September 2015, JMA pledged allegiance to the Al-Qaeda affiliated Al-Nusra Front." JMA-Daesh confusion - formally allied at the time: SOHR Facebook post "Confirmed reports that a Libyan Emir of the ISIS was killed by the al-Hamboshiya clashes ..." Others report the same as "a Libyan kidnapper named Abu Suhaib Alleebi, Emir of the Mujahadeen Brigade."  

HRW learned of "10 fighters killed from Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar during the operation many of them Tunisian and Libyan nationals."
- Abu Rehmat al-Libi was killed on August 4.
= Abo Rahmeh al-Liby died Aug 4, "FSA" (photo, alive) - Commander Abu al-Farouq al-Libi 
= no match?
- Abu Obeida al-Maghrabi were killed on August 14 in Obeen.
= no match
- Abu Youssef al-Ansari 
= no VDC match
- Abu Ashraf al-Tunisi,
= Abo Ashraf al-Tunsee died in "Lattakia" by Aug. 7 (photo) FSA
- Abu Abdallah al-Tunisi,
= Abo Abdullah al-Tunsee died in "Lattakia" by Aug. 7 FSA
- Abu Trab al-Libi
= no match
- Abu Hazifa al-Libi
= no match
- Abu Hilal al-Libi
= no match 
- Abu Obeida al-Tunisi 
= no match
were also all reportedly killed (date and place of their deaths is unknown)

One of these may = Abo Rahma al-Libee died in "Lattakia" (photo) FSA died (by) Aug 7

Note: VDC apparently didn't get direct reports from JMA activists.

5 Suqour al-Izz
Wikipedia as Suqour al-Ezz - - (Arabic: كتيبة صقور العز‎) - primarily Saudi jihadists - initially cooperated with both Daesh and Nusra, rejected the former and merged into Nusra in January, 2014.HRW adds: "Sheikh Saqr, the leader of Suquor al-Izz, seems to identify himself on what is believed to be his Twitter account as the person responsible for the finances for the operation and that Abu Taha from Ahrar al-Sham was his deputy in this regard. The operation was reportedly largely financed by private Gulf based donors."
Suquor al-Izz also lists the names of several fighters killed during the Latakia operation between
August 4 and 16.
- Abu Malkat al-Azdi was killed in Esterbeh,
= Abu Malek al-Azdi unknown origin, Rank: Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (originally) Now says rank:FSA. Killed in Astrabeh, by Aug. 5.
- Abu Moaz al-Jezrawi in Barouda, on August 4.
= Abo Mouaz al-Jezrawee From Saudi Arabia. Died in Baruda "Rank: FSA"
- Abu Malek Mohamed Gharam al-Shehri, who is identified as a frontline commander, August 8 
=   no match?
Abu Medawi Yehya al-A`sseiri, August 8 
= no match ?
Abu al-Bara’ al-Si`ayri, August 8 
= no match?
Abu Hazem al-Qsseimi, August 8 
= no match
Abu Sleiman al-Tunisi (a Tunisian)  August 8 
= no match
Abed al-Basset al-Tunisi (a Tunisian) August 11
= no match 
Abu Kahled Bandar al-Kahledi on August 16.
= no match 

Note: VDC apparently didn't get direct reports from SaI activists.
6 Ahrar al-Sahel Brigade
(FSA, app. not under Idriss central command) 

An August 12 video shows FSA's chief Salem Idriss visiting "the commander of the Free Syrian Army battalion (brigade) Suquor al-Sahel, Saeed Tarbush, who was injured in the fighting in the villages," declaring "we will do our best to meet the needs of this battle and provide everything we have…" to this group, or someone else they represented? The report says:
The Ahrar al-Sahel Brigade announced its formation on May 23, 2012 as a unit operating under the FSA in Latakia.218 Based on statements made by the leader of the group, Abu Ahmad, the group does not appear to be under the command and control of Salim Idriss.
This group is the best fit for Idriss-supported or commanded or worth being seen with anyway. They also claim involvement on the 4th in Isterbeh, Abu Makkah, Hamboushia, Beit Shakouhi, via a sub-unit (the Assad Allah Hamza battalion. Abu Talal, reportedly the commander of the Assad Allah Hamza brigade, was reportedly injured while fighting in Esterbeh on the same day. Amer al-Haddad, an al-Hijra ila Allah fighter, was killed there. HRW saw graffiti in Abu Makkeh - on a house “Liwa Tahrir, Ahrar al-Sahel Battalion”
Amer al-Haddad, an al-Hijra ila Allah fighter, killed in Esterbeh
Amer Jamal al-Haddad, FSA, age 25, from Syria, actually - Hiffeh, Latakia, so nearby. died in (blank), Aug. 9 from "shelling by regime's army." Photo (alive).

7 Farouq Brigades
This is definitely a unit of FSA, if not under SMC control - Wikipedia states it was founded by a number of Homs based members of the Free Syrian Army mid-2011, including Abdulrazaq Tlass (Houla Massacre, masturbation), and others including Abu Sakkar (genocidal cannibal/scavenger)… powerful in 2012, sliding by mid-2013, defunct in 2014, helped form the Syrian Islamic Liberation Front along the way. Wikipedia says Farouq is Part of: Free Syrian Army, Syrian Islamic Liberation Front (2012-2013), but HRW's report said "It is not known whether the Independent Omar al-Farouq Brigade operates within the command structure of the Free Syrian Army". … at any rate, involvement here is not very clear: a September 21 video "shows al-Farouq Brigade fighters film the destruction in Barouda and Talla from afar pointing out the locations of the Syrian army. Graffiti referencing the al-Farouq brigade was also left in Abu Makkeh." No deaths mentioned. 

8 The Hassan al-Azhari Battalion
Led by "Abu Taha from Latakia," HRW reported, this battalionand "posted on their Facebook page that they liberated Nbeiteh village and that the fighters were on their way to take control of the Barouda tower."
An "opposition activist" told HRW “Abu Taha protected Alawite women from the foreigners [other fighters] who wanted to kill them.” 
fighters from their unit who died during the operation including
- Ahmad Khaled Khlou (killed in Abu Makkeh on August 6)
= no VDC match?
- Abo Mosaab (killed in Abu Makkeh, date unknown but announcement posted on August 6).
no VDC match?

9 The Heroes of Khirbet al-Jawz and the Oussama Bin Zeid Battalion (sub-unit)
(FSA, app. not under Idriss central command, graffiti in Hamoushiya proclaims their approval of a "genocide against the Alawites") No deaths listed.

10 Saif Allah al-Masloul, al-Ansar
Ammar Mustafa Mo`mari from Saif Allah al-Masloul was also reportedly injured during the offensive
on Abu Makkeh and died from his injuries on August 7.2
= Ammar Moustafa Meaamaree FSA, died in Lattakia: Boumka village by the 7th.

11 Sham al-Islam (HSI)

A very intriguing group, apparently heavily involved and taking perhaps the greatest number of lost members - Harakat Sham al-Islam (HSI - Wikipedia article) (Arabic: حركة شام الإسلام‎, meaning "Islamic Movement of the Levant") is composed of primarily Moroccans. On 25 July 2014 that it became part of the Jabhat Ansar al-Din, which claimed neutrality in the conflict between ISIS and other groups (Syria Comment) HSI was designated as a terrorist organization by the US State Department on 24 September 2014. On 23 September, 2015 Jabhat Ansar al-Din almost marked the anniversary of that by formally joining with al-Nusra, who claim to oppose Daesh. The WP states "The group was founded in August 2013 by three Moroccan detainees who had been released from the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, Ibrahim bin Shakran, Ahmed Mizouz and Mohammed AlamiHarakat Sham al-Islam first came to notice because of the role it played in the 2013 Latakia offensive," which was about the same time it first appeared. In fact, HRW (who gives another name for the leader, Abu Ahmad al-Muhajir, Moroccan and former Guantanamo Bay detainee) makes it sound like they were an informal group not yet announced at the time; HSI's formation was only announced publicly with a Youtube video on August 18, it says, as the operation in Latakia ended – waiting to see if any of them survived? Tamimi agrees: they emerged in "mid-August") (also notes "Mohammed al-'Alami, using the name Abu Hamza al-Maghrebi" and "Ibrahim bin Shakaran as its leader, who is known in Syria as Abu Ahmad al-Muhajir" - confusion resolved)

Their reported dead:
- Abu Hamza al-Maghribi (a Moroccan, via Guantánamo Bay), one of the group’s generals, was killed on August 4 in Barouda
= Abu Hamze al-Maghrebi, died in 'Lattakia: Baruda' (by Aug. 5) Rank: FSA
Zein al-`Abedine, a Sham al-Islam fighter as having been killed in Kindah on August 4.
= Zain al-Abden al-Maghrebi died in "Lattakia: Kinda village" Rank:FSA
Three Sham al-Islam fighters also died in Esterbeh on August 4
= ?? (unclaimed foreign FSA entries - any Moroccans left? yep)
=?  Nibras al-Maghrabee Morocco, "FSA" on or before Aug 7 (photo, dead)
= other 2, possibly listed, also as FSA, maybe even Syrian

12 Al-Tawhid/Sheikh Qahtan Battalion
HRW: "The Sheikh Qahtan Battalion, formerly al-Tawhid (distinct from the FSA group), was renamed
during the August operation in Latakia countryside during which Sheikh Qahtan Haj Mohamed, a Syrian from Haffeh in Latakia, a deputy commander of the operation, was killed"

= Qahtan Haj Mohammad from Syria, actually - Hiffeh. FSA. "Brigadier Leader," died Aug 4, location blank (photo)

The rest (Suqour al-Sham (FSA, non-command), Sons of al-Qadisiyya (FSA funding cooperation), Thuwar al-Haffeh, Ibrahim Khalil, Al-Shaheed Sino Rebels Battalion (small local groups) ), no mention of deaths.

13 Suqour al-Sham

14 Sons of al-Qadisiyya
formed around Feb. 2013, as “one branch of the “Civilian Protection Commission” in Latakia and its Countryside ... composed of various battalions including al-Farouq and al-Ansar” with a mission is to link the brigades with financial supporters and donors in coordination with the Free Syrian Army abroad.”
a video from August 5 or earlier, Sons of al-Qadisiyya fighters launch three grad missiles at some of the targeted villages. .

15/16/17 Thuwar al-Haffeh, Ibrahim Khalil, Al-Shaheed Sino Rebels Battalion
implicated by graffiti, limited background information, and no specifics on anything but where their graffiti was seen Thuwar al-Haffeh in Abu Makkeh (see Section II above), Ibrahim Khalil and his soldiers, in the Sleibeh al-Hamboushieh hamlet (see Section II above), and the al-Shaheed Sino Rebels Battalion in Abu Makkeh— Sino? Hsino town?

VDC's "FSA," 
Foreign (not listed above)

"FSA" Syrian
(partial list from ACLOS page - will see if report lists any)
  • Abo al-Moughira location blank, Aug. 4 (photo)
  • Anas Sheikhani Mount Kurds: Doreen, Aug 4 Video - oddly dramatic, filmed by a dead man. Or fake? Is that supposed to be the camera of Iehab dahou, from the Salma Media center, who is listed as getting shot Aug. 4 in Salma? (will be added somewhere above, later) Wasn't this right at the start of an optional surprise offensive? They make it look like some grim and desperate last stand.
  • Ahd Tarboosh, only listed local martyr Aug. 5, from"Hiffeh: Defil" died in Astrebeh (Isterbeh). Has video. (add: May be related to "commander of the Free Syrian Army battalion (brigade) Suquor al-Sahel, Saeed Tarbush, who was injured in the fighting in the village," paid a visit by Salem Idriss, under whose command the battalion did not seem to be, HRW found. Had another fighter die in the same village Aug 9) 
  • Haj Asaad Died Lattakia: Mount Kurds Aug 6
  • Malek As'ad Lattakia: Mount Kurds, not actually on the list, with death date 00-00-00, but by index number was reported right after the last, app. related martyr...)
  • Unidentified, but from Hiffeh. Died Aug. 6 Astrabeh Village
On the 6th, rebels were killed in two areas as government forces pushed back - Astrabeh Village (Isterbeh - several killed) and Kafraya (two killed). Daily deaths (a few) continued until about the 10th, increasingly by shelling, and increasingly back towards the rebel base town of Salma. For example Amer Jamal al-Haddad, age 25, from Hiffeh, died (blank), Aug. 9 by "shelling by regime's army." Local Syrians stopped dying, by the list, about August 10, and non-locals (mostly from Idlib) took over the dying from there, a few a day on average up to about the 20th. Some examples: