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 21, 2015

Syria: Homs Massacres

June 18, 2015
(last edits June 22)

Update June 21/22: What timing. The day after I first posted this, it so happens the Daily Beast ran this:
"A Damning Indictment of Syrian President Assad’s Systematic Massacres: A new report sorts through the record of sectarian carnage and leaves little doubt who are the worst offenders."

This draws on a report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), a UK-based anti-government group, capable of leaving "little doubt" that ISIS, JaN, and Kurdish militias have committed some sectarian massacres, the government's forces have done more than all those combined by far, and moderate FSA rebels have committed zero. Report download page. It says "From March 2011 until June 2013, no other party other than government forces, or its local and foreign militias, has perpetrated this kind of massacres." Feel free to compare that to what's shared here. PDF report direct download link. It's called "the societys massacre," I guess because it's the world's fault and responsibility to stop it. I haven't read it yet, but I imagine it will take its own page.

It would be: Syria Massacres: Reviewing "The Societys Holocaust"
The report focuses heavily on some of the same events covered in my research - 22 of the pro-government side's 49 sectarian massacres were in Homs province, mainly in and near Homs city. I've covered at least 10 of the 22, 8 seem new - ones I missed - and some I'll have to check on. There are many others I looked into that they didn't include here.  (like Tasnin, now covered pretty quickly - likely cleansing of the Alawite and loyalist families in town - number killed vs. just stolen is unclear)
Even before the infamous "Houla Massacre" three years ago, some more informed sources will tell you there was already a bleak and terrifying pattern  this fit right into. From late 2011 into 2012, by opposition reports, Assad's forces and his Alawite "Shabiha" militias (ACLOS article) were murdering the people of Homs province, and especially Homs city.

Homs is Syria's #3 city after Damascus and Aleppo, near the Lebanese border, ethnically mixed - it was wracked by violence later than in Deraa, but well before 2011 was out. The worst was done with a combination of in-home slaughtering of whole families by the Shabiha, not sparing children, and often with horrific torture and abuse prior. And sometimes the army killed masses of locals at once with distant artillery shelling, although sometimes the victims on rebel video wind up looking the same as the executed kind of locals. Whole families were wiped out and neighborhoods emptied, in the face of such a brutal terrorist onslaught. Both sides blamed each other for this destabilizing violence, which drove increasing calls for intervention against the government.
I  - I could say we, but it was almost totally me here - did a ton of research into the record and found it no less hideous than advertised. It's worthy of a PDF report, and I started on one, but decided there was too much work to flesh it all out, etc. and more immediate priorities kept emerging anyway. But for now, another spot to direct readers to the detailed ACLOS pages:
Homs Massacres (a well-organized guide) - Talk:Homs Massacres (overflow details)

What's covered:
Massacres: define loosely as 4 or more civilians at once, or larger numbers of fighters - (lax definition) - must be executed up-close, usually. Singular killings, like the rebel sniper shooting of 10-year-old Sari Saoud in November, 2011, are not counted. Individual men kidnapped and murdered even in pairs aren't counted. About 57 qualifying events were identified, placed on the timeline, and analyzed to differing degrees.
Mainly in the first 2 years: the massacres identified span from the start of the war (March, 2011) up to August 2013, with the last period covered less intensely and missing a few, and with a very few since then also considered. So basically, the first two years - Massacres fell off somewhat by then, and my coverage fell off even more. I've missed some for sure sine mid-2013.
Mainly in and around Homs City: geographic scope: (I never did get to al-Qusayr very well, nor Rastan or Talbiseh, for example - originally excluding these, along with Houla. This means it's a bit incomplete even for the area considered. Distant areas of Homs province, like Palmyra, where ISIS/Daesh is committing obvious massacres now, is not included. Homs city, all districts, immediate outlying towns, further towns to the south, west, northwest - mainly the Houla area - are well-covered.  

Within those limits, I count app. 1,400 people minimum and up to app. 1,900 maximum killed in apparent deliberate massacres - according to reports from both/various sides, that seem credible (in death toll if not in details). Across the board, in the deaths of this many, I've applied our brand of skeptical analysis of all available evidence, looking for patterns - when where and how, which families were getting targeted, etc. I found solid and recurring questions about the opposition reports, and increasing signs that the government reports were always closer to the truth - it was the foreign-backed terrorists spilling this Syrian blood.
The Timeline: A Black Winter and After
One interesting pattern that emerged was when the worst of it happened. I was first compelled to investigate this after seeing terrible bits on Youtube and had a bad feeling, even before Houla but more so after it, as I looked closer at what was going on and had been going on.  The non-stop horror show, it seems, started in earnest in December, 2011 - after the Syrian Army agreed to pull out of Homs over prior and lesser allegations, letting rebel forces move more freely and start finding and documenting more and more damaged homes and murdered locals - all somehow by the regime's forces who lied about pulling out and should be punished. Fairly small and often especially cruel mass-killings were being discovered almost weekly, then almost daily in February, 2012. February 4 saw the Khalidiya Massacre - the largest one yet, branded as 200+ civilians killed by deliberately murderous Army shelling on the eve of a UN Security Council meeting (see below).

After Khalidiya, the Army came back to Homs, whatever anyone chose to say about it, clearing Baba Amr by the 28th, they announced. From there, massacres and all kinds of violence in the city dropped off, later to flare up again. And mass-killings and robberies in the countryside and smaller towns increased. As the punch of the FSA grew into the year, and/or as it took one new and discrete allies, larger occasional massacres were inflicted on outlying districts of the city (Karm al-Zaytoun, Deir Baalbeh), but then it was mainly outlying areas, most notable al-Houla, where the action turned in 2012.

Rebel holdouts remained in the city into 2013 - Baba Amr was again taken over, and again reclaimed by the Army in March, 2013. Again, countryside massacres increased, including increasingly overt sectarian massacres as rebels entered the Valley of the Christians. From there, it seemed to continue moderately, and since ... well, we keep not seeing news stories about big and brutal massacres like Houla - at least in Homs province. It does seem the perps are keeping it to a lower-profile kind of terrorism, or they have diminished capabilities. Less obvious crimes worth learning about surely continue to some degree - I may catch up on that, depending.

Reference Maps
Homs city, by district:
In purple: two districts with important and huge massacres prior to Houla. Deir Baalbeh could also have been purpled. Red: Baba Amr - the early primary base for rebel fighters in Homs - more of a constant meat-grinder of almost daily mini-massacres and/or purported government shelling deaths - few specific incidents really popped out as prominent enough to make a page for, yet it probably witnessed the greatest overall death toll. It was the government re-taking of Baba Amr in February, 2012, that marked the end of the rebel militant heyday in Homs city. Not indicated: other districts that rebels claimed and held out in even longer: Old City (center) and Wa'er (western suburb, really)
Homs area, as covered:
Rastan (red) is an area I considered more in the Hama orbit, not really covered. And Talbiseh also got sidelined pretty much. Some other outlying areas might've been missed a bit. So this tally I get from the incidents I did consider - app. 1400 minimum to app. 1,900 maximum - is not even complete for this map. Some outlying areas - Haswiyeh and Duvair - are close enough  actually better seen in the city map, above. al-Shumariyeh should have been marked - on the lake, just southwest of Qattinah.

Select Massacres
Of the dozens covered, these 17 by Size, Fame, telling pattern, etc.

* April 17, 2011: Tellawi Family Massacre: An Alawite brigadier-General, along with his 17-year-old son and his two nephews (15 and 17) were dragged from their car and brutally murdered and mutilated. Both sides blamed each other. Also, this is Syria's independence day.
* September 24 section: Zhouri SFA Massacre: 7 members of the Zhouri family (including a teenage boy) and 8 others, variously defected/refusing soldiers, "SFA," and civilians, are killed in al-Qusayr. Probably related to the following one:
* September 24 (app.) section: Al-Assi River Massacre: An unclear number of bodies are found in the river - one clearly recovered from the water looks like a paramilitary man, tortured. At the same time several military personnel, political and criminal security policemen and murky civilians - perhaps 12 or more total - all died, many listed as detention-torture victims like the one river body we're shown. The killing and dumping seem to have happened in or nearer to al-Qusayr to the south, but the victims tend to be from or killed in Homs.
* Early December, 2011 Sectarian Killings in Homs "Sixty-one people have been killed in the Syrian central city of Homs, according to Al Jazeera's Rula Amin ... Among those killed were 34 Sunnis and 27 Alawites, she said. It was not immediately clear who was behind the violence." The linked ACLOS page explores this allegation and various reports of the days December 3-7.
* Late December, 2011 Zoeib Family Massacre the killing of at least six victims related to and including Ghazi al-Zo'eib, the elderly former head of the Baath party in Homs (allegedly a rebel supporter at the time).
* Late December, 2011 Massacre for the Monitors: Baba Amr and perhaps elsewhere: In the days of a long-sought visit by the Arab League's observers to the rebel hotbed on December 27 and 28, regime forces in and around the district went on a spree of Shabiha in-home executions and strange shelling that left rebels with bodies to all but slap the monitors with - like the boy laid on the hood of their truck (inset) 
* February 3/4, 2012 Khalidiya Massacre: (from Homs Massacres on the World Stage):
Khalidiya: A small picture of massive protests,
around a lot of coffins, after a huge massacre
of immense mystery
The first really sizeable and promoted alleged massacre in Homs, a triple-digits one, was on the morning of February 4, just as the UN Security Council met to discuss a resolution to force Assad to resign over things like that. The Khalidiya Massacre of 138 was the core of a touted 200+ civilians snuffed out overnight, under brutal artillery shelling by the Syrian Army. Whole families were killed, as dozens of their homes were smashed, initial reports said.
French foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said the Homs bloodshed was a crime against humanity and "those who block the adoption of such a resolution are taking a grave historical responsibility." [1] U.S. president Barack Obama explained why Assad's government "does not deserve to govern" and "must step aside ... immediately." In support, he referred to the 1982 Hama Massacre (the 30th anniversary of which it happened to be) and to how just "yesterday the Syrian government murdered hundreds of Syrian citizens, including women and children, in Homs through shelling and other indiscriminate violence." [2]
Rather, the core 138 victims seem quite possibly to be civilians taken hostage by rampant rebel brigades. Opposition records show 130 adult men and 8 boys (a few teenagers, a 9-year-old, and a few unspecified). The "entire families" killed in their "homes" were 100% male and 94% adult. This is highly suggestive of sex-sorted hostages, not some unusual family dynamics. This supports the contention by some locals that those killed, as seen on rebel video, were their family members previously taken captive by the rebels in Homs. That is, the massacre was quite likely done with weapons and fighters funneled by U.S. allies, on people captured with those weapons, using the security vacuum created when the "Friends of Syria" and Arab League forced the Army to withdraw from Homs in December. Calling for the whole government to leave Syria in response to that - and the timing suggests that was the idea - seems a bit perverse. But a lack of the slightest detail grasp prevents most people from even seeing that possibility.

Below: three of the victims of this random shelling massacre:
* Abel Massacre, Feb. 27 2012 64-86 victims, all adult males from Baba Amr, it's said, were found executed south of Baba Amr, just as rebels were finally chased out of Baba Amr, to the south. The same exact pattern would play out with the March, 2013 Abel massacre (see below). Between this and some follow-up massacre of mainly men, several Melhems and others of frequently targeted families appear.
* March 11/12 Karm al-Zaytoun Massacre At least 100+ and up to 224 victims in two days of rolling massacres in Karm al-Zaytoun and al-Rifae districts, Adawiya, etc. The more famous first half was blamed on Syrian army and Shabiha, and said to have killed at least 21 women and 26 children, among 108 total. Some child victims show rather extreme injuries or mutilation, in extra-shocking images taken by rebels, later re-cycled for the Houla Massacre. Again, the government and some locals blamed terrorists, who had abducted family members they recognized in rebel videos of the dead. Further, an alleged perpetrator later spoke his involvement in a cleric-blessed "slaughter" of more than 80 civilians (probably non-Sunni) in an "apartment" over a couple of days. Rebels in one video are caught referring to the slaughtered victims as sheep, a chillingly relevant clue picked up by pro-government media. 
* April 7-11 Deir Baalba Massacre: This underrated massacre reportedly took somewhere in excess off 200 lives, reportedly all civilian, and of several select families - including at least 58 victims from various families named Al-Abbas. They reportedly died by field execution by free-roving gangs, mainly in the days between April 2 and 10. While the Army and its accomplices allegedly hid all the bodies away, mass graves of around 100 bodies total were reported by the opposition as of the 11th, and dozens of rotting bodies continued to be "discovered" until early May at least. 
* May 25, Houla Massacre: Let's save space here. This one has its own masterlist here besides its own blog, and ACLOS page (with sub-pages) that spawned two reports (see the Houla blog for those.
* May 25: Shumeriyeh Massacre The same day, an often-confused operation out of al-Qusayr, south of Homs) that reportedly killed about ten civilians from two families in the Alawite village of Shumariyeh, on the south shore of Lake Homs.
* December 10 Aqrab Massacre: At the north end of al-Houla, the Alawite half of Aqrab town was overrun by rebel brigades, and some 500 civilians taken hostage in early December, about a week before this alleged massacre. Rebels say on the 10th Shabiha were holding the last 200 or so prisoners (some 300 were freed in exchanges - with rebels) and blew up the house they were in. Initial estimate were 125-150 dead. But a Channel 4 News video from the scene shows the house remained intact, the story is false, and the actual fate of a reported 125-233 Alawites, including women and children, remains unknown. The known details leave little cause for optimism. Names of note: of the original 500, 300 are said to be of a Jubeili family. A "Judl" boy was spared, a Daoud family was targeted in the takeover, two Hosins and a Youseh were released, other victims names don't appear. Five Shabiha are named as villains: two Jubeili men, two Melhem men, and a Faiz.

* January 15, 2013 Haswiyeh Massacre: Busatin al-Haswiyeh, in the northwest of Homs, near Duvair (see map). Shocking initial reports heralded 106 victims, whole families of local civilians, again killed by Shabiha for daring to help the rebels. But the first list of 100 names included 75 adult male victims, and locals living there told the British media (Channel 4 and BBC) the massaccre was by, apparently, Jabhat al-Nusra. Their attack on the town killed about 30 uncooperative civilian locals, and "many" adult male militants were killed in the following battle. The layout of the crime scene and other clues support the locals' version.

* March 25-29, 2013 Abel (and related) Massacre(s): Three extremely brutal massacres over five days show an unusual degree of bestial mangling and perhaps an extra rage and frustration on the part of the killers. Abel, meaning apple, is just 3 km south of Baba Amr, Homs, and the incidents began the day after rebel forces were fully chased away from there after a huge and frustrating defeat, running to the south. Collective reported death toll: app. 90. Similar pattern with February, 2012 Abel Massacre.

(at right: a woman rebels say was killed in this massacre. They know which body was hers, and they say they found this photo, which loyalists took, before murdering her and the other locals (which was all just before rebels arrived to find all this evidence).

* August 2: section: Al-Shawahed Massacre: Near Hosin Castle, six locals, four from an al-Ali family, are abducted and slaughtered by the roadside, allegedly by Shabiha. Same day, someone kills a state security forces member of the al-Ali family in a neighboring town.
* August 17, 2013: section: Marmarita Massacre 14-15 locals (including a boy and two women) in the Christian village next to Hosin Castle are killed during a rebel raid.


  1. The Saudi links go beyond jihadis though.

    Seventeen months ago in Homs – and barely a month after the battle over Baba Amr - 
    24 Syrian rebels groups sent an email to the externally-based Syrian National Council, complaining about the rogue behavior of the Saudi-funded Al Farouq Battalion.

    This is the group to which the infamous lung-eating Syrian rebel once belonged.

    “These fighters, many of whom are ideologically aligned with Al Qaeda, are much more pragmatic today. They are ready to take funding, facilities and arms from the Saudis (who previously they targeted). There is no concept of a main enemy – it could be the US, Russians, Iranians, Saudis, Muslim Brotherhood.

    Their only priority is to use the new situation of instability in the region to form a core territorial base.
    They now think in Syria they have a real opportunity to regenerate Al Qaeda
    that they didn’t have since their defeat in Iraq. In the Sinai too.

    Through a central Syrian base they are ready to converge with other regional actors from which they will move into Lebanon, Iraq and other places.”

    “Some of them know Bandar for a long time,” says the analyst. “There have always been Saudi intelligence officers dedicated to oversee jihadist groups in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kashmir, Chechnya.”


    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says IS

    has executed 2,618 people

    in Syria between the founding of its caliphate in late June 2014 and late May 2015.

    27 February 2014 Syria crisis: ISIS imposes rules on Christians in Raqqa

  2. I'm not well-versed on all the groups but arouq battalion, yes - they and their caught-masturbating-on-video commander Abdulrazaq Tlass, and their lung-chewin Abu Saqar - they were definitely involved in some of these massacres, like Houla, and they had a way of just finding dozens of murdered bodies at the Homs national hospital every time they took it over - maybe after they got word their own latest victims were taken there.


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