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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Syria: Joseyeh Bus Massacre, June 2012

June 25, 2015

This is the little-studied story of , allegedly, foreign-backed terrorists in Syria abducting passengers of a bus in 2012, singling out the Alawi (Alawite) passengers, and in nine cases at least, cutting their heads off. That's a pretty brazen sectarian massacre of the kind a human rights group might want to include in a report on sectarian massacre in Syria. ...

Terrorists-Did-It Story
Syria News video, June 12, 2012: at 4:36 the announcer explains:
"An armed terrorist group has kidnapped the passengers of two busses on the (Saleheya?)-Joseyeh customs road in Homs suburbs. A source (and?) the governor has said the group intercepted the two busses at Saleheya village cross point, forcing the passengers out and kidnapping them, and kidnapping them to the direction of al-Joseyeh village."
Joseyeh must be the place given as Jusiyah on Wikimapia - right at the Lebanon border, south of Qusayr. Saleheya must be Salehia as given - 18 km north of the checkpoint, with Qusayr in-between  - it would be a long way to get them all the way to Joseyeh - but they were taken south. No number is given. If there are any later reports about their fate, I haven't seen it yet.
Next, consider what might be the same story, as related to German journalist Alfred Hackensberger. This is widely passed on in an a July 25 article by John Rosenthal in this way:  
A Homs Sunni resident told Hackensberger he witnessed armed insurgents stopping a bus. “The passengers were divided into two groups: on one side, Sunnis; on the other, Alawis.” Nine Alawis were decapitated.
A moderately useful, widely-seen PDF by a sort-of anti-Islam group lists this massacre as: July 25, 2012 "news breaks of" a case they didn't have a date for and were citing Rosenthal for. I dug a bit for what he cited. Here I found it at Hackensberger's site, dated July 2. In German, obviously. My adjusted auto-translation:
A Sunni witness from Homs observed how an armed group of Masked men stopped a bus. "The passengers were split into two groups by religion; on one side Sunni and on the other side Alawis." Then we have the nine Alawite's head cut off - a death ritual  which is normally only carried out by extremist Islamists. It could be this cruelty that increasingly characterizes the approach of the rebels elsewhere. This could also be what happened in Hula.
The date still isn't clear other than prior to July 2, and maybe recent. "A bus," not two, is cited. This account conjures picture of passengers lined up right outside the singular bus, while the state TV report said the kidnapped passengers were taken away.
Is this a Sunni survivor? Did he report the beheadings? Or is this from elsewhere? It's not made clear. One would expect rebels would spare the Sunnis and not care if they told anyone, but keep the beheading to a more secluded spot and not push their luck doing it in front of everyone. It would come out like the June 12 report - some were taken away, others perhaps were spared and ran to tell the news.
So, putting aside the possible discrepancies, none of them major, here's a composite story that might tie this all together: The passengers were taken near or even at the checkpoint at Salehia, taken south and then beheaded. The witness didn't see that part, but Hackensberg knew about it, and the it seemed to line up. He seems like a smart guy, and it most likely does line up. 

A Pattern of Bus Massacres That Month
This incident come 12 days after and 25 km south of another allegedly checkpoint-related bus massacre - of 12 workers from a state-run fertilizer plant, also including three apparent relatives, on May 31. It also happened about two weeks before another possible bus massacre rebels were on hand to document as "shelling" - June 29, second half of the Qalat al-Hosn massacre(s). Recently to me, there was also the more telling bus "shelling" attached to the August 2012 alleged Shammas Massacre.
Isn't it interesting how the regime decided to carry out all this mayhem in the same areas rebels were able to get to cameras right afterwards? Why are they always so crazy brutal - and careless about evidence clean-up - when rebels are also so near? Is that growing question why only the first one of these four mentioned events was ever reported by rebels as a bus massacre? 

Opposition Story
It doesn't seem there really is one, at least nothing clear and high-profile, like you'd expect if regime forces just massacred some bus passengers. I haven't dug enough to be very clear on this - maybe they weren't suspiciously quiet about it.

Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria (or VDC) martyrs database lists 6 checkpoint-related deaths in the span 10-14 June. This span is all very interesting, but the the date we're considering is likely the 12th, and that day has the most dead - 3 adult males, all named Mattar. (I also checked all 21 Homs deaths on the 12th, but these were the only immediately evident matches) This may be the closest they get to confirming this story of nine murders, and it might be at least one-third confirmed, which is more than you'd expect.
The three are: Ahmad Khalil Mattar Ibrahim Khalil Mattar and Ali Mattar, all civilian, from Qos/Qusair, and killed by "Detention - Execution." Notes for each explains "He was executed at the Rablah checkpoint." Rablah is on the map here - in fact the last town headed south to Joseyeh before you get there. By this, the June 12 victims were traveling safely in some vehicle until a checkpoint (unclear) right around the area state media said the June 12 captives were taken towards.

The following day, a man named Ahmad al-Hasan with "special needs" from Deir Baalba also died from "detention-torture." As the notes say, he was "Martyred from torture after he was arrested from checkpoint." It's not clear which one - this is a ways south of his home. But it's close to these others, and the four stand out, with no such deaths listed in the days before or after.
Checkpoint Military Deaths
Two days before the incident, on June 10, two Qusayr rebels were listed killed in attack(s) on one or two checkpoints in the area (same list of 6 above): martyr 18449  Aala Idris Cause of Death Shelling Rank Battalion Baraa Notes In raiding Masraf checkpoint.  Martyr 18601 Mahmoud Mostafa Ammar Cause of Death Shelling Rank Battalion Wadi Notes During the raiding of Baladia checkpoint. I had no luck finding either checkpoint - they're probably one and the same - Qusayr-area rebels probably wouldn't launch any more than one serious (deadly) "raid" on a checkpoint in a single day. 
The VDC's regime forces list ("other statistics") for the same June 10 lists 7 military men killed with martyrdom location Homs specified. One has Martyrdom location Homs: Qusair Cause of Death Explosion.  Rank Soldier Notes killed with car bomb. News Article  (available - auto-translated)killed in explosion (?by?) bus in Qusayr. Car or bus bombs pass through and are used against checkpoint, but not for simple "raids." Another possible match  gives Martyrdom location Homs : Domaine which could be Daminah ash Sharqiyah or Daminah al Gharbiyah, just on either side of any Salehia checkpoint. Or it's a better linguisitc fit with  Ad Dumaynah, a small town some distance away on the Homs/Hama border). Cause of Death Shooting  Rank Soldier  News Article  (same source, Dam Press, didn't add anything here).
Both of these are consistent with a rebel assault on forces in the same area, perhaps using a suicide car bomber (killed by "shelling") to take it over. For example. Why a bus would just drive through that two days later makes little sense. Maybe they just let the government re-take the checkpoint to let their guard down up the road, where they just ambushed the bus with an RPG from the same side-road they took the people away down (probably the one marked in orange above).

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