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, June 14, 2015

Comparing Terrorist Victory Massacres in Syria

ISIS Commits Them, While Al Qaeda Just Finds Them?
June 10, 2015
(last edits June 15)

Some Islamist Conquests Are Good
Short intro: we all know who Jabhat al-Nusra are (JaN - al Qaeda in Iraq, formally) and Deash (my preferred term for ISIS, Islamic State, ISIL - disowned by al-Qaeda for being too extreme and violent). My basic theory, or observation, is that there's a good-cop-bad-cop dynamic between the two groups. It's occurred to me whoever backed the creation of al-Nusra also moved to give rise to Daesh, mostly to create a false dynamic whereby JaN come out looking like an acceptable force to supplement the non-existent Free Syrian Army.
It would have sounded crazy years back to suggest militarily backing Al Qaeda to "liberate" cities full of people, including non-Sunnis they may just kill. But now, as an alternative to both the hyper-demonized "Assad regime" and ... well, Daesh, now that their insane asses exist all over the place - there are definite moves underway to ease the global public into the idea. Persian Gulf Arab tyrant media is leading the way in this, little surprise.

In that light, let's look at the semi-recent "blows to the Assad regime" where the government has now lost control of more than 50% of Syria's territory (most of that empty desert, but...) These losses in the northwest and east have both groups - the al Qaeda good cop and their bad-cop rivals - scoring unprecedented victories at the same time. April-May conquests led by Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamist allies took out the regional capitol of Idlib, nearby Jisr al-Shughour, then Ariha, etc. in Syria's north. May-June conquests led by Daesh took Ramadi in Iraq, the last Syria crossing, and in Syria they conquered Palmyra and the Syria's best oil fields. Then they made some advances in the north as well (in Hasakka and Aleppo provinces.
This twin  surge, while suggesting cooperation between the groups despite their public distancing, and perhaps coordination between both and players in the anti-Syria coalition (in Turkey, especially). It also gives an unusual chance to compare how each group is treated in its victories by the media, by governments, and by "Human Rights" and "activist" groups.
For example, the capture of Idlib by the Jan-led Islamist faction was welcomed by the Turkish-based Syrian National Coalition as "an important victory on the road to the full liberation of Syrian territory". (AFP via Yahoo News) They did not issue such a statement when universally-vilified Daesh took over Palmyra. I mean, who would? It's a blow to "Assad" and surely caused a glow in the belly of those seeking regime change. But publicly, you can say nothing good, or nothing. Deash just slaughter people, kidnap, brutalize, and repress, when they take over.
The al-Qaeda group on the other hand ... liberates. Oh, and they also find lots of massacres wherever they go, but other people are doing that.
This is of course a familiar pattern to readers of this blog. In Libya, 2011, there were terrorist victory massacres in Tripoli and in Sirte for example. Every important liberated city gets at least one, and usually we're told that fleeing bad guys did it, not the Islamist "liberators" our governments supported. People who try to flee in their cars fare poorly - in Tripoli we saw reports that fleeing loyalists were killing people for their cars, to drive away in. As proof, we saw executed people, mostly Black-skinned men - next to abandoned cars, with clothes and bedding in the trunks, all over downtown (see here).
Consider then in Idlib, Syria, 2015 - "Martyrdom of a number of people most of them from one family due to regime's air forces' shelling targeted the car they was in on Darkoush road" (heading north out of Jisr al Shughour). That's a note shared by 5 entries out of 54 Idlib civilians killed April 26 per the opposition Violation Documentation Center, every one of them killed by punitive regime shelling, not by the occupying Islamists. Because al-Nusra and its coalition is necessary, anyone who reported on this in the mainstream media (if they had) would have to repeat that basic version, as they did in Tripoli.
Daesh Makes Massacres
Following the Islamic State/IS(IL)(IS)/Daesh offensives in May, taking most of the span between Baghdad and Damascus, they were accused of massacres in both countries. I haven't read into it much but the Independent shares reports of massacres in Ramadi, Iraq. Following the takeover of Palmyra, Syria, there were credited reports of 600 soldiers held captive and likely to die summarily, after 150 were killed in fighting or immediate executions. At least 20 were soon shot dead in the ancient theater (SOHR May 27), but Daesh promised not to destroy any ruins that were not specifically un-Islamic, as many had worried. At least 64 civilians were reportedly executed for collaborating with the un-Islamic regime, with nine civilian-dress fighters seen killed in the street, at least 4 of them beheaded right there. (see here for my collected sources on that, here for the photo of the beheaded guys it's not needed here)
This is undeniably horrible. And for context, Palmyra, aka Tadmur, is an area with about 70,000 inhabitants at the time, half of them displaced people from other overrun areas. The majority of them never were evacuated (for lack of anywhere to put them?) and now live under Daesh administration. This is not good, but helping the government regain control is unacceptable to the US-led anti-ISIS coalition - they will only help kick out Islamic State once they have a rebel alternative.

No one denies the post-victory violence there is the punishment meted out on locals by the victorious terrorists. Islamic State victory massacres are a brutal but banal reality, in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and wherever. To my knowledge, Daesh never tried to blame anyone else for these first killings. If they had, it's debatable what reception that would get - blaming the conquerors here would make the most sense, but reports that blame fleeing loyalists are also tempting, as we shall see below.

Al-Nusra and Allies Just Find Massacres
With the "pragmatic" terrorist group called on to help create such rebel alternatives - Jabhat al-Nusra - massacre do occur at victory time. But to read the media reports someone else is doing it, as it was in Libya, and it makes the rebels sad.
For context, the areas recently "liberated" in Idlib contain a much, much bigger number of people than the Palmyra area. Whatever difference there is in post-conquest life, the scale of things makes the plight of Idlib province worth an even more careful and worried look.
And consider this: if JaN and Daesh wanted to appear more separate than ever, one might amp up their famous beheadings while JaN continues on their course of never (that I know of) getting caught beheading someone. See? Good cop. So far I've seen no evidence that JaN lobbed off anyone's head in its Idlib offensives. See below how much that matters to judging what has happened.

Idlib, March 28
This is the day the victorious Islamists finally walked into the provincial capitol's central square as new owners, finally battering the loyal SAA into a retreat from the nearest posts.   
AFP March 29 via Yahoo News: Syria regime executed prisoners before Idlib fall: monitor: Al-Nusra released a video of their fighters fist "discovering" nine bodies in "a prison in Idlib" they had clearly overrun. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) - which also reported on the crimes in Palmyra and had these to compare - along with unspecified other sources told AFP nine prisoners were killed. Only later the terrorists located another 6, underlining their lack of prior knowledge of these killings. Sadly, "the number of bodies found in a military intelligence detention facility in Idlib city has risen to 15," SOHR director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP. The dead were "believed to be prisoners executed by regime forces before they withdrew from the city."

The Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria (VDC) has a "martyrs" database a category including civilians or rebels that fails to support this: it shows 27 martyrs, - This time, they're all non-civilians, fighters killed in fighting. So where do 15 or so executed people in a military facility fit in?  VDC  "regime fatalities" database shows 14 regime fighters died in Idlib March 28 by regular "shooting" as usual, not execution. But maybe the number similarity is really no coincidence.

By the way, VDC's "regime fatalities" list contains days like this two days later - a massacre of over 60 civilians including women (and maybe children, but not listed that way) by ISIS/Daesh in Hama, listed as status: regime's army, rank: civilian.

Jisr al-Shughour Hospital, April 25
Within weeks the rebels were overrunning the next major loyalist-held city Jisr al-Shughour, and again found people unfortunately killed before they could be liberated. AFP report (via Daily Star)  (via Arab News)

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said military intelligence forces executed the prisoners ... “Military intelligence members executed 23 prisoners before their withdrawal from the area of the National Hospital in the southwest of Jisr Al-Shughur,” the Observatory said. said the prisoners were being held in a makeshift facility near the main hospital building"
Alleged massacre by fleeing Assad loyalists,
just found by Jabhat al-Nusra
A report from Alasema, auto-translated, says "reporter Latakia's al-Nusra front" just "discovered" a massacre, "carried out by the regime forces against detainees ... within the prison next to the "National hospital" in jisr al-shughour." It notes they were shot and piled on each other, sharing the photo at left, "in a scene that had become a recurring theme with each defeat received by the system." Rebels obviously overran parts of the hospital, if they were able to find a massacre there - but "system" defenders were still pinned down in different parts of the hospital, some with family, and putting up stiff resistance - many finally escaped in late May but more never did.

Robert Fisk reports on this in the Independent, June 6, with previously unknown detail, from soldiers who made it out - the fighters had massive numbers, well-equipped with night vision goggles and other gear superior to theirs, believed to have crossed over supplied from nearby Turkey. They attacked with suicide bombers, mortars and rockets, and snipers that killed a teacher and her 10-year-old son (but her daughter was gotten out safely, they say) JaN and allies casually executed the wounded they found, as they conquered on part of hospital complex after another.

And in one of these areas, the takfiri terrorists found a massacre site in some "makeshift facility" that was "near the main hospital building" - maybe because that was the best den of evil they could come up with while pinned down by murderous Islamist hordes?  And then they "withdrw" where? Some of those at the hospital were forced to just retreat deeper into the hospital, probably leaving some stranded behind on occasion. Digging in for more people to kill and leave?

This went on all through May up to the 21st, with less and less walls remaining. An Army-assisted breakout plan was moving too slow given the tunnel rebels were digging beneath the hospital to blow it up from below. So those remaining made a mad dash out on the morning of May 22, many shot as they ran but many making it out. Fisk reports
Well over a hundred civilians and an unknown number of soldiers, it appears, never made it past the initial breakout. Many are thought to have been taken prisoner and there are persistent and credible rumours than the soldiers among them were executed. The civilian hospital had a military wing with medical staff serving army patients – perhaps 28 in all – and few appeared to have escaped.
All in all, it was a grim episode; one military source told Fisk he estimated only 175 people reached safety, out of the 450 to 500 once in the hospital. That's perhaps 300 people missing, mostly captive or killed.
And yet, when presented with a roomful of executed men, people believe al Qaeda's spin. UPI noted their branding that people bought:“A massacre carried out by the Nusayri army near the National Hospital before their withdrawal from the city of Jisr Al-Shughur,” the caption to the picture read, using a derogatory term for the Alawite sect to which President Bashar Assad belongs."

"Al Qaeda finds bodies, blames someone else" doesn't have the best ring to it as a headline. Luckily for them, the esteemed SOHR reported ... the same thing. News reports herald "rights group" accuses the fleeing losers for whatever happened.
In a similar vein, Idlib Civil Defense (aka White Helmets) published the inset photo of the mass-grave burial of dead men - either these,some of those covered next, or more yet - who were like all of them "Executed in cold blood by Assad gangs before leaving Jisr al-Shughour" per this associated Twitter user.

Somaa Square Massacre?
Syrian Observer, April 27, for example, cites state media reports so:
Terrorists massacred dozens of civilians on Sunday in the city of Jisr al-Shughour, northern Idleb province. A military source estimated the number of people killed at over 30, saying the majority of those were children and women. ... The killings, which took place in a square in the middle of Jisr al-Shughour, were carried out in retaliation against the locals for their support of army units fighting terrorist groups in the city.
UPI also reports April 27 "The militants executed 30 people early Sunday, mostly civilians, according to Syrian state news." But they also cite the SOHR saying regime thugs killed 23 detainees, as covered above, and  (also) on Saturday (the 25th), they heard, "10 people were killed by an airstrike in the center of Jisr al-Shughour, according to SOHR." That's 23+10=33 to Syria's 30+ estimated killed in a singular massacre in the town square.

Did the state media sources just get it wrong mixing an airport-area massacre with a downtown incident killing 10, and put them all downtown, in a simple error? The opposition VDC's martyrs database had, when I checked it, a list of civilians of a few families killed by "warplane shelling." The note "Unidentified been identified, due to the shelling of Somaa square" is shared by 29 entries - all men. The rebel story gives no reason only men would be in the houses near the square that were shelled. These could be an unlucky group of rebel fighters actually bombed, civilians actually bombed, or gender-segregated captives executed and laundered.

There is one unusual entry, "23 Unidentified," an adult male standing in for 22 others not listed, being those found at the hospital (Notes: "The execution of a group of detainees by the forces of regime within the military security prison before their withdrawal from the region." - see above).  He's the only one killed by field execution.

So the VDC sort-of has 23 massacred at the hospital, and 29 men killed by bombing in the square, to Syria's 30+ massacred at the square - mostly women and children. And to SOHR's 10 killed by shelling of the square, not massacre, and no age or gender specified, besides the 23 just found at the besieged airport.
Some Nusra-Turf Massacres Apparently Don't Exist
Captured soldier, right, moments before being gunned down.
video taken somewhere in Idlib on or before April 28 shows Islamist rebels in this coalition (exact group unsure but seems to include North Africans) execute a wounded and surrendered soldier as soon as he tells them he's Alawite, not Sunni - they instantly shoot him down and cry Allahu Akbar, and then one shouts "I swear to God we will behead them one by one, every single one," but he turns to walk away, leaving this one's head on. That's just tough talk - these are the non-ISIS pragmatic rebels. They have a program to carry out.

Note: that he's Alawi is clearly the only information they needed to make that quick a decision to simply kill. Everyone in the group already knew that, and nothing here challenged their adherence to this policy. They say it doesn't allow them to kill women or children, but there are less wasteful wayts to deal with both of those anyway, once you've shaken them loose from their male defenders. There's a long history of literature and practice in this area for Islamist fighters to call on.

Then there was the Ishtabraq Massacre - or possibly two of them. This is potentially enormous. The details are still coming together, this post took a long time to get together, so see that link for details as they are. But quickly - it's an Alawite village, overrun at the same time as neighboring Jisr al-Shughour, on April 25. Many civilians were massacred, many left laying in the fields were they were gunned down trying to flee, with some 200 known to be captured, and about the same number killed or missing. The non-ISIS Islamist rebels backed by Turkey and the USA emptied the town. It's ethnic cleansing. Survivors say they bombarded Ishtebraq with a choking gas before they came in. They blew up a shrine. They probably are marrying the captive women back and forth, maybe 'til the present day.

The things Islamic liberators just find...

The Sunni army of conquest also just found these Alawite children in the fields, they say, "abandoned" by their questionably-human Alawite parents. But now JaN would remove them from all danger from fighting, Assad, their parents, heresy. (April 29 - my source, Facebook - note shared stamp with find photo above)  Look how happy they are on this day of their abandonment and re-adoption. That can't be insincere, can it? After all, it's not like they're heretics abducted by Daesh. (In fact, these may be a select few whose parents weren't even murdered or vanished into sex slavery, and may even have been released and re-united later - there's a story of a woman and 5 kids released. It's the ones they don't show photos of and simply deny that we should be most worried about.)

Above: Zaher Jarad, since deceased, according to a Facebook post. This family name ( ﺟﺮﺍﺩ) is shared by 25 people missing from Ishtabraq in this early list of 85 - he's #40 - another source says 38 members were taken, killed, or missing. A list published in June shows 173 people missing or dead (plus 5 who were abducted but later released). This shows 36 confirmed martyrs, including Zaher Jawdat Jarad, age 38 martyr, Slaughtered (  شهيد ذبحاً ) - the only one described that way.

The SOHR's activist network did tell them by this April 29 report al Nusra and allies had taken some 200 civilian prisoners in Ishtabraq. The day before they reported it was only 100 soldiers and militiamen, but the report noted they took "dozens of soldiers in regime forces and NDF with their families." I scanned their Facebook page and website (English, not Arabic) for the relevant timespan. Aside from that doubling of the number, that seems to be all they heard or shared anyway - people were taken. But in case there's more from SOHR, now or later on, it will be covered here.

So the monitoring group heard about no such mass killing, and thus reported no such thing. And so the mainstream media had nothing to pick up on, and have failed to report this story. (try a Google News search for Ishtebraq. You'll see stories about a race horse. Tell it you did mean Ishtabraq, and

Here is what Syria's government told the UN about it, via its ambassador Bashar al-Jafaari, in part. Writing on April 28, they put this massacre on April 26 ("two days ago" or if Al-Arabiya's report is right, they sent it on the 27th and the events on the 25th).
Armed terrorist groups including the Nusrah Front, which is armed and trained by the Turkish Government, committed a massacre two days ago in the town of Ishtabraq, in the countryside of Jisr al-Shughur. The terrorists killed some two hundred civilians, most of them women and children. The bodies were dumped in the fields, in the open. These events are a testament to the savagery not only of the terrorist Nusrah Front, but also of the Turkish, Saudi Arabian and Qatari officials who support them. The Syrian Government will provide the Security Council with information concerning the innocent civilian victims.
... The Turkish Army provided logistical support and intense covering fire for the recent terrorist attacks on Jisr al-Shughur and Ishtabraq, and before that on Idlib, Kassab and Aleppo. The attacks were therefore a direct Turkish attack on Syria.
This will be dismissed by many as obvious regime lies, but they mention home seizures in Idlib, which seems to be a real pattern in "liberated areas" that precipitated the ensuing Qalb Lawzah massacre to the north. They speak of bodies left in the fields, most likely gunned down as they tried to flee. Consider this photo taken by the "terrorists" from a perch above some of these field as they watch "murtadeen" (Muslims turned infidels) flee. Note how they hug the contours of the land to minimize their exposure to this line of sight or keep near cover. Soldiers fleeing the hospital in late May report seeing military and civilian bodies rotting the fields they had to walk, often wounded, for days. Robert Fisk, who took those reports, also noted a "smell of something rotten" lingering in the fields when he passed through nearby areas with the Syrian army (June 3 report).

The 200 death toll Damascus claims is questionable; the highly-informed journalist Leith Fadel first heard (Facebook) 130 had been killed, then later said only 54 were reported dead (perhaps a confirmed minimum) "while the status of another 65 villagers was unknown." (alMasdar News, April 29) That must be in addition to the perhaps hundreds known to have been abducted. If so, that 65 would most likely be dead but not found yet, for a death toll likely over 110, but hopefully lower. But a later list, either more complete or fluffed-up, shows 173 people dead or missing and likely dead.

The Masdar report of the 29th was occasioned by a second seizure of the town after rebels briefly lost it to an SAA advance. It doesn't seem there was a second massacre - the village must have stayed empty, as makes sense. After the second taking, it seems rebels are being allowed to just keep it for the moment, as an empty place.

But Then JaN Commits One Massacre? Qalb Lawzeh
No, they're not ISIS, but confusingly, the world now realizes they sometimes just slaughter infidels, As I was putting this post together, news broke about a fresh massacre/incident between JaN and non-Sunni subjects of theirs in Idlib. (See the informative ACLOS page on the subject.) This time, it was the Druze community, with external champions and sympathizers on a scale the Alawi do not have. The SOHR promptly reported the incident as 20-30 civilians massacred after one resisted a home seizure, seized some guns and killed at least one JaN fighter, sparking a punitive response that went beyond acceptable norms. Many others have reported the incident from that and from their own sources it's been widely descried as a terrorist crime, by al Qaeda's branch in Syria, and clearly sectarian in nature. Patrick Cockburn sums it up: After executing Druze villagers, Nusra Front is just as bad as Daesh. (but not before?)

JaN and its supports have tried to paint it as an isolated incident, and non-sectarian, with a small death toll from both sides, fudged upward. And knowing the Druze are best kept placated, they publicly apologized and made a show of having a trial for all involved, based of course on Sharia law. But more credible sources have a fuller death toll of roughly 50, 27 of those named. A mass-killing of this scale sounds more like a terrorist massacre than the minor disturbance the terrorists have sold.

And it may be more than real estate at the heart of it - there are reports the Druze were asked - even by their own leaders - to abandon their faith and become Sunnis, as part of a spirit of total cooperation with the Islamist occupiers. Also, the SOHR later reported that the killings there began after the Tunisian local commander of JaN forces accused the victims of blasphemy.

We can see in this strangely recognized crime some similar patterns to the ones above no one much had noticed yet. It should be taken as a chance to revisit what we may have missed in the weeks before, and in the years before that, and to get an idea of what lies down this path in the days and whatevers to come.


  1. The VDC doesn't list any victims of this yet - is this not a "violation" in their book, are they just not told/out of the loop, or just a bit behind? checking June 10 and 11 a few days later. I also checked regime forces - no match there either, but a trio of interesting entries, killed by shooting in Sweida June 11:
    * Unidentified Regime's army, rank: civilian. Driver Syrian state television team
    - Drgham al-Debesi Regime's army, rank: civilian. Syrian state television cameraman
    Anas al-Salman Regime's army, rank: civilian. Syrian state television reporter

  2. Sorry, above was cut from the post, forgot to re-format it. That's regarding the Qalb Lawzeh massacre. Checking again a day or so later, still nothing. This becomes less likely to be a simple delay on their part, five days on.

  3. At least 20 Druze villagers have been shot dead by the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front in north-western Syria, activist and opposition groups say.
    11 June 2015
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said elderly people and a child were among those killed in Qalb Lawzah in Idlib province on Wednesday afternoon.


  4. "But Then JaN Commits One Massacre? Qalb Lawzeh
    No, they're not ISIS, but confusingly, the world now realizes they sometimes just slaughter infidels "

    IS emerged from Al-Qaeda affiliate Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), and announced
    its presence in Syria in April 2013.

    The majority of IS’s victims in Syria have been civilians, he said.

    Qalb Loze in #Idlib
    This cold blooded AlQaeda criminal wants to decide who lives and who dies in #Syria. Aljazeera whitewash wth Joulani
    http://www.centerforsecuritypolicy.org/2015/05/28/al-jazeera-interview-with-al-nusra-leader-abu-muhammed-al-joulani/ …

    Syrian Druze get massacred as @walidjoumblatt insist that Nusra, an official al-Qaeda branch, aren't terrorists.

    Misnamed #Syrian Civil Defense #WhiteHelmets head Raed Al-Saleh "follows" al-#Qaeda's Jabhat al-Nusra #Homs & #Idlib

  5. h and anon, thx. The tweets are new. As for 20-30 dead w/23-27 named, old news. It's 40+, w/34 named. See http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Qalb_Lawzah_Massacre#Death_Toll


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