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.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Crushing the Rebellion at Al-Mazarb Bridge: The Rebellion Begins in Hama, Part 4

Crushing the Rebellion at Al-Mazarb Bridge: The Rebellion Begins in Hama, Part 4
July 28, 2015
(minor edits July 29)

Blood and Quiet in Hama
To start, the subject of this post - violence at a certain bridge in the city of Hama - has its clearest glimpse on July 7, 2011, during the provocative visit by U.S. ambassador Robert Ford. He says it was what he saw in these days that convinced there were no armed groups of opposition fighters in Hama, as the Syrian government claimed (see part 2).  

Throughout this shorter post, I'll refer to this handy list of "martyrs" from Hama province, as recorded by the opposition VDC, for the relevant span - July 4-30, 2011, Hama = 38 martyrs - just before the ambassador's visit to just before the big massacre of July 31 (see part 1).  

First, the early part - the 4th has Ibrahim Qashoush killed. He's the alleged anti-regime singer, more likely an informant, who rebels slaughtered, dumped in the river, and blamed on the regime (see part 3) 2 other men were executed on the 4th, back story totally unclear. 

Next, a point I didn't notice before - a spate of killing in the city, by whoever, just before Ford's arrival, followed by a relative lack of them during his visit. July 5, as Qashoush was pulled from the river, was bloody by the VDC records, with 20 killed, all men. 2 are named Nahar, 2 named Dalati, and 2 named Rahmoun. For the most part anyway, these have no notes except to say they were shot with a gun. Some have pictures.(No detailed analysis now, it's for context)

Just when ambassador Ford enters Hama is confused - either starting Wednesday the 6th or the next day, ending either Thursday or Friday (total span 1-3 days, with the massive protest he rolled with reported both as on Thursday and on Friday, unclear). On the 6th, two civilian men died by shooting in Qalat al-Madiq, or Madeq Castle, a crossroads town 42 km NW of Hama. No one in Hama city died.

Who was chilling out here, as the "regime" worried the ambassador's visit might spark violence? That was a silly worry - it seems to have calmed things instead. In fact, deaths stay low for a period after as well; after Friday the 8th, just 5 dead before the end of list - on the 9th, 15th, 22nd, and 29th. Death took another break on the 30th before hitting hard with the big bang at month's end, and onward from there.

This helps set the context for the oddball exceptions covered below, almost entirely relating to a brief period of brutality at a local bridge on the edge of the city.

Thursday: Thugs Crushing People at the Bridge
Thursday, July 7 is the one day we can be sure Ford was in Hama seeing no sign of armed strugle past a slingshot - is  - only 3 martyrs on Thursday - 2 civilians and one FSA fighter from Hama Jarajmeh district (west, on the river) - named Kinan Mohammad al-Abdullah, he was shot, not clear where (may not be in Hama).

Ambassador Ford insisted there were no armed fighters in Hama at this time, but the city had enough some were dying just then - perhaps elsewhere but maybe in a clash on the other side of town, in which rebels may have briefly taken over an important checkpoint. Consider the two civilians, who both died there, without any takeover noted.

* Mulham Aalwan     Civilian  Adult - Male  Hama  Hama  2011-07-07  Field Execution. Notes:  "He was ran over by heavy machinery by the security forces at Mazarib bridge, which mutilated the body"
* Nourelden Mansour     Civilian  Adult - Male  Hama   2011-07-07  Field Execution. Notes: "the two martyrs, Noor Eddin Mansour and Moulham Elwan, were run over by heavy machinery at Mazareb bridge, an area that is controlled by security forces. This resulted in the significant distortion of the bodies."

So both civilians were killed, it says, by security forces running them over, at leisure at their government-controlled bridge. But this doesn't usually happen. And here's their most primary video evidence (warning, very graphic), showing the bodies loaded in a van on a stretch of highway:

* حماه - متظاهرين تم قتلهم على جسر المزارب 7-7 (Hama - demonstrators have been killed on the bridge Almzarb 7-7) (one of 2 VDC-linked videos that remain active)

One victim is severely mutilated, as if run over. His body is damaged mainly at the middle, torn in half, with almost all his guts now hanging outside. Also, his gonads are uncovered. Other injuries, before, during, or after that: he was shot in both ankles, left leg mangled, right arm badly broken, possible stab wound to left shoulder, and a sharp band of trauma across the nose and bloody eyes, possibly the fatal blow (see below). The other man seems dead, bleeding from somewhere on the head, but intact. He has at least one small wound to the left shoulder.

We first see them in the back of this white van - not an ambulance, with lights and a siren or markings. Those bodies, especially the mangled one, clearly weren't carried far from where loaders found them. So this is about the spot they were killed. Are these all regime thugs, with this a "leaked" video by them? The van waits several seconds for the important filming, but then pulls away at mid-speed. There's no life to save, but they seem rushed to get out of there.The video ends quickly thereafter.

For the rebel story to hold any water, these have to be pro-regime thugs. But the thin crowd present around the scene argues otherwise (See panoramic view below - possible minaret circled for geo-location attempt, further below).
We see a few civilian-dress men on motorcycles or standing, and this videographer. They shout "Allahu Akbar," and something angry about "Bashar." The video was seemingly made and posted by opposition folks (primary source maybe in time, "Crazy Man's" copy works for now). It's a major highway, but empty of regular traffic at mid-day, like there's some disaster or danger on the road (same as it was on the bridge terrorists dump dead cops off of on August 1- see part 1). The marks on the pavement shows some traffic chaos at about this spot, maybe from the same day.  The most veering line seems singular, from a motorcycle.

How about the man with the fighter's scarf with the stills above? He looks both right and left in the few moments he's visible (with some frames seemingly snipped from the middle). He's on the lookout for someone. What does he do if he sees them? He carries an object with a strap. There's no clear view, but it might be a rifle. Or maybe it's the rebels' single slingshot Ambassador Ford also saw?

Maybe this is how "Shabiha" operate, but they seem like rebels to me. Consider wherever the bodies went, at least two more rebel-seeming videos were made of their bodies:
* dark, indoors (the other active VDC-linked video) little visual value, but the victims named: the intact one is Mr. Mansour, the torn-up one has a name sounding like something Aalwan.
* (extremely graphic) daylight, (video suggestion when viewing the others) in a rebel-seeming morgue, we get to see both victims in better resolution and at leisure, here called unidentified ("faceless") martyrs. (But weren't they "demonstrators" like the guys who picked them up?) Mansour is identifiable as one of the two in the van, by face and hair, and unique blood trickle pattern (with a new line across the bridge of his nose - compared below).

Mulhem Aalwan, horrible but 
small - open in new window 
for larger view if needed.
Mr. Aalwan, is here too, with all guts visible but gonads covered, and we can see the bridge of his nose is missing, the bone hacked away (best angle to see that, bottom view). His right eye is missing, an empty socket, and the left might be gone too - in a gash starting at the edge of his left eye (top view). A strong blow with a hatchet looks like the best explanation.  There would be other hatchet murders, attributed to "Shabiha" at checkpoints, reported in Hama in the weeks after this (details maybe later). There's also mysterious left armpit trauma. That happens a fair amount, cause unknown (heart surgery?)

It's alleged that regime thugs ran these guys over with a tank or some such. Clearly they also did a few other nasty things to them, like some terrorist psychopaths. We know they were "regime" because the place it happened is a place they run - no one else can get there and kill people. 

But then, implicitly, they decided to leave the area, and allowed apparent rebels come in to film and even retrieve the bodies - if quickly, and on the lookout for the universal "Shabiha's" return. But no way could those same "armed terrorists" have been in control here before or during the horrific murders. Only after, in that window of opportunity rebels so often are granted with such crimes. They make off with the evidence, as usual, with their own vehicles, and take the corpses wherever to document the "regime crime." 

And they insist they aren't lying when they say this.

Geo-Location, Implications
The spot, like all spot in Syria, should usually be government controlled, considering its important location. Almzarb bridge is labeled in Arabic here on Wikimapia, where the main street from Al-Muzareb district runs beneath the M-5 (Damascus-Aleppo) international highway, SW towards city center, connecting areas to the northeast with Hama proper. (right, orange)

The loading spot must be northeast up al-Hamraa street in the afternoon, somewhere between the cemetery and the sheep market. The exact spot isn't clear: The best match for trees to the right and left is almost across from Jama Ali bin Abi Talib mosque (purple marks the filming spot if so, tree fits in green). But if that's a minaret ahead in the panorama view (above), it almost must be that one's, so the spot must be further up the street NE (with trees to the right so close to the street?)

Or is that a tree and not a minaret? Or is it possibly the minaret I found further SW on that line of sight? (lower left in the graphic above) I think this is more likely - it's not clear, must be kind of distant (if it's a minaret). I wouldn't think that far ... measuring it ... 840 meters? Sounds likely. The purple spot is likely it. There's another kind of antenna tower on almost the same line as the minaret - the spindly thing is not easily found in the satellite images. Anyone else? Possible oval-shaped top part on that. 

Wherever exactly, I'm pretty sure it must be on this street. With sunlight nearly straight down the street, just a couple degrees west of that - solar azimuth is about 231-233 degrees, so a local time of about 1:40-1:45 PM, for what that's worth. Ahead I think we can see this street dipping down, and then the highway overpass. The bodies are driven into the city, not away from it.

Rebels say the bridge part of the highway and/or this street passing beneath it, was government-controlled. But this area nearby apparently wasn't. This is too distant to even be their checkpoint rebels overran. But the fact that their van heads right to that underpass, with no noticed turn-off, suggests they were able to freely pass through it for the moment. (possible clue below, at the end)

Bridge Killings and Confusion, Friday and Saturday 
On the 8th, as Ford may or may not have participated in the largest-yet Friday protests in Hama, 5 local people died, per the VDC list. One succumbed to wounds sustained on the 5th. One gives no details, just says shot, unclear where. The other three, it says, were on bridges, en route to or from the protest, north of town, or even up in Maarat Numan, Idlib - all 3, in short, not in Hama city.

* Isam Fakhri Salmeh   Adult - Male  Hama   2011-07-08  Shooting. Age 38 Martyrdom location Idleb: Jisr Maara (Maara Brtidge). Notes: on Mouara bridge while he was heading to the city of Hama, accompanied by his wife and children, when military forces fired at him. (my notes: I can't find such a bridge on Wikimapia. It's got a similar name however to the bridge covered above. Is this some kind of goof-up? Or ... The Arabic name here points to the town Maarat al-Numan. It's just over the Hama province border, not so far to be).

Video of the martyr. My notes: on ice in what seems to be a free-filming rebel morgue. They zoom in on his ear, where he was shot I guess (it's too dark to see much - at right, a bright frame, lightened a bit more). So rebels who were on the bridge scooped up his body after the regime murder? What became of his surviving wife and children?)

* yaser Muslem    Adult - Male  Hama   2011-07-08  Shooting.  Martyrdom location Idleb: Maaret Al-Nouman. No video. (my notes: another pointer to Maarat Numan, if not a bridge. was this a group of Hama residents visiting north for the week, perhaps, and returning at the weekend? Did they actually make it some ways south before they were intercepted on the road?)

* Waleed Khalid al-Abbas  Adult - Male  Hama:  Taibet Al-Imam  2011-07-08  Shooting.  Age 18 notes: he was martyred after being shot in the abdomen by shabiha. This happened close to Qoumhana, while he was heading back from a protest in Hama. No body video (funeral ones though). My notes: that's just north of Hama city. He wouldn't pull off the highway to cruise near Qomhana, but be killed on the highway near there, while passing (or at a stop there, maybe, if he was on a bus).

The others were many kilometers north in Idlib, it says, heading south towards this stretch of road but still far from it. Coincidence, or fudging? All this out-of-town highway traffic involving a bridge stands out in the middle of just this span. Consider - VDC query for Hama martyrs with "bridge" in the notes from March 2011 up to 7 July, 2012 (a year after the main event here) = no one before the July 7 incident, and no more "bridge" note deaths in 2011 after these few on 7/7, 7/8, and 7/9.
(side-note: They start and end again only with an incident on February 17, 2012 - two killed at Al-Mizarb Bridge. Notes for both say  "He was going to work with three other people, including a child, when the car was shot by a tank stationed on Al-Mizarb Bridge as they passed near it, killing him and the child. The other two were arrested, one of them is injuried." Both killed people are listed as male children. (All other entries are related to different bridges in Hama province.) )
July 9 frames the period with just one martyr, clearly back on this bridge: Hamed Adi,  Adult - Male, age 65 and with 13 children, a shopkeeper. From Hama, died 2011-07-09 by Shooting. Martyrdom location: Aleppo Road (M-5 highway) Notes: "Killed by four shots on Mazarb bridge as he was carrying goods to his family, while he was opening his shop, the regime forces then stole his money and left the goods on the ground then he was taken to a hospital." Video of the martyr (my notes: on ice in what again seems like a rebel-run dead people filming facility - still at right - gunshots on left side of body at shoulder, chest, upper abdomen, lower abdomen)

So, in summary, July 7-9 saw four bridge-related murders, at the government-secured checkpoint - proving whodunnit. But rebels were left in control of, and filming, all 4 bodies right after. 

Bridge and Highway Mayhem After
After this aberrational period, highway violence let up for a bit, and when it flared up, it was further north. Nothing crazy happens at Mazarb bridge for a long time.

I've analyzed a video of August 3 that shows people in a truck allegedly hit by regime snipers, man and woman dead. Filmed from a distance because of snipers, but another video shows activists at the truck. (links later, can't re-locate ATM) Seems to be on the highway just north of the bridge, where it curves more to the west (details maybe later).

August 9 - 26 dead around Soran, incl. 5 women, 2 boys,  5 girls . One has notes "Was martyred with her 2 children in shelling their car"  - a video shows a pickup truck hit with light and heavy gunfire, off the road and filmed by rebels. They mention Soran and Taibet al-Imam (town).

Other stuff also happened, later (details, later).

An Accomplice?
A bit later, this martyr appears: Mohammad Hasan al-Khuder rank: conscript (in Arabic) died 2011-8-23 by field execution. Notes: He was killed by Col. Abdullah Zeer from Homs, because he was sympathetic to the residents and allowed them to pass through the checkpoints. 

This is likely a fake story, but in context it's compelling. Are these the same kind of "residents" who "hanged an informer last month"  (June)," as the late Anthony Shadid heard, and likely did the same to Mr. Qashoush? (see again part 3) Would this guy be in charge of a bridge checkpoint that was both government-controlled and open to letting "residents" pass through, murder nearby, pass back through with the evidence, etc.? Is the time delay a coincidence, or does it line up with an inquiry process to figure out what happened July 7-9 at al-Mazarb bridge?

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