Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Latakia massacres

2/10 Syria: massacre reports emerge from Assad's Alawite heartland
11/10  HRW condemns rebel atrocities ( BBC R3, 8:00; WS, 8:30) Alawite villages attacked by rebels, say rights group -- Syria rebels executed civilians, says Human Rights Watch:
Rebel forces in Syria killed as many as 190 civilians and seized more than 200 hostages during a military offensive [on 4 August, HRW] says. A report by the US-based group says the deaths occurred in villages inhabited predominantly by members of President Bashar al-Assad's minority Alawite sect near the coastal city of Latakia.
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HRW says about 20 opposition groups took part in the offensive and that five were involved in the attacks on civilians - the al-Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), Jaysh al-Muhajirin wa al-Ansar, Ahrar al-Sham and Suqour al-Izz. None are affiliated to the Western-backed Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army, though SMC chief Gen Salim Idris did say at the time that fighters under his command participated in the assault. The report says ISIS and Jaysh al-Muhajirin are holding the hostages.
The government launched an offensive to retake the Sheikh Nabhan area on 5 August, ultimately regaining full control on 18 August.
 Syrian Civilians Bore Brunt of Rebels’ Fury, Report Says  By ANNE BARNARD.  Human Rights Watch said it had documented for the first time that rebel groups in Syria “systematically” targeted civilians in a massacre in August that left 190 dead.
Syria’s government placed many survivors of a reported rebel attack in Latakia and other villages in this schoolhouse. Investigators say 190 were killed. 
Andrea Bruce for The New York Times - Syria’s government placed many survivors of a reported rebel attack in Latakia and other villages in this schoolhouse. Investigators say 190 were killed.
HRW:  “You Can Still See Their Blood”  . Of particular interest are pages 61-73 (IV. Opposition Groups Involved in August 4 Attacks) and   87-92 (VI. Financial Support to Operation):
Ahrar al-Sham (or Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Islamiya) was founded late in 2011.141 On December 21, 2012, in a video statement Ahrar al-Sham announced that it would be one of the founding members of the Syrian Islamic Front.
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Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar was formed in February 2013. It is led by Omar al-Shishani, a Chechen and is made up of several nationalities including Chechens, Turks, Tajiks, Pakistanis, French, Egyptians, and Moroccans.181 Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar is affiliated with ISIS, although it is not clear to what extent ISIS commanders have command and control over the group.
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The leader of Suquor al-Izz is Sheikh Saqr al-Jihad from Saudi Arabia. A photo posted on Twitter on August 4 purports to show Sheikh Saqr standing on a tank in Latakia countryside as he oversees the attack on the villages.
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Largely based on information posted by individuals in the groups who participated in the “Operation to Liberate the Coast” and their supporters on social media sites, [HRW] has identified several individuals, principally from Gulf countries, who actively fundraised for the operation and for support to the groups involved. There is no evidence that the fundraisers and financiers knew at the time that they gave their support about the
abuses that would [be] or were taking place in Latakia countryside.
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On April 16 Sheikh Hajjej al-Ajami, a Kuwaiti, announced the beginning of the operation to “Rescue the Syrian Coast” on what is believed to be his Twitter account. He would later become one of the most prominent donors to the operation.
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On August 4 Shafi al-Ajami, another Kuwaiti and prominent fundraiser for the campaign, tweeted that 40 distinct groups met to discuss the “Operation to Liberate the Coast” and voted to have 13 among them represent them in the battle. He further explains that Ahrar al-Sham operating in the coastal region was chosen to lead the battle
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Through his Twitter account, Sheikh Saqr also thanked individual donors, primarily from the Gulf, for supporting the operation by donating to the  operation room, including Sheikh Hajjej al-Ajami, for donating 400,000 Euros to the campaign.
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  Hajjej al-Ajami also appears in videos posted on YouTube in the coastal area before the campaign, making calls for support to the operation. There are several photos of Hajjej al-Ajami in Latakia countryside after the “Operation to Liberate the Coast” as well. He posted a photo of himself in Latakia countryside on September 15 with a man that he identifies as a French jihadi fighter. A second photo was posted of him on Twitter on September 20 with Omar al-Shishani, the leader of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar. He also reportedly met with wounded fighters from Suquor al-Izz and Sheikh Saqr, the head of Suquor al-Izz, in September.
  Sheikh Saqr also had exchanges with Saed al-Suwan al-Ajami (also known as Abu al-Hassan), a Kuwaiti, on Twitter. On August 3 he retweeted a Tweet by al-Suwan calling for donations to buy weapons for the fighters in Syria. On August 3 al-Suwan tweeted that he supports the Islamic brigades in Latakia countryside. On August 5 and 7, al-Suwan tweeted a thank you to donors from Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Qatar which was then retweeted by Sheikh Saqr. [..] Al-Suwan tweeted on August 29 that he was in Latakia countryside and that they had received weapons and supplies but needed more. “Comprehensive Military Library” tweeted on September 6 that al-Suwan is one of the supporters of the coastal operation and that he distributed the weapons he collected in person. On August 14 Sheikh Saqr also thanked one Abu Nasser al-Subayi for donating 150,000 Euros for the “Operation to Liberate the Coast.”
Update (18 Oct):  from the IGC's latest report (Anything But Politics: The State of Syria’s Political Opposition):
SMC influence is further weakened by independent funding campaigns managed by ultra-conservative, Gulf-based Salafi clerics who channel money to a range of groups, including factions whose leaders nominally hold positions within the SMC. (n49 - Salafi fundraisers, such as Kuwaiti clerics Shafi and Hajjaj al-Ajmi, provide hundreds of thousands of dollars to a range of armed groups and use their leverage to help organise joint “operations rooms” to coordinate offensives. Such fundraising is openly promoted on social media and occasionally includes fundraisers’ visits to militant leaders ...)
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  The growing strength of hardline groups has put the SMC in a difficult position. Sensitive to charges from fighters and activists alike that it has given undue priority to its ties to the West and Arab states at the expense of the struggle within Syria, the SMC has sought to tout its military achievements. At times, it has gone so far as to take credit for operations conducted by the very jihadi forces that reject its legitimacy.
  The perils of this became apparent in August, when Salim Idris belatedly claimed an SMC role in the campaign to “liberate” the regime’s Alawite stronghold. (n59 - Facing criticism that the SMC had not materially supported fighters in the coastal mountains and amid charges it had sought to prevent or halt the offensive, Idris visited the area on 11 August, a week after the campaign was launched. He addressed these criticisms and announced SMC support for the campaign in a video allegedly filmed near the front.) The offensive, the largest to date in the mountainous Latakia countryside overlooking the coast, generated tangible excitement within an opposition desperate to break the military stalemate and extend the fight to the regime’s heartland that, unlike opposition strongholds, has largely been spared destruction. The SMC, eager to appear relevant, was at pains to demonstrate involvement. Yet, by all accounts, jihadi factions and Ahrar al-Sham led the campaign from the outset. Idris’s claims placed the SMC in an uncomfortable position weeks later ...
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