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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Laundering the Ma'an Massacre?

August 1, 2015
updates August 2 
(LCC Feb. 8 report)

This post is to sort out the details of three reported Hama province massacres of Febraury, 2014. These are:
- Maan Massacre, Feb. 9
- Jalama Massacre, Feb. 9
- Souran Massacre, Feb. 8-9

All towns are near Morek at the border with Idlib province, well north of Hama city (map at right, app. 30 km wide, border in green).

No one reports all three incident. Some sources heard about the killings in Ma'an but not the others, while others denied Ma'an and pointed to one or both of the other two instead. For that and other reasons, it seems likely these three massacres are actually one-and-the-same, with some reporting the basic truth (Ma'an) and others a laundered version that shifts and scatters the blame.

Let's consider the reports and records for each one.

(note: most of this section will be moved in time to clear space here)

Maan (Arabic: معان) is located here on Google maps, and on Wikimapia, 22 km north of Hama, and near strategic Morek. Maan is an Alawi-majority (Alawite) village, with a smaller number of Sunni Muslim families. And this was the second massacre there, the first (ACLOS page) having occurred on Christmas, 2012. Women and children were killed, some victims were beheaded, bodies were burned. This happened during a three-day rebel occupation of the town, from Dec. 24-26 as reported by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), who draw on anti-government sources and others as well. Rebels didn't directly (or widely?) acknowledge their occupation, but did report a massacre there at that time (SOHR did not hear about that). The VDC, Local Coordinating Committees, and others (hardcore rebel sources) say it was Shabiha who came in on the 25th, and killed the few Sunnis in town - though it took rebels a week to find out and tell the world, quietly (see here, ACLOS section).

In the case of this invasion 13 months later (ACLOS page), both sides acknowledge rebel forces of the Islamic Front and perhaps Jabhat al-Nuara, conquered this Alawi town on the 9th. They boasted of taking a pro-regime village, and took videos to prove it (right, one verified against Google Earth imagery). The rebels in the area said they did so to stop artillery fire from there and to protect the locals. They say they killed no one but fighters. (see ACLOS: Rebel Denials)

 Government and supportive sources say Jabhat al-Nusra (al-Qaeda in Syria) was involved, and approximately 40-45 civilians were killed, including women, children, the elderly, and the disabled. They also claim 17-20 defenders were killed, and about 80 citizens are missing, likely taken hostage. That's about 140 lives taken, threatened, or ruined. Details aren't fully clear. (best English source besides ACLOS: see SyriaNews.cc, Feb. 14: What Happened in Maan, the Two Massacres)

The fatal victims in Ma'an have been partially named by these sources; a total of 21 names have been released, mostly adult males, some females, and most of them named Qaddour.  (list maybe in time)

Considerations for Below
Consider in the 2012 case how SOHR reported the conquest but not a massacre, and hardcore sources had it the other way around. In this case, rebels were quite open about their conquest, but it was the SOHR who reported a massacre - if smaller in proportion than that cited by government-allied sources. First they said only 25 Alawi, mainly fighters, were killed. Then they heard “more than two dozen civilians” also executed by “Al-Qaeda-inspired rebels” - including one entire family - in addition to “around 20 locals” or “village fighters defending their homes.” (see ACLOS section

Note for below how there are three tiers of knowledge here: it's no secret about 20-25 pro-government fighters were killed – some like the SOHR later head about a batch of 25-ish civilians on top of that - and others hear about an additional batch of dead civilians for about 40 total. This 3-part division of the death toll may be a clue to how it was laundered in rebel records, allowing them to count real corpses, but blame them on the government.

SOHR's overall non-rebel death toll: 45+, and possibly a big plus. One specific-sounding count was 62 people total killed by rebels. The most specific number of killed fighters – including some women, rebels say - is 17 – that would leave 45 civilians. Syria's government claimed in protests at the U.N. That 42 civilians were killed by the foreign-backed terrorists (see LA Times).  

Note: this is jointly reported by the Syrian government, informed locals, and the opposition SOHR's network, reported by the group, or director anyway, as true. That's a powerful package.

Other, more hardcore opposition sources don't reflect this at all – at least, not directly. No civilians from Ma'an are mentioned as killed, in any way, even in crossfire. The records might even show no pro-regime fighters were killed in the offensive, somehow. They do have a similar number of civilian victims of deliberate massacre, but in two different towns far enough away to call unrelated – if that's true. And these contain enough adult male entries to conceal a majority of the local fighters allegedly killed. Seems worth considering.

LCC daily report, February 9 (via Uruknet), with 18 dead in Hama, and several already claimed elsewhere, has this first:
Hama: Jmleh: More than 10 martyrs were reported due to storming the town by regime forces. 

Then the immediate next entry (above) gives details: 
Hama: Jmleh: Mouhamad Ahmad Al-Muhsen, Mra'i Al-Saed, Ahmad Mouhamad Al-Muhsen, Subhyeh Ahmad Al-Muhsen, Child Mouhamad Al-Mura'i, Mura'i Al-Saed daughter, Mhmoud Al-Mura'i wife's and childern and displaced unidentified family were martyred due to storming the town by regime forces.

Shahd Mahmoud Merie al-Mohsen, age 4
The VDC, intricately linked to the LCC but with a little wider source collection, lists this event, and has it in Jalama (Arabic: الجلمة = al-jlma - LCC goofed it) Their martyrs database lists 17 field executed victims, mainly from a Moshen family, also including a few al-Saieds as mentioned by LCC. The notes say "several civilians martyred in a massacre during the storming of the town by regime's forces." The 17 clear matches are these 15 executed civilians from Jalama (6 men, 5 women, 3 boys, one 4-year-old girl with a photo, alive), plus these 2 women from other towns but who died in Jalama. Or, these full 17 with that note. Location: north of Tremseh.

The al-Saied / al-Sayed name appears again quickly - LCC Feb.10, 2 dead in Hama One is in Morek: Ammad Aboud Al-Sayed was martyred and 20 wounded were reported due to warplanes shelling on the city." It is, however, a common name. 

We have joint reports from linked groups, no video, no SOHR report, fairly little really to say this actually happened. The logic of the army or Shabiha assaulting one town and massacring people just as their allies needed help in Maan a few kilometers away is puzzling. There's also little good reason rebels would massacre anyone in in Jalama on the same day they did the same in Ma'an, even if it was by two different groups and then report one and cover up the other. In short, there's reason to doubt anyone stormed Jalama, although it can't at all be ruled out. This might be a fake shelf set up to hold the denied victims of the Islamists' Ma'an offensive.

Update: The LCC's Feb 8 report does give some reason: rebels claiming they blew up a checkpoint at Jalama on the 8th. Smoke is shown rising from a distance, in the evening or morning, of the day before they found freshly killed bodies there. Implied chronology: rebels destroy check point, army storms un-gaurded town, massacres locals, then rebels ... well, they don't show videos here that I've seen. But they were able to document it. 

So maybe this is a separate event from their overrunning of Ma'an. Or maybe that video is actually from Ma'an. It seems hard to be sure with so little scenery available and directions unclear. We'll have to leave it at not so certain.

(Also Soran, but Souran is closer - Arabic: صوران - a mid-sized town on the highway north of Hama) 
This is a massacre of larger size than Jalama, running for two days, closer to the Maan front, and not reported by the LCC in any of their daily reports for Feb. 8, 9, or 10. 

Note: The days surrounding the Maan Massacre seem to have witnessed a surge of violence in rural Hama province, starting on the 7th and peaking the 9th to 11th, then falling off again - with no civilians from Ma'an listed as killed. Note: rebels claimed to be on the attack against Ma'an from at least Feb. 8, in the surrounding areas, taking bases ... losing fighters on the 5th and 7th of February, on whichever front, besides on the 8th, 9th, and after.

Soran, feb. 8 and 9 VDC lists 36 martyrs from Soran, Feb. 8 and 9 (it was 35 at the time, in 2014). The bulk of these are on the 8th. That's too early, one might think, to be Ma'an victims. But even without date fudging, the above can make you wonder. 

On the 8th, it says, 26 civilians were field executed, one teenage boy and the rest adult males, with the note "The execution of several people on the ground when the storming of the city." 10 died the next day, 4 of them clear massacre victims: two half-executed men who died later, two who were captured and then executed next day. Especially repeated family names: Qtait, Ibrahim, Ismael, Nabhan, Omer, Hussein.  

3 others at least the LCC also reports: 2 rebel brothers killed fighting in Ma'an on the 9th, so they don't count - and Ziad Ismael Husain al-Nabhan Adult male, age 40, killed by "regime`s army forces sniper`s gunfire" on the 9th - LCC has for that day "Souran: Zyad Al-Nbhan was martyred by regime's snipers gunfire in the city." But they never mentioned the storming of the city the day before, when dozens of civilians were massacred. Two were named Nabhan...

LCC: Feb 8 (via Uruknet) has 3 dead in Hama province, but the most demonstrations for the day. They have no martyr or 'regime crime' – or any - videos from Hama (except on the separate protests page) : "FSA Targets Regime Forces in Ma'an, Hama ... in Kafr Zeta in Hama the FSA repelled the attempts of the regime's army to shell the village ... Clashes between FSA and regime forces at regim's [sic] loyal village Maan's checkpoints." In Souran itself (as they spell, it, not goofed), nothing at all is mentioned.

Lack of "coordination?" 

Update: LCC Coverage
Well, as cool as that seemed, I goofed it up - Too many different years by now; that was 2013. Checking again, Feb. 8, 2014 - they do list it and were coordinated. In fact the top image is from this. Video of 5 executed men/boy (composite still at right)  Title:
ريف - حماة - صوران شهداء مجزرة ارتكبتها عصابة الأسد وشبيحته أثناء اقتحامها المدينة 8 - 2 2014
(Soran martyrs of the massacre committed by Assad and (Shabih) gang as they entered the city 8 - 2-2014) The scenery is just dirt, with no clues to help clarify if this is in Souran or maybe in Ma'an. And if it is Souran, it's also possible they were killed in Ma'an and just trucked here for effect. Note they're all on wrapping/carrying blankets already - at the lest we can say they weren't killed right here but moved a bit.

LCC reports for this day 32 martyrs in Hama. Relevant videos: "Soran,Hama: Assad's forces stormed the village and committed a massacre" (the one linked above) and  "Destruction in Souran, Hama" (rebels are in control now and filming in affected area). Text entries, in reverse chronological order: 

- Souran: Nidal Ahmad Ismael, Mouhamad Ahmad Ismael, Mhmoud Ahmad Ismael, Jumah Ismael Ismael, Usamah Ismael Ismael, Bsher Ismael Ismael, Yasir Mouhamad Mouhamad Ali, Ahmad awad Sloum, Mouhamad Yasen Al-Whbi, Abd Al-Qadr Ahmad Al-Nbhan, Mhmoud Abd Al-Hadi, Mouhamad Hsein Al-Ibrahem, Hsein Mouhamad Al-Mouhamad, Mutaz Hafith Ibrahem, Khalid Ahmad Al-Qtait, Mouhamad Muafq Al-Qtait, Ahmad Husam Al-Qtait, Mulham Jumah Al-Draj, Hsein Mouhamad Al-Khlou and Mohmoud Abd Al-Azezz Al-Nbhan were were executed on the ground by regime forces in the city.
- Souran: Number of martyrs who were executed on the ground by regime forces has risen to 20 martyrs.
- Souran: Regime forces executed six people on the ground during storming the neighborhood next to the detachment of military security in the city. (question: is this the 5+ we see above? Were they found and filmed, on those blankets, next to the security building?)
- Souran: Two FSA members were martyred due to clashes with regime forces in the city. (gaining access to the security building?)

As with the city destruction, the massacre victims are freely filmed by rebels who seem relaxed and in control of ... the military security buidling? This all sounds shady enough it's tempting to decide rebels did overrun Souran that day - besides Jalama - and Ma'an. But that really is a bit much for one day, especially when each one is accompanied by a reported massacre.

So in 2012, rebels were attacking Ma'an (update, LCC acknowledges fighting to control it at least), then they occupied it less openly, then later learned of a massacre there - that it turns out happened during their reported occupation. In 2014, rebels attack Ma'an, openly occupy it, and right away. learn of massacres - that happened in other towns. Still the lack of any enemy-side deaths, military or civilian, stands out as shady. Some people must have died, and they're either left out, or laundered. But so far, the seams of that aren't as clear as I first thought.

Al-Tamanaah Bus Victims
The other three Feb. 9 Souran deaths the VDC lists stand out as the spookiest link to the Ma'an Massacre, threatening to drag all these Souran martyrs that way. Above, the government is cited claiming 42 civilian victims … That may or may not include the three women presented as unidentified regime shelling victims (one of them a man), from Souran but killed near al-Tamanaah to the north, as they fled the south, and the violence no one else noticed ... probably passing through Ma'an ... or actually originating there. Rebels boasted how they left an axis open for civilians to escape.  It must be the north axis, for these poor folks to be nearing Tamanaah.
Rebels say their bus was hit with an artillery shell, and then they were on hand to take pictures. Consider, two of these women at least had their heads sliced with swords, it appears (see comparative graphic for the clearer case at right - I posted it on Twitter somewhere - and/or al-Tamanah bus victims) Or maybe it was artillery shells, as the rebels taking these photos claim. Alawite heretics are considered especially fit for beheading, throat-cutting, or, maybe to be less obvious - head-cutting like this. It's been seen around the edges of the Aqrab Massacre, for example.

Souran Summary:
VDC best count for this massacre: 30-34, depending if the sniper shooting or the bus victims count Scanning the LCC reports for April 8, 9 and 10 (all using the correct 2014 ones), it doesbn't seem the "Locals" heard about this incident. For Hama and Idlib, where Tamanaah actually is, no mention of people on a bus, or any similar grouping, or anything in Tamanaah or Khan Shikhoun area. How is it the LCC can miss the killing of these refugees from there, while they were also ignoring the Ma'an massacre?  It makes more sense if it's all the same thing, doesn't it?

Regime Forces
There are no 17-25 killed government fighters reflected in the VDC's separate databse for that. At least, not specified as dying in Hama province (it's not always noted, but usually, and can be falsified) - it's possible they were listed as civilians and blended into the Jalama or Souran allegations, which are heavy on the adult males. 

Depending on what "Hama" means, the VDC lists 2-5 apparently Ma'an defenders killed - or zero. These are partly after the massacre, apparently in the first battles to re-claim the place? In fact, none of these is dated for the main conquest on the 9th. Are they claiming it was a blood-free conquest, on the loser's side anyway? That can't be true.

Mouahmmed Ahmed Ibrahem
Province Lattakia Jabla - Brigadier general - died 2-11 in Maan (mistranslated Nan in English version)

Ahmed Sleiman, enigmatic "Shabih" hero
Ala'a Bakri Mahouk Hama 2-10 rank: unknown

Ali Hafez Naman rank unknown - from Baniyas - died 2 -12 in Maan

Ahmed Shaban Sleman from, rank: unknown
died 2-10 in Kokab (Kawkab on the map here, south of Maan) - photo, right
Notes: National Defense Forces

Ala'a Mouahmed Hemdoush
Province Lattakia  Qadmous
 Second Lieutenant  photo
2-08 shooting Hama

VDC's non-Ma'an totals: 17 Jalama + (31-34) Souran + (0-5) regime = 48-55 deaths. Compare that to Ma'an totals of 45+ (SOHR) or 42+(17-25) = 59-67. The number of victims we're looking for in a non-listed massacre is about the same as these combined records. Between the less-substantiated massacres, the few non-laundered fighters they list, and maybe a few missing entries, maybe these two batches are the same - the VDC does list the Ma'an victims, just shifted to two other towns. 

I haven't done a detailed comparison by gender and name groupings yet. This might or might not show a useful pattern. But one immediate note is how among the dozens of names given by the VDC and LCC, none of them is Qaddour. Even if the few missing entries were Qaddours, it's not enough to match what the pro-government sources found. If the Ma'an victims were shifted to either of these other incidents, they had their names altered as well. That would be a smart plan, or a basic part of one anyway.

But we have a similar number of dead at about the same time (as explained, February 8 deaths are quite likely). And they're all in about the same area. The map here shows it's not so large - about 28 km (17.5 miles) between Ma'an and Jalama. That's too far to be part of the same offensive, but close enough it could be all Ma'an-area deaths just fudged a bit.

Why they would fudge it just a bit instead of clear across the country, or out of the record entirely, is a good question. I don't know. Maybe none of this does line up. But it seems worth laying out, anyway.

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