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.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Rihab Allawi, #CaesarPhotos Victim Profile

Fail Caesar, Part 5: Rihab Allawi, #CaesarPhotos Victim Profile
December 28, 2015 
(last updates 9/29/2018)

Rihab (or Rehab) Mohammed Saaleh Allawi (Arabic: see caption) is the lone female victim, it sounds like, in the whole batch of "Caesar" photos. She was first seen in a picture released by Zaman al-Wasl in March, 2015 (see below), and featured prominently in the December Human Rights Watch report. That said hers was "the only published photograph of a woman, among the Caesar photographs dealing with dead detainees," from among an estimated 6,786 victims.

At the moment, I can't disprove the story told so far by opposition-supporters, but I can note how it has two versions with serious discrepancies. The differences between the 2013 and 2015 versions could be honest errors, but might suggest shifting and thus untrue stories. There are also some questions about when and how she died and the nature of her detention, besides just who was responsible for it. 

The basics are agreed in all opposition sources (and none from the other side so far even mention her). By these, Rihab was born in 1989 in either Deir Ezzour province or Palmyra (Tadmur) in Homs province, to a prison guard at Tadmur prison.  The family lived in both places before they moved to Damascus in 1994. By 2013, Rihab was a 3rd year civil engineering student, and also involved in peaceful anti-government activism. HRW, citing her brother Hamza, reported that "Rehab worked in one of Damascus’s local coordination committees - loose networks of activists - and she assisted internally displaced persons who had fled Homs." The exact type of displaced people isn't explained.

These reports all agree she was arrested from her home in a north Damascus suburb in mid-January 2013 by agents of the Syrian government. She was soon transferred to military intelligence branch 215, the reports agree, and died under torture after a month or two. Her death was reported, denied, etc. for months, as her family followed false leads (HRW relates this in much detail). Finally her death was confirmed with the photo released in 2015, verified by her actual presumed family. Her supposed brothers Hamza and Bassam spoke to Human Rights Watch about all this and had their details believed. Those details may be truthful as presumed. Or, in a possibility HRW doesn't seem to have really considered, they might be untrue. 

Rihab's purported passport, VDC
Minor Discrepancies
One perhaps minor issue is victim age: HRW heard Rihab was "about 25 years old" when arrested, but all older sources and her supposed passport say she was a few days shy of turning 24.

The early version lodged in 2013 at the time of her reported death specify she was arrested on January 16 from her family's home. There are 4 different places named, but a best reading suggests little controversy;  the family home is in Dhahiyat al-Asad (on Wikimapia, north edge of Damascus between Tishreen and Douma), (claimed by VDC - detainee entry, martyr entry, and SyriaSy) She resided in Tishreen (VDC) because she was studying at the university there. Rlcdamascus reports she was from Hama (maybe meaning nearby Haama, next to Jarmraya with the science and engineering, maybe education-related). In 2015, Zaman al-Wasl said the family home was in Harasta, next to D. Al-Assad (simplified). HRW says Damascus, no specific area.

Another fairly minor point is detention date. All the 2013 reports are clear it was January 16, with one 2015 mention I found. An earlier Zaman al-Wasl piece from January 27 says they came on January 16, at night. Their March article doesn't say, and HRW's December report disagrees.  This says "the Raids Brigade, a special raids unit of the military police, arrested her on January 17, 2013. The unit came to the family home in Damascus around 10 p.m. According to Rehab’s brother Hamza, an officer told Rehab’s mother that the matter would be closed within a few hours." This discrepancy may or may not matter.

Death Date
Rihab's reported transfer to the branch 215 prison may have been January 21 (SyriaSy). After this, in the early version, she died  on February 15; VDC, SyriaSy, and rlcdamascus all agree she was held just under one month and then "killed. under torture" on 2-15 at branch 215. SyriaSy says she was buried in a mass grave in Najha. VDC record says her death was reported a month later, on March 16. Indeed, approximately; SyriaSy's post came out March 15 (on my end, early time zone), the others shortly after. This is how it went - first reported then, but said to have happened a month ago.

The 2015 story is different. Zaman al-Wasl's January piece did say she "under torture after less than a month," but the March piece didn't say (short on specifics with the photo released). HRW also didn't specify when she died either, but their evidence strongly points to a much later date. This comes from her brother Bassam and a supposed fellow prisoner, a woman named Hanadi. These agree on the time of her death (see below), but seem to clash on the date.

Hanadi says after Rihab's arrival at branch 215 ("late January or early February", possibly transferred on January 21 - let's say Jan. 18-Feb. 1) they spent 24 days together before Hanadi's transfer (+24 = Feb. 11-25). After that, Hanadi says, they never met again, but she bumped into another woman who was jailed with Rihab afterwards. From her, Hanadi learned how "a month and a half after Hanadi was transferred," (implied: app. March 26-April 11) at "about 11 p.m," a guard told Rihab to pack her belongings, as she was being taken home. She then presumably left, but clearly she was never taken home, or never got there anyway. This is taken as the night she died, late March or April.

HRW also heard a similar story from her brother Bassam, who says he made a "visit to al-Najha cemetery, on the outskirts of Damascus, in March 2013" (date not specified). He said the guard recognized Rihab from a photo and told him, “Yes they brought three girls at 11 p.m. ten days ago.” That would be March 21 at latest, perhaps late February, but an estimate.

So by the 2015 version she died around 11 PM on a night that's hard to call - March 21 or earlier vs. March 26 to early April 11. The best way to make them fit would be to pick a middle date, say March 23.

All this is confusing and vague. With a little fudging, Bassam's version could describe either a mid-February or late March death. Hanadi seems more locked into her story with that month-and-a-half gap involved. Note that if Rihab's transfer was Jan 21 as reported, that +24 days = Feb. 14.  Hanadi might be saying she was transferred out the day before Rihab's original death date, which she says came only a month and a half later. This seems interesting. It could just be her wiggle-room; if it's shown to be February 15, Hanadi can say the other prisoner must have misled her about the six-week delay. She left just in time to not really be sure...

One final point, HRW mentions that on the "Caesar" photo computer, "three photographs that appear to be Rehab were saved in a folder dated June 4, 2013." It sounds like those are the only photos of her they saw. I'm not sure what to make of that, but her family - who would have first word around mid-March - held memorials by displaced members in Saudi Arabia only in June, and in Jordan somewhat earlier (HRW).

Update: June Wins
First,  there's a second, less-seen group photo with Rihab, also released by Zaman al-Wasl, cropped below. This allows a reading of 3 victim (body) numbers. 

Left to right:
* 2920/215 - old man
* Rihab 2935/215 (see below)
* 2922? (seen on forehead, body unclear) starved
* 2916/215 (on belly) - card cropped, bottom number ends in 1, /b or not unclear  old man, starved http://www.safmcd.com/martyr/view.php?id=9413
* 2924/215 (chest) - starved
* 2925/215 (chest) - starved

I've found the SAFMCD entries for Rihab and the second old man. Both say Photo Original Name:215-(victim#)-4-6-2013 (2). That's the folder date HRW was talking about. This suggests the photo of a freshly-dead Rihab was taken June 4. And it's not just a simple case of a mis-labeled folder. Other entries from June have similar and climbing numbers, while those from February, March, and April folders feature much lower victim numbers. So it seems both earlier death dates were incorrect.

* Update 1/20: On reflection and research, it's clear folder date does not  equal photo date. Even if we take the typed-in info as correct, the suggestion is photos in folder 4-6 should be from that date or earlier, probably since the last folder. The last one before this that I've seen cited yet is a huge 3-2013 folder. Even this is scrambled by older photos (lower numbers) appearing in later folders, leaving almost any date open. However, as laid side-by-side here, the above numbers 2916-2935 are about 600 entries above the numbers seen in a February folder and group shot - 2348-2355. This suggests the photos are from later, quite possibly late March or early April, and the either later date might pan out. But it still doesn't seem both of them can, at least not without some wiggling.

Timeline Revisited: Mid-May?
(added 9/29/2018)
An HRW report has a May 24 order to photograph 11 bodies, 215-3003, 3004, and on, but referred to by hospital number, called detainee number: "based on the order of the military general prosecutor, photograph the bodies of detainees 2614/b, 2615/b... " Those numbers on May 24 are not much different from Rihab's, and only a bit later. She was given 215-2935, H# 2487/b. That's 127 bodies earlier than that stretch, 68 of those (about half, normal ratio) linked to branch 215.

How many days is that? I can average the span right after the May 24 order to a June 2 death of possible 227-2040 (HRW report), not certain: presuming an even spread of 227 detainees, he'll be a little over halfway between 227-1904 and 227-2129, so H# prob. between 3040/b and 3070/b.
refining: 1904 and 2129 by their own H#s (2747/b vs. 3246/b), ignoring the ones in between, is better (sorry, referring to my own working file here). This puts the middle lower by a bit, est. range 2970/b - 3030/b. A better middle is 2967-3017. That gives = 346-406 bodies in 9 days = 38-45 bodies per day.

May 24 - June 2 = 9 days. 2967-3017 est. minus 2624 = 346 - 406 bodies in 9 days, so an estimated average of 38-45 bodies per day- well above the overall average of at least 30-33/day in the 9 month span, but again only from a rough estimate of the H# for 227-2040. Likely off by a bit. So 127 bodies is not long = app. 3-4 days earlier, May 20 or 21. Average most likely lower, and/or her number a bit ahead of the times (others seen are numbered slightly lower, or a batch of 15+ 215s is seen at once) broad estimate for that photo with Rihab: May 16-21

This is approximately 3 months, 2 months, and 1 month after the three earlier reported dates of her death(s). For this estimated date and nowhere else near in time, there's a photograph, but no known story. And again, even in this photograph, we lack the usual certainty the victim is even truly dead at photo time. Did she truly live in some form even after mid-May? That would mean defying FOUR death reports, including as a finale the most definite kind of all - morgue photos. The photos are odd, and her prior record kind of suggests "sheesh, how many times we need to report this? Can we get a final answer?" No one reported her dead in mid-May, or at any later time.

Raped at 11pm?
Despite the confusion over the date range, Bassam and Hanadi agree, sort of, on the time of that day she was killed, at the wrong time of year. They say Rihab was taken from her cell at "about 11 p.m" that unclear spring night, and then soldiers brought three dead girls including her to the cemetery "at 11 p.m.” It's interesting how both of them cite the same time frame, as if inspired by true events, as presumed, or as if working off a basic agreed script. 

Presuming the same day, 11pm to 11pm lines up so nothing can happen between. But presuming rounded times like 10:20 to 11:30, or the dump coming at 11 the next night or even later, it's enough time at least for a quick alleged rape session. That's not specified here but implied - probably a party, with 3 young captive women, and perhaps with booze and infidel stuff, Iranians, etc. That implication too sounds scripted.

A possibly related issue is Rihab's weight gain. HRW relates how her family wasn't sure it was her in the photo, she'd seemingly gained so much weight. She doesn't look very heavy at all in the morgue photo (see right), and her puffy face might've made it look like she gained more than she did. But she doesn't look any thinner either, and I can accept she gained some. Hanadi told Rihab's family and HRW "She gained a lot of weight in detention... because we could not move, and from eating potatoes, rice, and bulghur. ... When she arrived she was not sick, her face was not yellow, and she was very thin."

Many male prisoners seem deliberately starved (including those seen naked and degraded on either side of her), and none I've seen seem to have gained weight. Yet  the one female in the batch was fattened up, at least some small bit.

In context, it might matter that in Arabic culture, the ideal of sexual beauty is a bit heavier than in the West (belly-dancer look). So this unusual clue is consistent with her being kept as someone's sex slave, or something along those lines.

How did She Die?
"Caesar" photos: top, HRW closeup. Bottom, Zaman al-Wasl photo
The early reports in 2013 were clear Rihab died from/under torture, without saying how they knew that. Of course, they say the regime lied about this; HRW heard "after a few months, a Syrian brigadier-general told the family Rehab had died of a stroke." Physicians for Human Rights helped HRW analyze the photos  who noted the intravenous line in her left arm (blurred in the released photo) "indicating medical intervention,"  coupled with "no visible evidence  of injuries or blunt force trauma." 

By this, she could almost have died of a stroke. No torture is evident. So how did people back in 2013 know it happened? 

Of course, she could have been killed with the IV, depending, or by other, like suffocation, or strangulation (note how her neck is covered up here).As noted above, her face post-mortem is discolored and puffy, both possible clues to how she died, although I have no opinion on that yet. The odd line across her nose could be consistent with a respirator, more potentially fatal medical intervention.

Update: Finally, I should not it's not clear she's even dead. She's not wounded, no rigor mortis and not decaying, has no flies on her ... of course she could well be dead, and presumably is, but ... in her case and very few others, it's just not certain.

Her color is odd; Hanadi said she was sickly yellow, but that lighter color is mainly on high parts, cheeks and nose, stopping at her eyes, side of face, maybe where the respirator was placed. Is that makeup? It's a similar color to the dust here, but not quite...  Underlying color, hard to say.

Other Clues
Note she's laid out amongst starved men. My previous guess for these was they came in mostly in a short span near the end of Caesar's tenure, likely July or August, 2013, and are related to the other mass of captives people rebels would gas to death on the 21st.  This is the first thing to challenge that, but not too clearly. Either there were starved men earlier, be this February, March, or June. Or she was killed later than everyone says, or maybe a bit of both if the real date is in between.

In time, her victim number might help set a time frame (not sure how, but...) For the record, here are the numbers we see, translated from Eastern Arabic (Wikipedia) (note: numbers read l-r, number blocks read within the overall r-l flow... confusing)
- Forehead:  4935 or 2935 --- 215
- card:  2935-215 (top), 2487/b (bottom)
- chest, in red, seems to be 2935 again.
As noted above, she shares similar numbers with the starved men around her, and these say the photos were taken on June 4.

But She's Opposition!
It must've been the government who took her, most news consumers will presume, since all of Syria's Sunnis reject the Assad regime... since her brothers and whoever else said so, along with saying they were her real brothers and telling the real truth ... Okay, well she in particular was an opposition member of the Local Coordinating Committees (LCC). According to Hamza anyway.

Well, so was lawyer and activist Razan Zaitouneh, the female director of the VDC cited here, and co-founder of the LCC, kidnapped from VDC headquarters in Douma in December, 2013. She was never killed or dragged away before, but she, her husband, and two co-workers were taken by masked men and never seen again. Unusually, all suspicion in the West points to  Jaish al-Islam, based in Douma and led by the late Zahran Alloush.

Some in the LCC  have opposed foreign intervention, may report on crimes of the Islamists, and might otherwise develop enemies on the complex opposition side. Plus these type of stern, Saudi-sponsored Islamists don't like educated women running free. Even before they took Zaitouneh, Alloush's men may have already been seizing pretty junior members of the LCC, either at home next to Douma as said, or perhaps while inside Douma for some reason.  

Consider also the circumstances and the bizarre, concoted-seeming stories over the death of another female LCC activist in Baniyas, Bayan Jaloul. She worked in safety in a government-held city until the same few-day span (early May, 2013) that murky armed gangs were roaming the area. Described by the LCC and others as "Shabiha," they had just massacred dozens of members of a Sunni but government loyalist family in nearby al-Bayda on May 2. Only at this time, on May 3, did "Assad's Shabiha" finally kill Bayan, along with perhaps hundreds of other locals, and they even "tear her face with knives." If that's her as I've deduced from comparing accounts and photos, indeed her face was sliced open down the middle - no faking in that case (unless that was a stand-in, maybe kidnapped from one of Baniyas' Alawite districts... we have no alive photos to compare).

Rihab's Brother
Activist Adnan Miqdad told Zaman al-Wasl he knew Rihab and her brother, Asim Allawi, who ran the facebook page “Association of Syrian Martyrs of Freedom" who was arrested in May 2011, and "probably died under torture," just like alleged with his sister later but with less certainty.

Also like his sister, the record of his arrest is confusing.  Consistently, the VDC doesn't list him in their martyr's database, but he does appear under detainees. Asem Al-Elawi (Arabic: عاصم محمد العلاوي ) from Deir Ezzor: Mohassan Age 36, Mother's Name Ofeh (matches Rihab). Detention Date 2011-11-17. November 17? The others said he was arrested in May. Detention date is often noted as incorrect. Maybe here they just forgot to note that or didn't know.

But others agree ... with both versions.
* Facebook Post, March 16, 2013 00:40 am Syria time (Note, this was just about when the news of Rihab's death first made the rounds) (auto-translated)
Asim Mohammed Allawi was arrested by Air Force Intelligence Bhrsta dated 05/10/2011 to this day it is in the Sednaya prison and there are reports that he is doomed for 10 years, is an English teacher Graduate Institute of teachers role in 2003. Asim freedom you and for all detainees Syria want them all unharmed us free our detainees to the nation and not for jailer.
Much later, Facebook Post, Oct 21 2014 4:19 pm (Syria time)
(also auto-translated) "Asim Mohammed Alawi of Deir al-Zour / Muhassan / English teacher they took him (sprites/goblins glaucoma?) month 11 _ 2011 (?) Sednaya ... court ... " Date unclear, month specified. VDC had recorded the 17th, perhaps not in error. So was he only arrested in November? Or earlier as well, then released and re-arrested? Either seems possible here.

Oddly, this last linked report seems to say he was no big mystery forever, and had visitors, including from his family at ba crucial time:  "a field visit from his family was the first month in 2013." That's January, presumably before Rihab's reported arrest on the 16th/17th. It was weeks after that, as Rihab's death made the news, that Asim too was declared probably dead under torture. But this later report (sources and reliability unclear)also says "He began to take his wife to visit the month of August 2014 one was converted to a hospital October." However, "And (who?) gave them a death certificate ... and of course (Mo always sufficient evidence)," meaning what I'm not sure. And finally, "Aachaabaab .. Li was flown Besadnaya and safety came up and knows how it tells us Hun Shi .. Veken and pond."

Other Possible Relations
The name Allawi ( العلاوي ) is not uncommon, but it appears more thickly than usual, among dead and detained, in the relevant span and possibly relevant areas, and might be partly of interest.

Majed, sniper, 2-15
2-10      Ahmad Allawi al-Askar AM from Deir Ezzor, Halabiah Square, By shrapnel from an artillery shell has documented on 14/02/2013
2-14      Hamis Allawi al-Khalifa Deir Ezzor Bouqres Town, photo, died from Detention - Torture "He was killed under torture by regime forces in a prison," , the day before they list Rihab dying the same way.
2-15 (same day as Rihab) Majed Solaiman al-Ilawi, age 42, from Jobar, killed by Regime Forces Sniper Bullet." Rebels got the body and took a photo (right) and some videos.

All Allawi dead - note 9-26-12 to 10-07, 12 days - 10 killed in different areas by shelling, shooting, execution. 2013-2-06 10 members of a Abo Zeid al-Allawi family were executed - all adult male as listed, but also unidentified and likely mixed. Location: remote. Aleppo province, Sfeira: Om Amouda, 9 days before Rihab and 8 before Hamis reported dead. May be interesting, may be nothing.

one of these people...
2-18 Haytham Diyab Allawi, FSA, from Jobar, shooting, Martyred during clashes with the regime forces
2-19 Abd al-Bari Mohammed Ali Allawi Jobar, civilian, 30, died in Kafr Batna, Martyred due to mortar shelling
3-6 Jouriah al-Allawi AF Deir Ezzor Mayadeen Martyrdom location Deir Ezzor: Salheih She was martyred due regime forces shelling on the village
4-30 woman and boy killed by shelling in Idlib

Muhammad Alaa Ziad Allawi     2012-04-03  Adult - Male  Damascus Suburbs  Daraya   2013-12-10 
Issa Saleh Al-Allawi     (covered above)
Mohammed Jamil Allawi     2012-06-23  Adult - Male  Damascus Suburbs  Daraya   0000-00-00
Khalil Muhammad Al-Allawi     2013-02-02  Adult - Male  Raqqa    0000-00-00
Detention date is inaccurate, Reported that he was seen in Adre central prison on 07-06-2013. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Falluja Fake ISIS Document: Massacre Pre-Marketing in Iraq?

Falluja Fake ISIS Document: Massacre Pre-Marketing in Iraq?
December 26, 2015

Yeah, it's Fake ...
There's been some talk lately about the supposed Deash (Islamic State) pamphlets circulating in Falluja, ordering their members to frame Iraqi forces for gross crimes when they flee the city. In my opinion, it's mainly been stupid talk, and there's a sick underside to this development people aren't getting.

The document (shown here, original and translated, from Col. Warren tweet) was revealed on December 22. It has a bad translation ("holly fighters," etc.) but the content isn't disputed. By this, the order instructs fighters to dress up and act like Iraqi armed forces members and then: blow up mosques and houses, and shelters full of civilians, shoot people with rooftop snipers, torture and massacre captive civilians, assault women, loot houses, film as much of this as possible, and send the videos to Al Jazeera and Al-Arabiya to air as crimes of the Shia-majority fighters.

The first media reports crediting that claim were reasonably duped (example: The Hill 12/22). After all, the idea makes sense, and the first stupid talk was from credible members of the U.S. military, whose spokesman Col. Steven H. Warren claiming it was a "believable" "formal order" of ISIL (as he calls them). That was based on the stamp and its sinister attitude, and maybe on whatever information it was handed it with (like how someone else got a copy of what clearly should be a secret plan).

Then came smart but limited analysis like Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi, who alerted Warren on Twitter that the doc seems fake (many others followed suit). His reasons: it uses paper with the letterhead for Ninawa (Nineveh) province, while Falluja is in Anbar province, and it refers to the Iraqi militia with its proper name "Hashd Sha'abi" instead of a Daesh slur like "Hashd Rafidi." Further, it claims a decision was already made to leave Falluja soon, when there seems to be no sign of that (and it's now been several days further).

Soon, there was debatable dispute about the authenticity of the orders. "B" at Moon of Alabama (a brilliant researcher with a lot of good finds) was on this the first day, citing Tamimi and another experts doubting the evidence. In an update, "b" noted the media shift - with an unacknowledged insertion at the New York Times:
The NYT first repeated the military propaganda of the fake leaflet without any doubt or checking of its authenticity. It now says that there is a "debate" about the genuineness of the document. There is no "debate". The experts all say that the document is fake.
There is a sort of debate between the credibility of those lodging the claim and the opinion of experts. And clearly, the call of fake is winning that fight in the public mind, which is what matters.

For the record, I'm not totally convinced by this (is the Daesh directorate for false-flag operations in Nineveh? Would they use the militia's proper name sarcastically? Might they goof it up on purpose? Etc.) But these do seem good reasons to call forgery, and I'll take that as the clearest reading and presume it is a fake. My standing questions regard who and why.

... But it Could be a Real Preview
Laughing off the fake serves to ridicule the idea of a false-flag massacre at a time we should take the threat seriously. For terrorists of the Daesh grade of evil losing a key city, this is an expected behavior. They commit victory massacres on conquest of new cities, blamed on fleeing loyalists (see Comparing Terrorist Victory Massacres for Daesh ones compared to those of the Idlib "Army of Conquest"). The pattern on the losing end as they flee is less clear, and probably less common. However, it does happen...

Long before ISIS appeared, even the previous "moderate" Islamists fighting in Syria gave us a nice example in Daraya, near Damascus, in late August, 2012. Rebels had taken over the city and controlled it until an army offensive at this time forced them out. Along they way in, rebels and "activists" claim, Syrian army forces and "Shabiha" militias killed hundreds of civilians, perhaps over 1,000.

Men killed and filmed by rebels in Daraya, 2012
But credible reports (Robert Fisk, among others) say local rebels had seized hundreds of hostages by then. Many more were kidnapped at the last minute and forced into basement "shelters." It's believed rebels executed many these after talks broke down and before they fled. (see ACLOS page for more details). Some were killed or dumped in the city's central cemetery; one local told Robert Fisk "he believed that most were related to the government army and included several off-duty conscripts. "One of the dead was a postman – they included him because he was a government worker," the man said."

To support their story, rebels showed videos of gender-segregated people executed in basements. They showed a large batch of dead men, (civilian, fighters, or a mix, unclear) "found" murdered inside a mosque that rebels were using as a base, after they clearly brought the bodies there on blankets.

The Western world of course bought the rebel version as "“an atrocity of a new scale" by the "Assad regime."

This is just the kind of thing we might expect to see in Falluja and other areas held by Daesh, in Iraq and Syria, as they loose their grip there. Consider their reported threat recently to kill anyone who tried to flee nearby Ramadi. The state and Shia militias for their part want all civilians out before they really attack, but Daesh wants the people there, as human shields or hostages, or simple props. Falluja will be the same way. If the occupiers ever decide to leave, that will be their last chance to use those props the usual way - to demonize their enemies and fan the flames of yet more sectarian conflict towards its apocalyptic end.

However, a flurry of misdirection has left the public ready to absolve Daesh if they try for anything like the Daraya scenario, and to blame Iraq's equivalent of the reviled "Shabiha.".

Whose Fake, and Whose Carte Blanche?
The contested ISIS orders purport to be genuine, and might well look that way on first pass, but the contrary clues in the header and the text should have been noticed almost as quickly by any real analyst. Yet, one is to believe, they were missed and the US was caught unwittingly passing on a fake document. If it was handed in, I'm not buying the acceptance was unwitting.

Then it's possible the US, some agency or ally, faked it themselves and goofed up. But I also doubt that, and suspect the errors were on purpose, to let the public and experts expose the military fraud... That's one way to sow an idea, while letting people think they're forming it themselves.

At Moon of Alabama, "b" didn't suggest where the document originated, but emphasized the US military circulating it as credible, and pointing out how this was helping Daesh boost its image.
This, in effect, will make the Islamic State look better than it is. ... One would think that the behavior the Islamic State displays in its own propaganda videos is argument enough to condemn it. By using obviously fake IS documents to condemn the Islamic State the U.S. military creates the opposite effect. That the U.S. needs fake evidence to let the Islamic State look bad actually makes it look better than it is. This not only in the eyes of its followers.
This is true, but the flip side is perhaps more troubling - it makes ISIS' enemies look exceedingly bad, roughly Daesh-grade evil. It also makes them look like stupid bunglers. As I first put it in a comment there: "This is a spooky move. Who faked this doc and why? The implication seems clear to me - we're supposed to presume IAF/Shia militias faked this, presumably to explain the massacres they have planned, and just goofed up with an "obvious" fake. ... ISIS will feel emboldened to go ahead and committ [sic] false-flag massacres on their way out, now that the blame is "obvious." More stabbing Iraq in the back, whoever drafted it."

The same implication seems to be coming through. One response to Warren's tweet: "No, these documents are fake. More U.S. military propaganda to cover up murderous abuses against Sunnis by #Iraq's Shiite militias." That comment got 24 retweets 27 likes before I saw it, so it's a widespread feeling.

There have long been allegations of sectarian Shi'ite death squads in Iraq from 2003 and forward, who do terrible things to Sunnis and sometimes their own, with the blamed groups denying the claims but Western media and most observers accepting them. These stories are easily accepted by anti-imperialist thinkers as these militias are supposedly backed by the United States to keep down Iraq's Sunnis. I'm not an expert in the area, but skeptical of all of it, after seeing what national forces, Sect-based or not, have been framed for in Syria while fighting the same kind of deceptive Sunni extremists (the mythical "Shabiha" massacres, etc.) I know less about Iraq with a higher percentage of Shia more linked to Iran, so it's entirely possible some or many of these crimes are real. But still I remain skeptical until I've looked closer.

The suggestion here is these same type of militias faked this pamphlet, duped the Americans with it, and now should pay a price for that. Because the allegation is heavy, even if it's leaped to lightly; they plan to commit the horrible crimes listed above, on a sectarian basis, and really felt this time the media would believe them and not the Sunni accusers they've believed before. And then, they tried for this with the easily-exposed fake we see.

Guess what? That's another suggestion I'm not buying.
Here are the 6 main possibilities for this scrap of paper:
1) Iraqi forces fake to explain massacres they intend to carry out and blame Daesh, but goofed up
2) Iraqi fake to explain false-flag Daesh massacres they suspect will happen, but goofed up
3) Somehow a real Islamic State document, despite apparent discrepancies
4) A real ISIS document made poorly to suggest option 1 and discredit IAF and/or explain their own planned crimes
5) US/CIA/allied fake to simply make Daesh look bad, but goofed up
6) US/CIA/allied fake to suggest option 1 and discredit IAF and/or help cover for predicted Daesh crimes, and/or to help sow the emerging narrative of "our problematic Shi'ite allies," to provide the moral pretext to turn on them once their usefulness is outlived.

That last option has no obvious motive to most people, but there often seems to be a pattern of the U.S. and its allies subverting Iraq as it becomes aligned with Iran and/or Syria, pretending to help but stabbing them in the back, bombing their forces and Iranian allies a suspicious number of times, etc. Note the Western powers decided to throw Iraq and Syria both under the bus as they watched their own allies build the ISIS menace (see here, 2012 DIA documents). And the West blamed supposed anti-Sunni policies in both countries for spawning the problem, as they set to take advantage by carving territory from both countries (it's an open policy that if Daesh takes land, the dictator in Damascus doesn't get it back, and the Iranian pawns in Baghdad might permanently lose their land too, for an envisioned new Sunni state, sort of a Turkish-Saudi-sponsored Israel for them....).

Anyway, here's what Washington's experts say about the implicated Shia fighters, who are to some minds detestable US proxies (Business Insider):
Michael Pregent, a former US Army intelligence officer who served as an embedded military adviser in Iraq, told Business Insider that he thought the document could be a Shia militia forgery.
Phillip Smyth, a researcher at the University of Maryland who is a leading expert on Shia militias, also told Business Insider he had doubts about the document's authenticity. "Essentially, [the pamphlet] gives a sort of carte blanche for sectarian Shia militias to continue engaging in vicious activities and also gives cover to Iran's activities with those groups in Iraq (given they back a large number of the groups participating in the Fallujah offensive)," Smyth said.

Now back to the first claims by col. Warren, “Clearly, this isn't the behavior of a legitimate government or of a legitimate military force, it's the behavior of thugs, it's the behavior of killers and it's the behavior of terrorists." (The Hill) Well, the reading now - which he probably predicted - is the document shows the real, planned behavior of Iraqi armed forces. They think like thugs, not like a legitimate government. That's a problem to come back to, huh?

Warren said the order was aimed to discredit the Iraqi security forces and its national government, and that part is probably true. So who decided on that? Was it really just genocidal Shi'ite goof-ups? 

Thursday, December 24, 2015

December 20 "Russian Airstrikes" in Idlib

 December 24, 2015
(incomplete, in progress)
last edits Dec. 26

Basic Reports:
On December 20, 2015, it was reported at least 73 civilians were killed in Russian air force attacks on Islamist-held Idlib city. It's said strikes hit a courthouse, a girls' school, a public marketplace, government buildings, and residential areas, injuring at least 150 and killing at least 73, 43 of who had been identified. (Worldbulletin)
As many as nine airstrikes struck the rebel-held city of Idlib on Sunday morning, killing at least 36 civilians and insurgents, said Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The warplanes hit a courthouse and an intelligence building used by opposition groups in the area, said Abdurrahman, whose monitoring group relies on activists inside Syria. (Washington Post)
Russian Denial?
Government buildings and even a courthouse might contain legitimate targets, but also of course civilian workers, etc. The other alleged targets are all civilian. It's pointed out this violates a cease-fire Russia agreed to just a few days earlier. Clearly, Russian sources will be denying this, one presumes.

However, the fairly reliable Al-Masdar News reported the next day ostensibly pro-Russian sources inside Syria claimed Russia did bomb the courthouse and other areas, killing dozens of people, just not civilians.
According to a military source in the Hama Governorate, the Russian Air Force’s fighter jets repeatedly struck the large building where the Shariah Courts were located; this resulted in the death of several militants from the Syrian Al-Qaeda group “Jabhat Al-Nusra, Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham, and Jund Al-Aqsa (also affiliated with Al-Qaeda)
As a result of these airstrikes, social media activists from the Muslim Brotherhood attempted to depict the Russian air raid as an attack on civilians; however, the Al-Masdar News staff tracked the location of the attack and researched the targeted sites.
The report also says a former Air Force intelligence building was destroyed, killing only militants, and one "White Helmet" worker "known for working with Jabhat Al-Nusra and Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham during their executions" was killed. But they deny any hitting of civilian targets like the marketplace or residential areas.

This is a dubious claim. One can see (in one of the videos) a lawyer in suit and tie and a bleeding woman stumbling out of the wreckage. Both are possibly staged, but if so it's quite believable, because ... it's a courthouse, dummy. Sharia court, yes, but they might still wear ties.

--Official denial goes here --
"...Elsewhere in Syria, the toll from deadly strikes likely conducted by Russian warplanes in Idlib province on Sunday rose to 58 people, mostly fighters. The toll did include six Islamic court judges from the Ahrar al-Sham hardline group, which is allied with Al-Qaeda's Syrian branch." (AFP, probably citing SOHR,  Dec. 23)

Lawyers? Defendants? Bailiffs? The other 15 people who were reported killed when it was 73+? Most of 58 is 30+, so at most 30 fighters, maybe 25 or les civilianss, to the 40+ once reported. The difference might be around 15 ... is that the tacked-on massacre, not so huge and now tacked back off? And otherwise it was fighters killed?

And still no news I see on a Russian denial or acceptance. 
Six to Nine impacts - or the contested ones anyway - might be worth mapping out from reported locations or if possible visually geolocated scenes from video and photos. I will try, and invite help. Somewhere, a list of videos needs to be made, and from there, a start on scene placement.

I did this almost single handedly for the August 16 Douma market attack that allegedly killed some 120 people, almost exclusively men. That had only 4 impacts, all eventually placed at the red dots below. As you can see, they form a perfect arc of attack showing the rockets responsible were fired from 800 meters south in this rebel-held area, not from any regime jet. 

That is, IF there are any disputed scenes they even show. If not, my guess is the extra strikes were just made up without even a fake attack, while the people were snuffed out as usual in a basement somewhere.

AND note that not all false-flag attacks will be as clear and easy to read as that one. More variation in firing angles, or two or more firing locations could easily complicate the picture. And so far it seems they've given us far less to work with visually than they did in August.

Victim Records:
I've checked the opposition VDC's martyrs database, and they seem to reflect most, but not all, of this attack. Idlib residents, killed by "warplane shelling" Dec. 20, 2015 = 46, all civilian (reports said insurgents were killed as well.) 44 specify "Russia" in the notes, "23 have note due to the Russian air forces shelling" , all one strike or not unclear. Breakdown: standard. 41 men, 3 women, 1 boy, 1 girl, mostly from Idlib city but some other towns as well. 2 Qassem men and 2 Eisheh/Eisha men all from Darkoush are included. Otherwise the names are pretty mixed.  

Others = a man named Homsi (means from Homs) from Homs, and a Bakour from Hama died in Idlib from Russian shelling this day (martyrdom location search). There a couple of possible reasons why. So that's 46-48 listed. 11 men unidentified, 35-37 identified victims (reports said 43 identified, 30 not).

Delayed deaths from injuries: few if any recorded. Dec. 21=3, different areas - Dec. 22=4 and one specifies "Due to his wounds sustained by air forces shelling yesterday" (or day before?). So some of these might be included.  

The 3 women - one says "Due to air forces shelling of the court," another blames Russia and says "her body was extracted from the ruins of the court building." Those are the only 2 with court in the notes. The men and children and other woman are just unspecified that I see (I checked several).  

Victim Visual Notes:
Residents look for relatives among the bodies (they never find them, the bodies go unclaimed in mass graves about 100% of the time). There's a baby with a possible gunshot wound to the head at 0:14 (pointed out to me)- also,  same baby and man in morgue https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meQyKqU5g3w

A young boy and young girl, who don't appear to have been killed by shelling (intact bodies and clothes, no visible dust), are picked up from the top of a pile of rubble by "White Helmets." The "digging" takes a few seconds. What really killed them, and who put them on the pile? Is this the one girl and one boy VDC list, found together here with no one else? Or were there a couple more kids the VDC missed? There must be, with the baby as well... and the ... other baby. (oops, "Bidama, #Idlib" Dec. 22 - shady scene there)

Videos: seems a bit slim to do much mapping. Two strikes at least could be placed from what I see, but perhaps no others.
Orient News http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gP7Y_WQqTi8 "one of the airstrikes targeted al-Jalaa main street (?)" (area shown? an e-w street with long light from almost straight down it, afternoon, building hit is on north side. Says 5 strikes so far, 6th strike happens while filming, running distance - courthouse? Bigger building, people coming out. 

* Anadolu http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEkS6D3RG2A 6th strike shown

* Bilal Abdul Kareem http://www.facebook.com/bilal.a.kareem/videos/1724538214432808/  sixth site, people coming out.

* http://twitter.com/sakirkhader/status/679304936325292032 flattened building the kids were found on 
* Euronews (?) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFRlr-rfNbw
* SMART news(?)  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gwGFcrc_1tk

* http://twitter.com/sakirkhader/status/678586753318592512 Residents look for relatives among the bodies
* same baby and man in morgue https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=meQyKqU5g3w
* http://twitter.com/sakirkhader/status/679304936325292032 the kids found on the flattened building
* http://www.facebook.com/bilal.a.kareem/videos/1724538214432808/ shows tattered newborn, just born/killed in womb, out now anyway, broken head and covered in grit (will be pulled, copy saved)

Bilal Abu Kareem says the attacks happened (started?) approximately 10 am.  A tweet says "in the afternoon" Orient News, filmed in the PM, as 6th attack happened. 
Twitter search for Idlib, urgent ( إدلب عاجل )
- earliest Arabic tweet mentioning an air attack and no dead yet was this at 11:21 am local time. First projectile impact/blast was presumably just a bit before this.
- Orient site 1 images up by 1:13 pm local time (Twitter's +10 hours) https://twitter.com/2a2ef4320df6468/status/678518515171729409 - suggested: it's not the first one but #2 or later
- early death tolls of 7, 15, etc. appear in a realistic sequence. (24 confirmed dead by 1:09, 43 dead and 150 wounded by 2:40, etc.)
- Orient site 2 images: barely appear on Twitter. I see people climbing over rubble that seems consistent here, posted 2:54 local time.
- body display by 3:18 https://twitter.com/Abobakr33A/status/678550040357543936 

retaliation: https://twitter.com/markito0171/status/678620289304035330
#Syria Jaish al Fatah bombing #Kefraya & #Fuah after #Russia'n airstrikes on #Idlib city break the truce

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Latakia Massacres: The Hostages

Latakia Massacres: The Hostages
December 16, 2015
(last edits (major) Dec. 20)
minor correction 3/5/2017

Thanks to God, Finding Women and Children
Just after dawn on August 4, 2013, Turkish-backed Islamist rebels operating out of the town of Salma were suddenly in charge of several Alawi (Alawite) villages in the northern countryside of Latakia province. Most of the thousands of residents had managed to run away in time. But those taken by surprise, shot down while escaping, or unable to run were subject to the plans laid by the attackers.

The plans were, apparently, kill all of the men and spare the women and children, but as prisoners. That's genocide. Human Rights Watch didn't quite call it that, but called it war crimes and crimes against humanity, in their October, 2013 report (see HRW report for this and all HRW citations). HRW heard from “an opposition activist in Latakia (unnamed) who coordinates between and assists the armed opposition groups fighting there” who explained how, on (meaning by?) August 5, 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 executuion of elderly cleric Badreddin Ghazal after capture first raised alarm bells. But he was also a clear NDF/"Shabiha" militant, apparently there in connection with this (as an adviser, IIRC). And here they admit killing all men, militants and civilian, before or after capture. ("all armed" is probably not true, and just code for "the killing of all men was pre-approved" - men = possible fighters = "all armed.")

One terrorist captor was more nuanced: (see below): "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." He even says in some cases, Alawite parents actually killed their children before the rebels could get there and save them. They claim their amazing Sunni religion forbids the killing of children, women, or the elderly or infirm. They made a point of harassing an old Alawi man to make a video where they explain this - they're way better than the Alawite scum who kill everyone. McDonnel, LA Times:
“Don’t be afraid. We are not going to kill you or do you any harm,” a bearded rebel fighter who goes by the name Abu Firas tells an elderly Alawite man in one clip. “Do you know why? Because the prophet [Muhammad], peace be upon him, said, ‘Do not kill the elderly, a child or a woman.’ This is our religion. What about your religion?”
The pattern of killing largely follows this mandate, but HRW heard that of at least 205 people killed in the assault, at least 18 were children and 57 were women. And sometimes, those who were older, lower value, or just less mobile were just killed and left there. The disabled elderly woman shown at right is Shamieh Darwish, as HRW reported it, here in rebel care as a nice part of one of their videos. They showed her bedridden disabled son too. They did not show both of them being shot dead and buried in the backyard, as they wound up (this story is central to the HRW video accompanying their report, and hosted by report author Lama Fakih). These Islamists are more pragmatic about their religious values than they act.

Sometime in these first days, an opposition activist with the Islamist brigades in Latakia filmed at least 33 seconds (re-post, Aug. 13) of about a dozen women and children looking unhappy in the back of a rebel pickup truck, holding slender food wraps they barely nibble.  Notice how the bed of the truck was mostly washed out before this from its last bloody haul, perhaps dumping the very husbands, fathers, sons and grandfathers these prisoners already miss?

Jonathan Steele, reporting for The Guardian, heard from soldier Hassan how one rebels were overheard arranging a truck for "the girls." Hassan explained "Several were taken and raped, and have not been seen again." Those are not likely to be the same ones seen above. They could be the six HRW heard about from a NDF fighter -  "he and other pro-government fighters located the corpses of six women, stripped naked, on the roof of a home at the beginning of al-Hamboushieh village. He identified two of the women as the wives of Firas and Bassam Mariam."

Brutality in Captivity
Besides those killed immediately, and others who may have slipped without mention into darker places yet, over 200 women and children acknowledged as taken prisoner (in details below). All were held under demand which, of course, asks the question "or else what?" And that might point to a willingness to carry the massacre even further and  kill the captives just like they killed their men.

And at times it seems that "what if" was just a "whatever" thing to their Salafist captors. Consider entry 21 on HRW's list of identified hostages, presumably alive and being negotiated over in October: 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. That 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 it was 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. 

HRW's Lamah Fakih would later tell Syria Deeply a year after the abductions in August, 2014 "there have been some troubling reports saying others (of the initial captives) – we have the names of 17 – were executed immediately after their abduction." Who that includes on or off their list isn't clear, but it's newer information not reflected in their report. 

Earlier reports in 2014 had already mentioned such executions, if not a number. May 18, Shia Post
In interviews with Press TV, the released hostages recounted their ordeal during their captivity at hands of extremist kidnappers in Latakia. “When we were in Salma, they killed some of the people who were with us,” said Zeinab, a young girl among those freed, adding that the militants killed a boy from a nearby village as he tried to escape.
Al-Akhbar, May 8 
Oum Ali, the woman who was scouring the hospital asking about the fate of her six-year-old boy. Oum Ali asked the freed hostages one by one about her son. She persisted until one woman, a freed captive herself, gave her the shocking answer: “Your son was shot and killed by the fighters months ago.”

according to another freed child, the fighters gouged out the eyes of one of the abducted children who was not part of the deal. The child said, “After that, we knew nothing about him.” 

The Public Face
An August 18 L.A. Times report mentioned pro-government news reports "that more than 150 area civilians have been taken hostage," alongside an opposition spokesman who "said the civilians were being held to protect them (who?) from army shelling and would be released at some point in exchange for prisoners in government hands," unless perhaps their terms aren't met.

As Human Rights Watch found, in their October report, the total number of stolen women and children was alt least 225. On the 6th, the same activist told them, the prisoners were split up between the groups he worked with: the Islamic State (ISIS/Daesh), the Daesh-linked Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar (JMA), 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. (group details here). Later, it was narrowed to JMA (holding "about 105" or maybe exactly 106)  and ISIS (110-120).

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, and still rounded off.

The other "about 105" is from The woman speaking as seen in the semi-famous September 9 video -  considered here at ACLOS (still at right, JMA/ISIS flag). The woman holding a child and speaking, as covered as possible, is identified to HRW as Eleen Shakouhi from al-Hamboushieh. As translated by ACLOS and HRW, she names the villages they came from and says the treatment is "good" or "they treat us well." Her main message: "We demand the international community and the Syrian authorities to work to release us in exchange for the release of prisoners of Mujahideen." 

The masked man holding these hostages who also speaks in the video has been identified as local leader of JMA, Abu Suhaib al-Libee. He was also reported killed in the fighting, also reorted by HRW to have lived, after two medical stops in Turkey. But this guy is masked, it's not clear. He says they found these people, "put them in a good place and good health care ... and we treat them according to Islamic law and the Islamic religion... " He says they're "near Qardaha," implicitly in Latakia, but HRW heard more likely they were over in Idlib province.

Note: "about 105" vs. a Syrian official's allegations (albeit second-hand) that Fedaa Majzoub, an Australian Islamist member of the SNC, was "responsible" for the kidnapping of 106 Latakia hostages. This suggests he was working with JMA. He denies the claim, but admits to helping arrange the relocation" to Turkey of Armenian Christains following a 2014 rebel Latakia offensive... (see the Moderate Backdrop).

Gen. Milhem spoke on the 9th, and was still waiting for the list of demands from Daesh for their batch. 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. (this part needs more work.) (see below for the families and the prisoners themselves forced into little anti-Assad performances)

Later in September, HRW heard, "control over the hostage file was transferred to Ahrar al-Sham.” who are made to seem the good guys in this drama, and also more Syrian than the rest. It's worth noting Suqour al-Izz's leader was in charge of financing the operation, with Ahrar al-Sham's leader as a deputy. ISIS and JMA were hoping for payment to fund their operations, just then greatly expanding. And they probably got it direct, from this allied, "moderate," and well-funded group (rich donors in the Persian Gulf).

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 - there were a moderate number just missing, will see...).

The HRW report gives a long list of named hostages in their report. Pro-government sources also gave partial lists early on. See ACLOS page. 

The Record on Released/Escaped/Killed
Recalling there were about 225 known civilian hostages to start, let's cut back to before the start. As mentioned above, it seems to HRW (later, after the report) that 17 captives "were executed immediately after their abduction." That means before the 225 tally was assembled. So it raises the initial number taken to at least 242. And this is on top of the non-captured 205 found bodies (so death toll at least 222), with the 17 crossover members proving rebel willingness to execute their women and children captives as well.

But from the 225 tally in early September and onward, here is a partial record. A reported 54 captives including many children and fewer women, remained in rebel hands for at least 17 months and perhaps until now or until dead. Only 43 are clearly reported as being released one way or another in between. I seem to be missing part of the story, likely early on, or perhaps the fate of as many as `111 128 other acknowledged hostages was left unexplained. (2017 note: bad math for 111 - I subtracted that 17 (months) oops. It's 128 unaccounted for.)
  • September-March, 2015: no known news, but number of held has shrunk from 225 to 94. See thoughts below. 
  • March 12 video Al-Jazeera Arabic: مختطفات من الطائفة العلوية يناشدن إطلاقهن
    Desc. trans. "Posted factions in the Syrian opposition Pictures of the island L94 what she said was a child and a woman from the countryside of Latakia kidnapped in August / August last." A particular woman does all the talking (face uncovered, at center below, doesn't seem to be the same Eleen Shakouhi, but it's hard to be sure). Women shown in one area, children in another.
Steep cliff right behind the place, could be located if it mattered enough (check for all possible site matches around Salma, then further out, in Idlib, maybe in Turkey...).  
  • March 18 2014 Syrian Observer report mentions rescue operations (?): "The latest release operation was on March 14, when three women from the villages of Hambushiyeh, Barouda and Ballouta in the northern countryside of Latakia were set free."
  • March 19 al-Jazeera Arabic video (auto-trans) "Syrian opposition delivery of three hijackers Aloyat system" "Leaked Syrian opposition factions in the new images of what it said it three hijackers Aloyat delivery in the countryside of Latakia in the midst of the ongoing negotiations with the regime." The women are all elderly. Pro-government footage with the women in the hospital is used, not clear to me what they say. There's snow on the ground.
  • Syrian rebels claim Alawites' kidnapping Al Jazeera English, March 24, 2014 - story on the above March 12 video of 94 captives still held, exchange pending, 2,000 captives demanded in exchange  (video and still forthcoming)
  • Al-Akhbar May 8 40 released and speak of captivity. 15 released at time of report, 25 more expected, and apparently released.
Eleven children and four women were released through the checkpoint at the Kefraya village on the outskirts of Latakia. They were then taken to the National Hospital in the city for medical checkups.
...The ceasefire deal in the Old City of Homs includes the release of 40 civilians from the villages of Salanfa in the Latakia countryside, out of more than 95 kidnapped civilians, but not much has been revealed about the fate of the other hostages. Today, 25 civilians are expected to be released and moved out of the opposition-controlled eastern countryside of Latakia.
  • May 18 45 released (same 40 +5? or is this 85 total? or error? 94-40=54, which is the next number given) In interviews with Press TV, the released hostages recounted their ordeal during their captivity...
  • May 31 AJA video تسجيل جديد لمختطفات علويات في اللاذقية (auto-trans) New registration hijackers Aloyat in Lattakia "Broadcast takers kidnapped Alawites in Lattakia a new recording in which one of the hijackers said that's become fifty-four .. and one of the prisoners said that the abductors are demanding the launch of two thousand detainees held by the system release" Women and children shown together indoors, same woman does all the speaking (right of center below). Also includes extra footage from March, apparently, with women and children together.
new footage in May, 2014, stitched panorama
old footage from March, stitched panorama
    • Syria Deeply August 6, 2014 reprot - HRW hears no change, still 54:
    Human Rights Watch has reported that 54 women and children taken hostage by armed rebel groups in Alawite villages in rural Latakia are still being held, one year later.
    We know 40 of them were released this May, but there have been some troubling reports saying others – we have the names of 17 – were executed immediately after their abduction.
    Now we have [this new list] of individuals identifying themselves as being in the custody of the Muhajireen in the Latakia countryside. And there are unconfirmed reports that other hostages are being held in other locations.
    • August 24 video and September 2, 2014 article (all4syria.info) (Arabic) auto-translated parts: HRW calls for the release of 54 remaining captive, 20 women and 34 children (defined as under age 14). A "developmental interaction network" seemed to heed the call and paid a visit to the captives.  "At the end of the investigation conducted by the network correspondent with the hijackers will be published Video the interview with the young Rowan, which insisted on appearing on the camera screen to talk about the suffering and confirmed in this interview that they were fine and had her words directed to Human Rights Watch, called on the younger her release, and with her and he did not income In this battle as they carried the responsibility of Bashar al-Assad to stop the process of negotiations that will lead to her release with the rest of her companions, ..." 
    • The video, again August 24 (translated) interview with young Rowan was Uploaded on Aug 27, 2014 by salomar alomar, listed as category: comedy (meaning what?)  "Developmental Interaction Network" stamp. Still below. The girls are familiar. The one holds a sign I can make out in Arabic Bashar al-Assad, bottom line. A brief view of the one in English makes me think it says "to all the world: (the?) Bashar al-Assad (regime?) no longer cares about (us, Alawites, his own people)." See, in the right environment, they're capable of learning, interacting, developing. Still, the demands must be met, or else (still not specified)

    •  17 months after their capture, still 54 hostages. Arabic report, Jan. 31 (alsouriya.net), relates pro-rebel version of attack (no massacre, men were all off fighting, only 136 women and children were taken), says Assad refuses to get the people released, "because he does not see the importance according to his calculations" - 3 elderly women died before 3 others were released in March - 40 were released in May, 15 as a "down payment," then 25 others, plus 30 soldiers, in return for Islamist rebels bein allowed to escape from Old Homs. "The opposition fighters had acknowledged the survival of 85 abductees" (after the 3 women released? Others say 94)  Father "George monsters" (auto-translated), Advanced priests in the Diocese of the Roman Orthodox church, the Latakia governor, hostage families, and others were working on the release for at least 4 months, but "efforts were not fruitful under the regime" and their families were fed up. It's just like the girls' signs said - Assad doesn't care.
    • Al-Akhbar Feb. 15 2015 -
    •  Fifty-four civilians, women and children, have been held captive for 17 months by armed groups in the northern Latakia countryside. ... Each child then says his or her name: Dala’ Ayman Maryam, Ahmed Ayman Maryam, and Farah Ayman Maryam. The mother introduces the child she is carrying in her arms: Mohammed Ayman Maryam. She concludes: Today is December 6, 2014.
    • August 2, 2015 Arabic report (almodon.com) says after two years, the Alawites were fed up - the government was not doing its best, and didn't really care. They wanted to work with the militants, but official didn't want to cave to "terrorist" demands. And so Assad callously leaves 54 Alawites in good treatment in rebel hands for 2 years and running. What a callous prick. If they finally get killed, it's his fault.
    • Nothing newer I'm aware of. 
    • Unknown time:  the militants killed a boy from a nearby village as he tried to escape.
    Tally (may improve with more info, accepting comments if anyone knows of any)
    225 after 17+ killed, -3 rescued, ( ≠ 94 held in March) -(40-85) released ( ≠ 54 still held 17 months later)
    low total of subtractions: 60, + 54 remaining = 114 accounted for, 111 unclear.
    low total of subtractions: 105,  + 54 remaining = 159 accounted for, 66 unclear.

    So depending what we're missing here, as many as 66-111 people (or so) might remain a mystery. Most of them seem to have gone off the list, maybe in quiet paid release arrangements, in the long span between September and March. But it's quite possible some of these were peeled off from the acknowledged captives list for other reasons.

    Not Killed for Ghouta Attack
    Of course it raised many eyebrows how this horrific mass seizure of of humans occurred just two weeks before the alleged mass deaths by sarin in the August 21 Ghouta attack. The Latakia-Ghouta connection remains a major point of reference for a lot of people, based on claims in a report by ISTeams ("Mother Agnes" affiliated) claiming family members in Latakia recognized Ghouta child victims as their kidnapped relatives from Latakia. The suggestion is cross-country fakery; Latakia victims could hardly be trucked all the way to Damascus, so the videos were faked with them in or near northern Latakia.

    This is, in my opinion, just the kind of thing to keep an eye out for. However, No further details or independent verification ever came of the supposed identifcations. Some attempted visual guesses by third-party analysts have failed, in our assessment. 

    Different captive people, killed in the Ghouta area
    And we can fairly prove now how unlikely that scenario is. See ACLOS refutation and here this overview of death tolls including mine at the bottom: app. 420 visual minimum, probably 500+ victims (600-800 seems a good range). At least 420 of these are seen in various body displays reasonably placed in Ghouta. Some bodies are recycled in 2 or more scenes, but not counted twice. This is explained more in-depth in this Monitor post, pointing to Talk:Alleged Chemical Attack, August 21, 2013/Victims Analysis#ACLOS Visual Matches.

    How these are all placed in Ghouta:
    1) "WhiteMorgue" (said to be in Douma) contained 187 bodies min., maybe well over 200 at fullest
    2) This contains 2 bodies seen in Saqba, geo-located, so all WhiteMorgue victims must be not far away
    3) other large body arrays do not seem, so far, to feed into the WhiteMorge total and should be added.
    3a) Kafr Batna's set, SunMorgue: at least 85 bodies, Tuberculosis hospital geo-located 3b) Irbeen's hospital basement set, said to be 63 in number, visuals say 60-65 - had NBC News visit the site a week later, in Irbeen (filmed), and film it looking the same 3c) 78-88 reported in Moadamiyeh, many seen in unique images - not proven there but somewhere, unlikely to be recycled anywhere else 3d) some 30-ish unique photographed victims said to be buried in Ain Tarma, not proven there but somewhere.

    Besides that detailed visual analysis, this more basic review of news reports also helps refute the claim, testifying to many or all of the hostages surviving well past the Ghouta incident, being freed or still held months later. 

    As we noted at the time, rebels were on a general capture frenzy in those days, and no one has yet looked into the possibility these were Kurdish civilians taken in the hundreds in Aleppo province shortly before. But like the Latakia Alawi, these should have been held far in the north of Syria. One possible hostage raid that's closer was in a Christian village in southeastern Homs province (slightly far), perhaps attempted on August 15, but foiled. Other seizures perhaps remained unknown, and closer to Damascus, maybe further back in time, or simply done in secret and not reported. These would be much smarter places to get the required x-hundred bodies to toss across that "red line."

    Wherever they were from, the clues are strong that the Ghouta victims were mostly or all people rebels held captive before they died from a variety of chemical extermination methods, mostly it seems in basements.

    Saturday, December 12, 2015

    Coalition Air Attack on the Saeqa Army Base

    December 12, 2015
    last edits Dec. 20

    Aircraft of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition almost certainly did deliberately attack the Saeqa military camp near Deir Ezzour the  night of December 6, killing four Syrian army soldiers and wounding 13 others. 

    This is probably why the coalition knew they could/had to deny it immediately, unlike a subsequent claim of civilians killed in another strike in Hasakeh. That one, maybe - they were bombing in the area. But Saeqa, no way. Their operations in that area and that time only hit ISIS targets and were 55 kilometers (35 miles) away from the base, to its southeast. It's a day's walk at least, and takes way longer if you're dragging a fighter jet. How on EARTH could they be here and also get over there in the same night?

    No, that's not all - they have other evidence: a radar track of a Russian "backfire bomber" that passed by the same place and time and hit that base, presumably on accident. Well, it's been repeated by everyone, with suspended disbelief, but they can only cite one or two anonymous officials so far speaking of this from knowledge. The claim may solidify with confirmation by other, named people. Or it might still melt away into a complicated accident story. But so far, the US is clear it was not them or anyone allied.

    I still haven't read everything available or studied any videos, and there will be plenty of new information coming anyway - but I got a sort of incoherent start (rough week) at the talk page for the ACLOS page Airstrike on Saeqa military camp near Deir ez-Zor Here, I'll share a quick copy of main points and the mapping. Sources etc. soon. We can see why this non-coalition explanation is not going to stick.

    The Significance of this Area
    Saeqa base is (apparently) the northern base shown here in orange, just outside Ayash. The pink-shaded area here is government-held, with the gray ISIS/Daesh-held. Blue = oil fields. Ignore the goof up at the bottom.

    Note just this one oil field (el-Mashash, see below) is still government-held. For many miles on all sides and miles on the other side of the nearby Iraq border, is Daesh gray.

    See overall situation map, small form - the pink spot right of center. This is the last little island of  "regime control" - outer Deir Ezzor, Ayash, and a small swathe of land including two army bases and the one government-held oil field in the whole region.  the last slight roadblock speedbump between Mosul and Raqah. This is Syria holding on by its fingers to its last and shrinking island in a sea of Deashbags. Someone with jets stomped on those fingers.
    Below is the area in detail.
    Daesh forces just 2 km away in fact took advantage of the attack to attack the base themselves, but this was "repelled," for the moment.They still plan to overrun it and everything else here. More attacks like the one on December 6 could really help them out.

    As Damascus worded it in their official letter of complaint, "This hampers efforts to combat terrorism and proves once again that this coalition lacks seriousness and credibility to effectively fight terrorism."

    Who has a potential, logical motive to remove more territory from Syria's government control and balkanize the place, and has openly lobbied for just that? The US-led coalition side is the one with a strong possible motive to hit this base, obviously. That's why Russia's doing it must've been a mistake. They have zero motive. 
    Mapping Syria's Story
    From the soldiers at the base up to Damascus and the Kremlin, so far ... it seems like this is what they're saying happened (subject to revision):

    4 US-led coalition jets flew north from the Bukamal area at the Iraq border (after flying from or through Iraq?). Two of them behaved like the US says its acknowledged jets acted  - they hit targets about 55 km southeast of Ayash, which is all ISIS turf. (no US details on flight directions yet to compare)

    The other two - nationality to be announced, but coalition member state(s) - peeled off a bit to the west and blasted the Saeqa base. 

    Sources say the attackers then flew north and hit target (of no mentioned interest) in Daesh-held Shadadi. 

    Here's how that maps out compared to US claims. This is how they deny the area. 55 km southeast, it seems, is just a bit further back on the attack flight path. 

    They MAY still officially deny this by saying it was the Russians who snuck in between them all and launched this goof-up. But they may well admit this too merits investigation. Then they would investigate it for a long time.

    An Hour Earlier?
    They also deny it by time, and that also fails. An anonymous official told US News how a dozen Russian bombers flew in from Russia, on an unusual route via Iran and Iraq, and secretly bombed Bukamal and Deir Ezzour. This was all seen on radar. "One senior official said the Russian aircraft were in the air around 9 p.m. Sunday near the city of Deir el-Zour, whereas the coalition aircraft were flying an hour earlier about 55 kilometers away."

    The time zone this is rendered in isn't certain; local time (GMT +2) is usually given, but they may be using Iraq time (GMT +3), meaning 8 pm in Syria. It's either this or there's disagreement when the attack happened. The officials say "one of the TU-22s made a pass over the area of the army camp within one minute of the explosion that killed the Syrian troops" at around 9. But the Syrians always said the attacks was shortly before 8 pm, give or take ("according to the Syrian General Staff ... between 19:40 and 19:55 local time (+2 hours GMT)." - RT).

    So did it happen about the same time coalition jets were said to be there, making that acknowledged strike on about the same path witnesses describe? If so, the coalition confirms their presence in the location and time to be the attackers, and their alleged Russians got there too late to fit the bill. Otherwise, he's using the wrong time zone and confusing things, while claiming to have done its local strikes at around 7pm local. We shall see if anyone bothers sorting that out.

    Coordinated with ISIS?
    Syrian Perspective passes on a unique story where ISIS was already attacking the Saeqa base and called in support strikes to Turkey, who called them into the coalition. There's enough logic to that it's possible, bit I doubt it. More likely, they just took advantage. I'm curious though if they were extra-prepared at the moment.

    No News, My Guess
    Added December 20: It's now been almost 2 weeks since the event, and over 10 days since the last word from either side. That was by Russia. They said on the 9th (MoD statement, via Facebook) "As soon as the Syrian officials publish the results of the incident investigation and munition inspection, the Russian Defence Ministry is to get information about the aircraft, which performed the airstrike on the Syrian troops."

    They and everyone knew it seemed to be a coalition attack, maybe just by its flight path from and maybe back into Iraq. However, the coalition blaming Russia says the Russian attackers flew in through Iraq, so that's their explanation for that.

    And only one side has specified a model of aircraft; the coalition says the Russians used a TU-22, long-range "backfire bomber" (jet-style bomber), and had about a dozen of them in the group.

    Both sides claim good evidence against the other, but neither has come out with any more of it. My guess is this: the Syrians and Russians finished the munition inspection are are now stumped over how to break the news that it was apparently a Russian-made jet that hit the base. Now they're left with proposing a "conspiracy theory" that the coalition somehow (Kiev?) acquired a TU-22 or a few of them (probably not a dozen), and used that to implicate Russia.

    And that can't be done on accident, but as part of a deliberate plan to stomp on Syria's fingers in this delicate location - and blame Russia for it (with Iranian and Iraqi airspace complicity at least built into the story).

    But the alternative the coalition offers makes virtually no real-world sense. So, if my hunch is true, Moscow and Damascus should come on out with it. And maybe they will, but they want a well-assembled case first. Will it be more days? Weeks? Months? Decades/forever?

    Base Location
    A stitched panoramic view from attack site video shows the place has trees. the most common indicated area doesn't seem to have any. Syrian Perspective's map here points to "Camel Corps" base almost in Ayash, and there are trees. Another map I found on Twitter points to army storage next to that, also maybe consistent. (anyone trying, this is most likely a morning shot, so the gate is south of the camera, and remember panoramic views "bend" the scene, so don't take visible angles too literally) (also, it's quite possible two or more areas were hit.)

    We'll probably have an exact geolocation someday. But all sources agree it was somewhere in that pink, well-known pocket of government control, so exactly where doesn't matter so much except for pinning down finer points of the story (we may or may not get that far).