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Sunday, October 25, 2015

Hussein Harmoush, FSA Defector Profile

Hussein Harmoush, FSA Defector Profile
October 25, 2015
last edits November 1

The Massacre Backdrop
The events of June, 2011 in Jisr al-Shughour, centered around a decisive massacre there, present quite a story, traced out in large part on the ACLOS page (largely done by the brilliant German researcher "CE" - my own on-site summary article forthcoming)

It started at least by June 3, when armed "protesters" in a funeral procession attacked the post office, after they claim they were shot at by snipers there, and reportedly massacred workers there.Narratives differ down the line, but all agree someone besieged and took over the military security building, capturing over 70 soldiers by June 5, whom they executed in a brutal mass  execution.

The government said around 120 soldiers and state workers were killed, with at least 49 and perhaps over 100 bodies found after order was restored.  - some victims were beheaded (see AP report), likely the ones that were Alawi (Alawite, the religion of President Assad). One lucky survivor had his eyes gouged out first.(Robert Fisk, The Independent). Government sources claimed that over 120 soldiers, public servants, and civilians were executed in a rampage by Turkish-supported armed "terrorists." Bearded, black-clad  fighters who didn't speak Arabic - most likely Turks - were reported to be involved in the attacks.

The Opposition (LCC, etc.) of course lodged a different story; they claimed that soldiers were ordered to kill unarmed Sunni protesters, but refused and weakly mutinied, and were then massacred by their Alawi commanding officers, Iranian helpers, etc. But this sectarian rubbish was barely believed anywhere outside the Arabian peninsula. Syria expert Joshua Landis decided "there is little evidence of wide-scale mutiny of Syrian soldiers," and instead "some evidence that the young men of Jisr set a trap for Syrian soldiers" and then executed them. Even the BBC acknowledged the first opposition claims were untrue, and the attack "showed that the government was facing an armed uprising rather than mass peaceful protests."Also, it was clearly a twisted, sectarian, and deceitful uprising.

Activists spoke about a unit of defectors roaming the area who weren't killed, possible defenders if properly armed. This might refer to the group who committed the massacre, accordig to Damascus, and who escaped the Army re-conquest, and made it to their handlers in Turkey

"Hero" Harmoush: Claims, Shifting Story

Truth-Telling in Turkey?
The Unit in question was apparently led by Syrian Arab Army Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Harmoush. The subject became famous at the time for being the highest-ranking officer to defect and to spill the dirt on Assad's massacres of defectors - also the apparent organizer of that slaughter - and made to pay for the alleged crime - section of the ACLOS page, with it and its references being the main source for the following.
The defection of Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Al-Harmoush was a sensation when it was posted on youtube. Describing himself as the leader of "battalion 11," he said he was now standing with a "Free Arab Syrian Army" whose current mission was "protecting protesters." Reading from a prepared statement, he denied claims the FSA were killing civilians, and denounced all "regime" massacres, "especially" the one at Jisr al-Shughour on June 4.

In this and subsequent statements, from his new base in a Turkish refugee camp, he detailed the orders to kill demonstrators that he defied. He swore to mass defections, so far mainly snuffed out with help from Iranian Republican Guard and Hezbollah fighters, positioned always behind the soldiers, who often refused and were shot right in the back.

For example, he revealed that Hezbollah members had killed "17 Syrian troops" (actually 13 policemen) in Hama and dumped their bodies in the river (see here). But that's false, as a clear-eyed analysis of this Sunni terrorist crime of July 31 shows. But Harmoush was sure Sunni extremists were innocent of that as they were of the massacre in Jisr al-Shughour, and he was clear that with some weapons, his Free Syrian Army could quickly topple the brutal "Assad regime."

Based on his passionate defection and the propaganda value of the claims he lodged, Harmoush became a hero of the events as reported in the western media. Andrea Glioti's article mentions after the June 3 post office attack: "The protesters were then joined by the battalion led by Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Al-Harmoush, the first high-ranking officer to defect, " and they set to attacking the military security headquarters.As the BBC describes in an article published two weeks after the events:
A reporter for Time Magazine tracked the colonel down in a village near the Turkish border. According to the article, Lt Col Harmoush said he and his men had been sent to Jisr al-Shughour to restore order. When the army began shelling the town, he said, he decided to defect. He claimed to have taken 30 of his men with him.
Then he changed his story to one where he couldn't possibly oversee any massacre of soldiers
    ... when the BBC finally tracked the colonel down on the phone, he told a story that was rather different from the myth that was already writing itself into the history books. His defection, he said, had actually taken place four days after the killings in Jisr al-Shughour, on 9 June. Furthermore, he said he had defected on his own, and only joined up with a number of other defectors in the town later. "I was not there at that time. I arrived there on 9 June, and when I arrived, there was absolutely no Syrian army there." Furthermore, he said, none of the other defectors he joined had been present at the time of the alleged massacre. He admitted [claimed - ed] he had invented much of his initial story purely to keep the Syrian army at bay.
He "admitted he invented" a point that became inconvenient, they say, suggesting his second story is true. But really all we know is he changed his story, and it's likely neither was quite true, although the first one is likely to be closer to it.

Back in Syria
On or before September 16, 2011, Syrian state TV reported Harmoush's "return". In an interview broadcasted by Syrian TV, the Lt. Col. tells a third story. As summarized by CE from this video's poor English subtitles, he failed a security course in the Army in 2010 and defected later, months before the video.
He then fled to Turkey "because of the violence", adding that he thinks armed groups were responsible and he never received killing orders while he was serving, contrary to what he says in the defection video. After arrival in Turkey, he received initial support of $US1000 and a used laptop. He was then contacted by several people of the Muslim Brotherhood, the FSA and by Sheikh Adnan Al-Aroor, to all of whom he delivered intel about army strength and other details, while going back and forth between Turkey and Syria. He was promised support on several occasions but promises weren't met. While he says that the defection video was made in a district of Jisr Al-Shugour, his involvement with the actual events seems to be minor if not non-existant. He received SYP 50,000 for the video while the person who made it received SYP 2 Million.[16]
There are too many clues of propaganda talking points to take that as obviously true - digging at Syria's enemies for disappointing their helpers, having Adnan Aroor himself gathering direct inteligence, etc. Israel isn't implicated, but ... And it may downplay Harmoush's role (he's only sure the armed gans probably killed the people, as if he wasn't involved at all). While what he said on TV is questionable considering his captivity, his shifting statements before that raise questions about whether any of those was ever true either. And it's quite likely this last story is the closest to true of the three.

Another Version, Told in Turkey
In January 2015 Önder Sığırcıkoğlu, an ex-Senior MIT (Turkish intelligence) official assigned this case later revealed:
“On 10 or 11 June 2011 we received an MIT communique noting the arrival of a dissident Syrian Lt.Colonel in the camp. We were tasked with drawing up a report on his involvement in military operations.
Upon inquiry I identified the Lt.Colonel in question to be Hussein al-Harmoush, the leader of the armed opposition in Jisr al-Shughour and instigator of the clashes there. He disclosed in the interview that he was a fundamentalist Sunni, a Russia-trained explosives specialist last assigned to the engineering department of the 11th army division in Homs. Harmoush had been in constant conflict with his superiors over his strict Islamism and had played a leading part in organizing the armed opposition in Jisr al-Shughour.
He recounted how they neutralized Syrian security personnel and captured Jisr al-Shughour’s post office, and how they set off an explosive device of Harmoush’s making at the premises of the military unit. Survivors of the explosion were forced to surrender to the forces of Harmoush who, in his own account, had 138 of them summarily executed.”

Thinking he's bragging as if to Erdogan himself, this account of his exploits may exaggerate the number killed and/or Harmoush's role in it. But the number is fairly consistent with other evidence, so he at least had a good overview of events, in this one case that he especially denounced as an exceptionally clear regime crime.

Abduction Controversy
After Harmoush's re-appearance in Syria, some in opposition circles aired certainty that Erdogan's Turkey had betrayed them in sending the hero back. some first reports say it was in trade for 9 Syrian-held PKK members they wanted to try. The BBC reports this, noting only that he probably didn't go back voluntarily, but "the Turkish foreign ministry said that no Syrian refugees had ever been sent back against their will," guilty of gross war crimes or not. So it seemed likely he was kidnapped by Assad loyalists inside the camp.  - Harmoush's brother ... Al-Arabiya, Sept 19

Turkey denied any such thing and launched a probe - al-Arabiya soon learned it was an Alawite plot -
same report
"The mystery is more or less solved, as information surfaced about the involvement of Syrian, Turkish, and Iranian intelligence in bringing the dissident back. 

According to information posted on the social networking website Facebook, Turkish intelligence officers who, like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, belong to the Alawite sect, took part in the mission of bringing Harmoush, the most senior defector in the army, back to Syria."

The basis is not convincing but the story sounds plausible- he was invited to dinner outside the camp - supposed to meet a Turkish officer to discuss aid to the rebellion. He went along with two other "dissident officers." All three knocked out with "sleeping pills" in their food, and smuggled into Syria - the fate of the other two is unclear, but they were probably sent to prison. Harmoush’s brother Ibrahim old them: “Hussein disappeared after meeting a Turkish officer in the refugee camp,” he told Al Arabiya in a phone interview. “He would have never been taken back to Syria without Turkey’s assistance.”
Ibrahim added that the following day he asked that same Turkish officer –whom he had seen his brother with – about Harmoush’s whereabouts. “He told me he knew nothing about him and that he left him 10 minutes after they had met.”
The report adds "Three Syrian intelligence operatives, one of them an Iranian citizen, were arrested and are currently being interrogated by Turkish intelligence."

The only officer describing himself as the responsible one - religion not specified, is Harmoush's self-described case manager Önder Sığırcıkoğlu, the ex-MIT officer mentioned above. It was in January of 2015 that he made those statements to the Turkish press, testifying to Turkey's role in training and arming the "rebels" in the early stages of the crisis. 

Sığırcıkoğlu claims that it was him who handed Harmoush back to Syrian authorities because his conscience didn't allow him to let the "killer of 138 people" escape justice. After an investigation by Turkish authorities he and seven others were arrested and tried. Sığırcıkoğlu was handed a 20 years prison term but was able to escape after 32 months while being transported from one prison to another.

(more detail forthcoming)

Unclear Fate
Zaman al-Wasl's attempted match-up
As for Lt. Col. Harmoush, he's accused of crimes surely punishable by death. No formal announcement was ever made but he most likely was executed following conviction on these charges.
However, some have pursued different stories. On February 1, 2015, it was alleged that one of the "leaked Caesar photos" showed Lt. Col. Harmoush died "under torture" in prison. This was reported by anti-Syrian Lebanese daily Zaman al-Wasl (English version - Arabic version with working image) The visual match, however, is rather dubious. This report also mentions competing claims Harmoush was killed by firing squad in early 2012, and that he remained alive at the end of 2013, well after the last "Caesar" photo should have been taken in August. By this report, he was innocent of anything but statements of dissent, and became imprisoned after he was "kidnapped by Syrian regime in September 2011, from a refugee camp on the Turkish border," a claim Mr. Sığırcıkoğlu would obviously contest.

Identity Recycling?
Human Rights Watch, in their 2013 report on the massacres in Latakia, singled out Ahrar al-Sham as one of the five clearly-implicated Jihadist groups. It noted "By their own admission, Ahrar al-Sham took part in the August 4 Latakia countryside operation from the outset," declared their role in "liberating" four of the stricken villages, posted videos to prove it; one showed them breaking into homes in a fifth town. And "in one of the videos, lieutenant colonel Hussein al-Harmoush, the brigade commander from Harakat Ahrar al-Sham al-Maghdad al-Aswad battalion, is identified by name and seen shooting in the operation."

Now the name Hussein is common, and Harmoush is common, but both of them on two different massacre-perpetrating defected lt. colonels in Syria seems a stretch. Surely the one under study is not on the loose anyway, or we'd hear about it. Quite likely that's the fighter's stage name, not his real one, taken in homage to this godfather of the "moderate FSA" (with the rank included ?).

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