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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Baniyas Massacre Victim Bayan Jalloul, Martyr for Truth?

July 12, 2015
(small edits July 13)

"Specific Communities" the Other Way Around
In the 2013 al-Bayda Massacre, as I've previously reported, about 50 of the victims (from a total of around 80 to 240, depending who you ask) were related by blood or marriage to Sheikh Omar Biasi, a retired imam at a local mosque and revered by many. That was so interesting because Sheikh Omar was openly and vehemently pro-government and anti-rebellion, trying to be for reconciliation, but seeming to call for the death of all "traitors" shortly before he was killed with so many relatives on May 2. That was by rebel "terrorists" or anti-Sunni Alawite militias, depending who you ask. For those unaware of that story, please see "Targeting specific communities".

Al-Bayda is a Sunni village, and it's widely believed the killers were predominately Alawi (Alawite), like the majority of people in the coastal provinces (see map). In the following and murkier massacre in Baniyas city, May 3-6, it was the same tale of sectarian mass murder; Baniyas is more mixed, but the killings reportedly happened in the poor and Sunni district of Ras al-Nabi. The killers - mixed regular forces and local "Shabiha" militia - came from Alawite districts and villages, activists said, and there was no other reason involved; Alawites were killing Sunnis, hoping to chase away the rest, and purify their province of a rebellious religious group. Maybe it was to help create a coastal breakaway state for the Alawi as "the Sunnis" took the rest of a divided Syria. No one could know the real motive, but many people were pretty sure that was it.

In this second massacre, two families - Rajab and Jalloul - stand out about equally for heavy losses. Both were highlighted by Human Rights Watch in their September report on the two massacres "No One's Left," but it's only the latter that concerns us at the moment. "Human Rights Watch has also documented the execution of seventeen members of the Jalloul family," the report says and lists 16, including some wives (under father's name, not husband's, as usual).

I found that, including these and two Jalloul wives (married to a Suleiman and a Taha) and their children, there are as many as 36-37 clearly related entries. But that's going by the most expansive list correlated with other sources (overall comparison ongoing, report perhaps forthcoming, too tedious to re-post here now).

There was one Biasi killed in Baniyas, at the end of the killing spree on May 6. And there was one Jalloul killed in al-Bayda at the outset. And the Jalloul-related Tahas at least died heavily in both massacres. But otherwise each family name and intermarried names dominate the victim lists in their massacre. 

And like the Biasis in al-Bayda, there's a possible core victim amongst the Jallouls, with a political connotation pointing the opposite way. Bayan Abdulrahman Jalloul was a young woman, aged 21, who was supposedly "prominent" in supporting the rebel cause with an influential group. But the only source I've seen to mention this at all is a May 10 report by the UK-based Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR - cited by HRW for their report): The Most Heinous Crime of the Modern Era: Banyas Massacre ... Blatant Ethnic Cleansing in Syria.

On page 18, alleged witness "Abu Mohammed" says the attackers "raid(ed) the well known media activist's house Ms. Baian Jaloul, who had a prominent role in transferring the ongoing news and images." She was a young woman of promise, set to marry a man (unnamed) who was also a media activist. He worked with her "in Baniyas coordinating," the report says, meaning the opposition Local Coordinating Committees (LCC). These gather information from rebel fighters and various sources and issue daily reports blaming the "regime" for everything remotely possible. (English site, far behind now: http://www.lccsyria.org/en/)

The LCC works with the Violation Documentation Center (VDC - ACLOS page, not to be confused with the the similarly-named Syrian Center for Documentation). The VDC, which I cite frequently, and the LCC were both co-founded by some of the same people. But the VDC's entry for Bayan Abdulrahman Saeid Jalloul says nothing of her activist role, when they usually do note it. She's not well-known enough I can find anything prior that mentions her by name, but I didn't dig deep, and anyway, perhaps she was prominent locally. Or she was simply important and should-be prominent. Sometimes you say nice things about people to inflate their importance after they die.

We might note the flip-side of Bayan's murder in May; she operated freely until this time spreading opposition propaganda, despite the "regime's" total access here. The government had stifled all violent rebellion in the area through 2011, 2012, and much of 2013 until these few special days. And it could have had her killed at any time. But only then, just after the massacre of Sheikh Biasi's kin in al-Bayda, did someone punch the hole in that usual security that took her life. They say it was "Shabiha."  

But now that I notice this, I should write on it, for balance, and open the question; did the regime kill its own supporters in one case to bolster its claim that "terrorists" had killed their own supporters in Baniyas? Or did the rebels behind al-Bayda kill one of their own supporters in Ras al-Nabi to blame the regime and cancel out the problem they had there? Or does victim politics just not matter, like rebels say, because this is now a logic-free sectarian slaughter?

Bayan, Her Sister, Their Fiancés, A Confusing Drama
Among the Jallouls, HRW heard the most about those killed in the home of Abdulrahman Said Jalloul, aka Abu Said. He was killed along with his unnamed wife ("Um Said"), his adult son Said, and three daughters, Sanaa, Rawan, and Bayan.

While his oldest girl, 21-year-old Bayan, waited to wed her activist sweetheart, supposed neighbor "Aya" told HRW her little sister Rawan - age 17 - was also engaged. "Muhammad al-Zouzou, Rawan’s fiancé and a member of the Free Syrian Army" was, "Aya" told HRW, the only family link to the armed rebellion. There's her sister, the alleged media activist, but that's not "rebel" in the same way, and it's not even mentioned by HRW. All they heard about her was from "Aya," who says she went to the Abu Said house and found them all dead or near it. "I saw Bayan Jalloul, who is 21, shot in the head. I turn around and I saw Rawan, her 17-year-old sister, also shot in the chest but she was still alive." Therefore, "Aya" says "I spoke to her and she told me that she was burnt…Their living room was on fire."
Rawan's FSA fiancé was careful to be out of the scene during the attack; his presence couldn't possibly be a motive, leaving the sectarian massacre narrative extra clear. Witness "Selwa" (but not Aya) told HRW that Mohammed only "came to their house after the attack. When he saw that [Rawan] was injured he left to get help," but being unarmed amidst the government attack, he never came back. "Zouzou was himself later killed elsewhere in the village," HRW reported. They also heard from "Ahmad" that one pile of bodies contained "Mohammad al-Zouzou, and Bassam al-Zouzou," besides two Lolo brothers.

But I checked the VDC's records and there's no match, that day or ever. The closest are the three al-Zozo men killed in the massacre; maybe he's Abu Yousef al-Zozo, already married with a kid named Yousef, or one of the other two (Bassam and Samer) under a different name. Or maybe this is a minor story goof-up.

Alleged witness "Aya" says she arrived to find Bayan and everyone but her sister already dead. It must have been before this that Bayan's fiancé, the media activist, "came to her before she died," as the SNHR report says. "She asked him to drink water (or vice-versa?), then she died in his hands." Rawan would be alive then too, awaiting her ill-fated opposition fiance, but that's not mentioned. And while Mr. Zozo was killed too, this unnamed activist may have survived the day (that's not clarified).
Furthermore, Bayan and Rawan's cousin Ahmad Jalloul also showed up following the massacre, HRW heard, apparently during this same fiancé free-for-all. He apparently tried loading the ladies' bodies into his car during the lull, but moved too slowly and was shot dead by his car when the killers suddenly returned. Was neither fiancé there to help? Or were all three men and Aya each there alone in their own little shifts, as it sounds? Or is one or more of these stories just not true, as it kind of seems?

They Rip Her Face With Knives

HRW heard that Bayan, and everyone killed, was simply "shot" with regime guns. To read their report, no one was hacked up with regime blades. These can easily evoke incredulity and then unsettling images of the dreaded Islamist terrorist blades.

It's not clear if that's why HRW didn't hear about that part. But they developed that guns-only picture citing the SNHR. And the SNHR, in their own report targeted more to Arab audiences, described the victims in general as "slaughtered and shot by Syrian government's armed forces," where slaughtered usually means killed with blades, from stabbing to beheading. Citing Abu Mohammed, the SNHR report relates how that played out for the activist Bayan:
"... they took revenge and killed her in a very horrific way , they rip her face with knives, cut her nose, stamped her in her hands and foot, and half-slaughtered her to leave dying in pain."
That description - especially the "ripped face" part - makes me wonder if she's the woman with the infamous face in the picture you can hardly find around anymore. I have a copy somewhere, but here's the blurred version saved at ACLOS, of the main pile of dozens of bodies. Just above the center is the one who could be her: white headscarf, eyes and mouth frozen open as if gasping in pain. The right side of her face as seen here is pretty much the inside of her face hanging out, it's that bad. A little girl nearby is similarly halved. It's horrible.

That woman looks perhaps around 21, and the headscarf is consistent with pro-salafist media activist. Her hands and feet are invisible, so "stamping" isn't clear. Her nose might be tweaked even more than the rest of her face, if not visibly cut. The gash continues from chin to eyebrow, but might include a first hack near the nose. It's doubtful anyone could survive that for more than some shock-obscured moments. In fact it may well have been done after her death; there's no sign of massive blood loss from that gash, and there seems to be a separate hole in her forehead (a horribly clear view, labeled as from Bayan's own LCC and cropped on this victim, is available here). Maybe she was simply shot, at first.

SNHR's witness "Abo Mohammed" says he witnessed the singular killing of "35 members of my family," including women and children who were then piled on each other (in more detail below). There's no known gathering of 35 members of any family in one spot. Only the Jallouls died, perhaps, in just about that number but at different sites combined. Did Shabiha collect them all here, before piling them un-guarded in the open?

In fact, "Abo Mohammed" says the pile of 35 included a baby they finished off afterwards, and "two children after they killed them, they burned their hands and legs" as one would know "if you have seen the pictures." I have. This must be the infamous pile shown blurred above, looking like they were tossed out a window to land this way. I estimate it contains about 30-35 bodies. If this does all line up, it means Bayan must be in there, and that hacked face is quite likely to be hers.

Truth-Teller to the End?
One difference between Ms. Jalloul and Omar Biasi in Baniyas is in their most recent politically relevant statement. In early April 2013 Sheikh Omar (perhaps - an Omar Biasi in Tartous) spoke out on the Internet against rebels, more harshly than usual, calling for them to be eliminated. That's about one month before the rebels - I think - came and massacred him and dozens of relatives.

He may have more recent statements around I haven't located, but the sheikh did not provide - for example - a running record of the actual attack. People don't usually do that, as power and communications tend to be cut off before an attack by whoever. Bayan, however, did allegedly manage that unusual feat.

The name Bayan ( بيان ) translates "statement." It's perfect for a person whose whole life conveys - or is consumed by - some kind of a worthy message. Joining the LCC to spread the truth during this time of revolution and horror in Syria might seem like a good one. But statements work best delivered at the right time, as early as that was in her young life. Whoever set it, the deadline came on May 3, and the SNHR report says Bayan "was publishing the news of what's happening to kill and death to the last moments." She allegedly sent a series of messages from shortly before 7:00 PM (apparently meaning local time) as the report says, linking to a screen grab posted here. These are transcribed in English in the report, saying in part:
"Allahu Akbar ... they are pouring gasoline in houses and burning them ... extermination in Ras Alnabaa my friends ... pray for us ... no one is helping us ... martyrs on the streets ... we will die too."
However, on the page just before this, the same report noted the attack began as usual with shelling and, before 2:30 PM, the regime "cut off electricity and communications." The purpose, rebels would say, is to keep people from broadcasting the truth in real time like that. The government would say it's to block terrorist communications in the coming fight. But either way, it allegedly didn't work. Bayan was allowed to watch and report for a while before they finally came and killed her, in this narrative.

Perhaps this LCC activist was equipped with special gear ("Thuraya phone", etc.) to evade the block. But it seems average locals were also able to call around fine. "Aya" told HRW "that her relative, who she saw at Abu Sa`id’s house shortly after the government and pro-government forces left, had spoken to Umm Sa`id (Bayan's mother) just before she was killed “She told me that she was speaking with Umm Sa`id at around 8:30 or 9:00 [p.m.] on the phone and that suddenly she heard Umm Sa`id screaming and pleading for mercy,” Aya recounted. “Then she heard gunshots.”

Alternatively, of course, the phone call was likely made up. And perhaps so were were Bayan's final observations shortly before, albeit with an aspect of actual text. Perhaps that was even typed by someone else logged into her secured account (I won't name any names). 

More Failed Cover-Up, Foiled by All-Seeing Witnesses
It's suggested the killers intended to cover up this whole crime, and just failed spectacularly. HRW heard from its several witnesses in Lebanon how everyone witnessed this massacre, got calls in and out, had chances to check on neighbors, speak to the dying, and take the videos we've seen. They managed all this during a lull, they say, when the killers just walked away for a while.

This alternation of control - government in charge during the killings, not even present for a time after, and then in charge again during body removal - is the usual formula in Syria. Opposition access to a crime scene is essential for the continuing documentation of regime crimes, but continuous access is a troublesome notion, so it's always cut short by the soldiers coming back. Aya tells how "after they located the bodies, government or pro-government forces returned to the scene and fired repeatedly in their direction." Then theyy let her just run away, then move to to Lebanon and tell the whole story, but not without a show of trying to keep people from seeing the truth.

Another woman Human Rights Watch heard about "played dead when the security forces returned." Laying there, she claims, she "saw them shoot and kill Ahmad," the cousin killed by his car, after Rawan and Bayan were loaded inside.

SNHR's "most important" and all-seeing witness in their report is "Abo Mohammed." He says he watched Alawites he knew and named by family, arriving from a long list of towns he named, murdering Sunni families he knew with their "Russian weapons." He questions their humanity, as many do. With his own eyes - not with anyone else's - Abo Mohammed says he witnessed a woman stripped and gang-raped by the bests, who cut her hands and left her "half slaughtered" (bladed but alive - similar to but apparently not Bayan).

Abo Mohammed  also watched a family executed by a wall, saw them turn and face it before being gunned down, and saw one woman play dead and live. In a possible contradiction, as previously cited here at ACLOS, this or a similar "Abu Mohammed" told al-Arabiya news he heard this from a basement he was "forced" to hide in, and the victims "were around 35 members of my family," gathered and shot in one outside spot and then piled on each other. In all, he told HRW he saw with his own eyes the murder of what he estimates as  250 victims. However, oddly enough, "there are many areas in the neighborhood that I couldn't see," so the number might be even higher! In fact he told al-Arabiya earlier that "the number of dead exceeds 1500. They are over 1000 only in Ras-elnabe’." For reference, all other sources top off between 150 and 200 documented dead in Ras al-Nabi - a number that might be high but could also be accurate.

This massive and cruel massacre was reportedly a government/Shabiha crime, and as usual it's one they would try to blame on "terrorists." But as also usually happens, rebels or sympathizers had continuing and relaxed access to the victims, amazing observation, victim ID age-memorization, and tallying skills. They were able to film the horrible pile shown above, with an array of dead children next to it, at night, and also for different hours in daylight. Some photos were taken from the second floor of this same building the victims were apparently tossed from. Did the Shabiha leave this scene open continuously that whole time, or did they come and go repeatedly in the span?

One thing about the pile that few have noticed is that some victims display more than a day's worth of decay - rigor mortis has faded away, faces are blue or greenish and puffy, bodies starting to bloat. I'm not clear enough on the photo timeline to say how big of a problem this is (another scene of male victims suggests killings before May 3 - ACLOS).

But it is obliquely noted that the bodies were starting to rot as people wandered around snapping pictures, before they were taken away by the "regime" and the Red Crescent. They were photographed again by rebel sympathizers during that process, the photos published as further proof bodies were left rotting because "families were unable to bury them or even come close." Maybe some people were effectively kept way, but it seems if they had just arrived with a camera and ready to blame Assad, they could have gotten as close as they wanted, as often as they wanted. 

Abo Mohammed told SNHR about refrigerated trucks, four of them, hauling away the dead. Two loads were buried in Alnaznada, two at Maqrab bridge cemetery. This and other clues are what the competing UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) calls "evidence proving that the dozens of civilians who were in the torched houses or under the rubble were secretly buried by the Syrian security forces." (source - Facebook, but still active!) Why were they hidden away like that, while these killings were done so blatantly, with so many witnesses left around, and this most shocking pile of slaughtered innocents tossed out in the open for rebel cameras to shock the world with?

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