Statement from the Islamic Front on the liberation of the city of Kessab
In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful, Most Compassionate
Following the heroic liberation of Kessab, the desperate Assad regime has launched a smear campaign to portray the liberation as an act of sectarian genocide targeting the Syrian-Armenian community.
The Islamic Front categorically rejects this unsubstantiated accusation. The Islamice Front has never had, nor will it ever hold, malevolent intention towards any religious or ethnic group in Syria.
Kessab is a city that holds military and strategic value regardless of the religious affiliations of its inhabitants.
Knowing that the Assad regime will respond in an indiscriminate and barbaric manner using heavy artillery and aeirial bombardment, some local residents chose to leave the city. We ensured their secure transit to areas of safety whenever it was possible.
We will continue to hold Kessab, and we will continue to work with local residents to ensure their safety and well-being and the protection of their homes and places of worship.
We call upon the international community and international media organizations not to be swayed by this latest round of regime propaganda aimed at distorting the image of the Syrian revolution.
It is clear to us that the true aim of this campaign is to bring international pressure on the Islamic Front and our allies in the armed struggle to cease the military campaign in the coastal region.
The Assad regime also wishes to stoke sectarian tensions in the country by portraying such a campaign as not one of liberation but of subjugation.
Time and time again the Assad regime, whose higher purposes are its own self-preservation and nothing else, is manipulating the matter of ethnic and sectarian co-existence for its own cynical interests.
We remind the world that the Syrian revolution is based on the principles of freedom, dignity, and inclusiveness. It has been the regime’s divide-and-rule policies that have created hatreds and schisms against which we have rebelled.
The Islamic Front is committed to honouring the principles of our great revolution and resolved to liberating the entire coastal region. We call upon the “Friends of Syria” to provide the necessary means of support to continue this campaign until victory.
Islamic Front — Political Office
An officer of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence was assassinated in his house with a bullet in the head in Baghdad Street in #Damascus.
SNN Reprot: At least 40 regime officers killed in 2 days besides scores of Shabiha.
Source: Al Arabiya
“The lout and lowlife, Suleiman al-Assad, the son of Hilal, the head of Military Housing in Latakia, was arrested on Monday from the Meridian of Latakia after receiving a beating from the good boys …. they said he cried and screamed. Among his entourage, was an official’s son called Amjad Aslan, also a friend of the Latakia Military Security Chief… they are all a group of louts and low lives who have wreaked havoc and infested corruption in the city …”
Such statements, critical of the practices of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s clan, appeared on regime loyalist Facebook pages to the surprise of many Syrians. With loyalist calls for their arrest, Suleiman and his father Hilal al-Assad were perceived as a liability in the coastal region.
SANA, Syria’s official news agency, announced the death of Hilal, the 47-year-old second cousin of Syria’s president on Monday, with some already accusing the regime of orchestrating his death to diffuse the Alawite sect’s growing resentment.
Certain reports claimed his death in the newly launched Alanfal campaign, a joint Islamist military operation against Syria’s coastal region. An Islamist group declared that Hilal, among other Allawite figures, died in a rocket attack on the city of Latakia.
Hilal is the grandchild of Ahmad al-Assad, the older half-brother of Hafez al-Assad, the late Syrian president. Following the revolution, he and his son were known for their thuggish practices, namely ransom kidnapping and rape, surpassing the reputation of his two notorious brothers, Haroun and Hail.
“Suleiman was dubbed ‘the President of the Syrian Coast’s republic; he acts in that capacity, a thug since his teenage years,’” according to an Alawite Latakia resident, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. “They are notorious for rape and ransom kidnappings, and their headquarters at sports city is a Bermuda Triangle for their detainees.”
The rise of Shabiha
The Shabiha is a term originally used to describe the Assad clan’s smugglers and racketeers and their Allawite henchmen in the late 1970s. They exploited the high demand for foreign goods, especially cars and cigarettes, following newly imposed government restrictions on imports. Malek al-Assad, the son of Ibrahim, Hafez’s half-brother, was a pioneer in smuggling; he became a liability for his involvement in weapons’ smuggling, according to this detailed account of the rise of Shabiha by Syria Comment. Hafez imprisoned his nephew for days. Years after losing his lucrative business, he ended up a taxi driver on the Latakia–Damascus route, dying in car accident.
Fawwaz al-Assad, being Hafez’s full nephew, enjoyed better immunity than Malek. He led a successful career in smuggling cars and cigarettes, gaining increasing notoriety for rape, driving in a multi-car convoy, and ransom kidnappings.
Hafez reportedly intervened occasionally to curtail his excesses. As the other nephews and cousins grew older, they competed for power and wealth, often parading their brand new cars, with tinted windows and bodyguards brandishing their Kalashnikovs. The Shabiha were notorious for their gangster looks, tattoos, funky haircuts, massive biceps and beards.
Orwa Nyrabia, a Syrian filmmaker and former Latakia resident, believes that Hafez, a cunning leader often praised for his Machiavellian tactics, intentionally left his extended family uneducated, paving the way for their thuggish behavior.
“There was an interest in repressing the coastal region through the clan. Hafez’s eldest son, Bassel Assad, periodically curtailed and unleashed their activities in a semi-organized manner,” said Nyrabia.
The Assads, originally peasants from the Latakia Mountains, mostly took the easy illicit road to fortune and power, the Tashbeeh. They moved to the city of Latakia, a mostly Sunni coastal city with a few hundred thousand residents. Sectarian tensions hid some class hatred, according to residents from both communities, as Allawites often cited their history as discriminated against peasants and servants of urban Sunnis.
The Shabiha instilled fear among the population, while amassing fortunes from smuggling; the regime kept them at bay to fulfill the regime’s two pillars of control: demoralization and fear. After the revolution, and as the regime’s dependency on local militias grew, their power was unleashed. They repressed demonstrators in the coastal region, tortured and humiliated them, like in this infamous video from Bayada, a town in the Banyas province.
After Hilal’s death
Syrian activists recently reported that Suleiman, Hilal’s son, harassed a girl at a DVD store in Latakia; when the owner confronted him, he was forced to lick his shoes, then get naked, and dash around the many squared meters of his shop.
Following news of his father’s death, Suleiman and his Shabiha indiscriminately shot at Sunni neighborhoods. “Young Sunni men were left with little choices in Latakia,” according to a half Alawite, half Sunni city resident.
“Either they stay in the city and risk arrest, conscription and harassment, or join the rebels in the mountains”, he said. “Most chose the latter.”
By Mohanad Hage Ali
(This article was published in a western run news and not everything mentioned here reflects our views)
Source: Carnegie Endowment
By: TAM HUSSEIN
Islamist brigades have grown exponentially in Syria’s rebel ranks over the past three years, partly due to the decline of the mainstream groups fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). In northwestern Syria, one of these ascendant Islamist factions is a group that analysts know very little about but that now helps shape the crucial battles in Syria’s coastal region: the Ansar al-Sham Battalions.
Ansar al-Sham, whose name translates in English to “Helpers of the Levant,” is mostly active in the Latakia and Idlib Provinces in Syria’s north, where I recently traveled to report on and study the Syrian uprising. It is clear that the group has grown in strength over the last three years. It has allied itself with other Islamist groups in the so-called Islamic Front, a major coalition announced in November 2013 that is now embroiled in heavy fighting against the jihadi faction known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. Having successfully adapted to the shifting tides of rebel politics, Ansar al-Sham now seems set to benefit further from the ISIL being pushed back.
BUILDING SUPPORT BY HUMANITARIAN WORK
According to Aron Lund’s paper, Syria’s Salafi Insurgents: Rise of the Syrian Islamic Front, Ansar al-Sham formed out of eleven core battalions. Since Lund’s report was published in March 2013, its numbers have grown to over 2,500 men, according to Abu Mohammed, who leads the al-Zahir Baybars Battalion, which is a subfaction of Ansar al-Sham.
When traveling in the rebel-held areas of northern Latakia, I was able to see that Ansar al-Sham plays a crucial role in aid delivery in the areas where it dominates. The group has been catering to internally displaced persons, and it seems to have supplanted the international aid organizations in delivering humanitarian relief to some of these areas. White tents with the Ansar al-Sham logo prominently displayed are on show in the fields of northern Latakia.
Interestingly, the group also highlights its aid work in its propaganda, such as on its YouTube channel, to an even greater extent than its battles with the regime. It is as if the organization is following a strategy similar to the classic Muslim Brotherhood doctrine, seeking to win the population over through social work.
A SECRETIVE LEADERSHIP
The founder of Ansar al-Sham has so far been unknown. Many analysts have tried to point to to the London-based Salafi preacher known as Abu Basir al-Tartousi, since there are YouTube clips of him together with the group. But Abu Basir has denied being the leader of Ansar al-Sham and says he works with many groups.
Abu Mohammed, the Ansar al-Sham subcommander, told me that the group was originally founded by a man from Latakia City called Abu Omar. Abu Omar is an adherent to Salafi Islamist doctrine and a veteran of the war in Afghanistan who returned to his native city to take over the family sweetshop. Other sources confirm this: Salam Abdelkarim, who is the Latakia correspondent for the pro-opposition Shaam News Network and himself a native of Latakia, also knows of Abu Omar and says he was admired by the local Sunni boys because he refused to be intimidated by the regime and stuck to his religious convictions.
The sweetshop owner, though, is not the military strategist. Abu Omar seems more involved in providing guidance and funds, and there appears to be a close link between Saudi Arabia and Ansar al-Sham when it comes to the aid work. Military strategy instead falls to a Chechen member of Ansar al-Sham known as Abu Musa al-Shishani, who is wary of the limelight.
Despite the Chechen’s presence in its leadership, Ansar al-Sham remains overwhelmingly Syrian, consisting of a mixture of local army defectors, shopkeepers, workers, farmers, and artisans. While the group is not averse to foreign fighters, I have visited a number of local battalions attached to Ansar al-Sham and didn’t come across a single foreigner. According to Abu Jihad, second in command to Abu Mohammed in the al-Zahir Baybars Battalion, the fighters of Ansar al-Sham are organized in a military register (diwan) and each is paid a salary of $60 per month. Relative to what a Syrian citizen would earn doing national service, that is an acceptable income.
BALANCING BETWEEN THE FSA AND THE JIHADIS
Politically, Ansar al-Sham wants a Sunni Islamic state within Syria’s borders and rejects secularism. The group has managed to straddle the ideological fault lines of the uprising, even as Latakia became the scene of conflict between FSA factions and radical jihadis. In summer 2013, a group of ISIL members led by the Iraqi jihadi known as Abu Ayman al-Iraqi killed the rival FSA commander Abu Basir al-Ladhiqani, a member of the FSA’s Supreme Military Council, raising ISIL-FSA tension throughout Syria.
According to one of its commanders, called Abul Harith, Ansar al-Sham does not work with the FSA. But neither does it fight the FSA, and Ansar al-Sham has in fact forged local alliances with FSA commanders such as Abu Basir al-Ladhiqani, even though its members grumbled about his conciliatory policy toward the Alawites and perceived hubris.
Most Ansar al-Sham commanders that I interviewed clearly condemned the ISIL’s Abu Ayman al-Iraqi for killing Abu Basir al-Ladhiqani. Yet, on the ground at least, Ansar al-Sham did not break ties with the ISIL completely, despite considerable tension between them—partly, one suspects, because many of the ISIL’s members in northern Latakia were local Syrian boys who are connected to Ansar al-Sham members through family and social ties.
From the numerous interviews I did with its members, it is clear that many Ansar Sham commanders and fighters support the approach of the al-Qaeda–aligned faction known as the Nusra Front, which has decided to focus on removing Assad before building an Islamic state. The group has also had good relations with smaller jihadi factions, like the Ansar al-Mujahedin Battalion led by Sheikh Suqor or the Sham al-Islam Movement led by Abu Ahmed al-Maghrebi, which has a large North African contingent.
OPEN TO ALL ISLAMISTS
Moreover, the vagueness of Ansar al-Sham’s religious ideology makes it attractive to religiously conservative Sunni Syrians, including wealthy funders of the rebellion. Its close ties with members of Syria’s Sunni religious class, like Dr. Khaled Kendo, and the fact that its commanders do not actively embark on a program of religious indoctrination means that Ansar al-Sham is able to absorb Sunni Muslims of all persuasions. The group delivers religious lectures, but these are held by local clerics in touch with the community. Abu Mohammed and his battalion, which used to belong to the FSA network, is a good example of how Ansar al-Sham recruits. Abu Mohammed admits that he wanted to join Ansar al-Sham partly due to a lack of funding but also because of his own religious evolution. He met with Abu Omar, whose vision of Islam he deemed to be “more correct.” A decision to join Ansar al-Sham was then made by Abu Mohammed and his second-in-command, Abu Jihad, and their fighting men acquiesced.
The way in which Ansar al-Sham has played its cards and its presence in the important coastal region suggests that if the Islamic Front alliance manages to regain its footing after the infighting with the ISIL has ended, this medium-sized Islamist group could go on to play a larger role both in rebel politics and the Syrian civil war.