Die Gotteskrieger kamen am frühen Morgen des 4. August 2013, und sie kannten keine Gnade. Marodierend zogen sie durch ein Dutzend syrische Dörfer. Kaltblütig ermordeten sie mindestens 190 Zivilisten und verschleppten weitere 200 als Geiseln. Das geht aus einem Bericht hervor, den die Menschenrechtsorganisation Human Rights Watch am Freitag auf ihrer Homepage veröffentlichte. Die Opfer sind ausnahmslos Alawiten, eine schiitische Religionsminderheit, der auch Präsident Baschar Al-Assad angehört. Die Entführten, überwiegend Frauen und Kinder, sollen sich bis heute in der Hand der für ihre Grausamkeit berüchtigten Terrororganisation »Islamischer Staat Irak und Großsyrien« (ISIS) und anderer islamistischer Gruppen befinden.
Die Gotteskrieger begingen das Massaker am ersten Tag ihrer Sommeroffensive gegen die nordsyrische Küstenregion Latakia, einer Hochburg des syrischen Regimes, in der vor allem Christen und Alawiten leben. Auf ihrem Vormarsch eroberten sie vorübergehend ein Dutzend alawitischer Dörfer im Küstengebirge und richteten dort ein Blutbad an. Selbst Kinder verschonten sie nicht. Viele der Rebellen sollen Ausländer gewesen sein, vor allem Tschetschenen.
Mitglieder von Human Rights Watch durften nun mit Erlaubnis der syrischen Regierung das Pogrom in fünf der betroffenen Dörfer untersuchen. Die Ergebnisse hat die Organisation in einem 106seitigen Bericht und in einem Video festgehalten. »Diese Menschenrechtsverstöße waren keine Aktionen fehlgeleiteter Kämpfer, diese Operation war eine koordinierte, geplante Attacke auf die Zivilbevölkerung in diesen alawitischen Dörfern«, stellt Joe Stork fest, der bei Human Rights Watch für die Abteilung Mittlerer Osten verantwortlich ist. Als die Rebellen, deren Zahl mehrere tausend betragen haben soll, die Stellungen der syrischen Armee überrannt hatten, befanden sich keine Militäreinheiten mehr in den Dörfern.
Mitarbeiter von Human Rights Watch sahen Leichen, deren Füße zusammengebunden waren. Andere waren bis zur Unkenntlichkeit verkohlt. Manchen hatten die Rebellen den Kopf abgeschlagen. Unter den Opfern befand sich auch der schiitische Geistliche der Moschee in Baruda, einem der am heftigsten heimgesuchten Dörfer. Freischärler der Nusra-Front hatten ihn als vermeintlichen Anhänger Assads hingerichtet.
Der Angriff fand offensichtlich mit Billigung der vom Westen massiv unterstützten Freien Syrischen Armee (FSA) statt. Oberbefehlshaber Salim Idris ist anscheinend selbst an die Front gefahren. In einem Youtube-Video, das angeblich am 11. August in der Nähe der Stadt Latakia aufgenommen wurde, jubelt der FSA-Chef laut Spiegel Online: »Ich bin heute hier, um mir ein Bild zu machen von den großen Erfolgen unserer Mitrevolutionäre in ihrer Küstenkampagne.« Human Rights Watch geht davon aus, daß sich Kämpfer der FSA später aktiv an der Offensive beteiligten.
Bereits im August hatten die syrische Regierung und auch unabhängige Beobachter vor Ort das Verbrechen angeprangert. Doch die Berichte wurden als billige Propaganda des Assad-Regimes und seiner angeblichen Sympathisanten im Westen abgetan. Fast zur gleichen Zeit richteten die Gotteskrieger laut Augenzeugen in der Grenzstadt Ras Al-Ain im Norden des Landes ein weiteres Blutbad an mehreren hundert Kurden an.
"You Can Still See Their Blood"
Executions, Unlawful Killings, and Hostage Taking by Opposition Forces in Latakia Countryside
October 11, 2013
On August 4, 2013, on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr holiday which marks the end of Ramadan, fighters from several different armed opposition groups launched a large scale offensive in Latakia countryside. Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., the opposition fighters attacked and overran the government army positions guarding the area and in the following hours entered into and occupied more than 10 Alawite villages. The government launched an offensive to retake the area on August 5 ultimately regaining full control on August 18.
This report documents serious abuses committed by opposition forces on August 4 during their attack on the villages. Eight survivors and witnesses described how opposition forces executed residents and opened fire on civilians, sometimes killing or attempting to kill entire families who were either in their homes unarmed or fleeing from the attack, and at other times killing adult male family members, and holding the female relatives and children hostage. At the time of writing, according to opposition sources, over 200 civilians, the vast majority of whom are women and children, continue to be held by the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS) and Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, groups that led the opposition offensive.
Human Rights Watch visited five of the villages after the government retook control and conducted an in-depth investigation into the events of August 4, 2013 and their aftermath. Human Rights Watch interviewed 19 residents present during the operation including 3 wounded during the attack. We also interviewed three additional relatives of missing or killed people, as well as six Syrian security, army, and militia force members who participated in the fighting, three medical and emergency response staff, an activist from Latakia city, and an opposition member who is not a fighter but who was present during the operation. In addition we interviewed two armed opposition leaders who did not participate in the fighting, an international humanitarian worker with knowledge of the opposition groups who participated in the operation, and a western diplomat with knowledge of the use of Turkish territory by opposition fighters. We corroborated much of the information gathered from witnesses through our own onsite investigation on September 7-8 and by analyzing photos and video footage of the events and their aftermath.
Human Rights Watch has collected the names of 190 civilians who were killed by opposition forces in their offensive on the villages, including 57 women and at least 18 children and 14 elderly men (see Annex 1 for list of victims). The evidence collected strongly suggests they were killed on the first day of the operation, August 4. We identified these individuals as civilians through interviews, video and photographic evidence, or a review of hospital records. Given that many residents remain missing, and opposition fighters buried many bodies in mass graves, the total number of dead is likely higher.
Human Rights Watch has documented that opposition forces executed or unlawfully killed at least 67 of these 190 civilians even though they were unarmed and trying to flee. The evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch indicates that all those unlawfully killed were civilian non-combatants. There is no evidence that they could have posed, or could have been perceived to pose, any threat to the fighters.
For the rest of these killed, further investigation is required to assess the precise circumstances of the residents’ deaths and whether or not the deaths were the result of unlawful killings. However the high civilian death toll, the nature of the recorded wounds, for example multiple gunshot or stabbing wounds, and the presence of 43 women, children, and elderly among the dead all indicate that most of these individuals were either intentionally or indiscriminately killed by opposition forces.
According to local residents and a Military Intelligence officer serving in the area, at the start of their attack opposition fighters entered the Sheikh Nabhan area of Barouda where government soldiers were positioned in the early hours of August 4, 2013. According to an army soldier who was stationed there, the opposition fighters overran the government position and two neighboring bases protecting the area, killing approximately 30 soldiers and wounding many more. The opposition fighters then entered the villages of Barouda, Nbeiteh, al-Hamboushieh, Blouta, Abu Makkeh, Beyt Shakouhi, Aramo, Bremseh, Esterbeh, Obeen, and Kharata. In the following days, opposition fighters also gained control of Qal’ah, Talla, and Kafraya.
Fourteen residents from eight of these villages told Human Rights Watch that they awoke to the sounds of gun and mortar fire and the voices of incoming opposition fighters on August 4. They described frantically attempting to flee as opposition fighters stormed the area, opening fire apparently indiscriminately, and in some case deliberately shooting at them while they tried to flee. Many of those who were unable to flee were killed or taken hostage.
The residents and members of the Syrian government security forces whom Human Rights Watch interviewed all said that on August 4 there were no government forces or pro-government militias in the town once opposition forces had overrun the military positions. Only one resident told Human Rights Watch that he had a firearm in his home that he used to protect himself. An activist from Latakia city who was collecting information about the attack, but was not present during the offensive, also told Human Rights Watch that, according to information she gathered about the operation from locals, four residents who were killed had tried to defend themselves with hunting rifles or other personal weapons. A resident who was present during the attack also said that his father, who stayed behind at home with a hunting rifle, was also killed. All of the other residents indicated that they and their neighbors were not armed, and that despite this, they were targeted by opposition fighters.
In some cases families in their entirety were executed or gunned down by opposition fighters, in others, surviving family members had to flee leaving loved ones behind. One resident in the hamlet between the villages of Blouta and al-Hamboushieh described how he was able to flee his home with his mother as fighters entered his neighborhood but that he had to leave his elderly father and blind aunt behind in their house because of their physical infirmness. He said that when he returned to the hamlet after the government retook the area he found that his father and aunt had been killed:
My mom was here in the house with me. She came out of the house first, and I was behind her. We saw the three fighters just in front of us, and then we fled on foot down behind the house and into the valley. The three fighters that I saw were all dressed in black. They were shooting at us from two different directions. They had machine guns and were using snipers. My older brother came down and hid with us as well. We hid, but my dad stayed in the house. He was killed in his bed. My aunt, she is an 80 year old blind woman, was also killed in her room. Her name is Nassiba.
Fourteen residents and first responders told Human Rights Watch that they witnessed executions or saw bodies that bore signs of execution after opposition forces were pushed out of the area on August 18 by government forces, including in some cases corpses that were bound, and bodies that had been decapitated. A doctor working in the National Hospital in Latakia who was receiving the dead and wounded from Latakia countryside told Human Rights Watch that they had received 205 corpses of civilians killed during the August 4-August 18 operation. The doctor showed Human Rights Watch a medical report the hospital prepared on August 26 stating that the, “[c ]ause of death in several of them [the bodies] was multiple gunshot wounds all over the bodies, in addition to stab wounds made with a sharp instrument, given the decapitation observed in most bodies…Some corpses were found in a state of complete charring, and others had their feet tied…” The medical report reflected that the amount of decay the corpses received by the hospital after opposition forces left the area exhibited was consistent with having been killed around August 4. An opposition activist who was present in the affected villages during the operation told Human Rights Watch on the night of August 4 that on that day there were “160 or 200 Alawite dead.”
In a number of cases, on August 4 opposition forces killed adult male villagers and held their female relatives and children hostage. According to opposition sources, they are still holding over 200 civilian hostages at this writing. Several residents from Latakia countryside told Human Rights Watch that they saw their relatives in the background of a video published on YouTube on September 7 in which civilians from the area being held hostage by Abu Suhaib, the Libyan local leader of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, are shown.
Some of the opposition abuses had clear sectarian motivations. For example, in Barouda opposition fighters intentionally damaged an Alawite maqam (a site where a religious figure is buried) and appear to have intentionally damaged and dug up the grave of the religious figure buried there as well. On August 4 opposition fighters also abducted and later executed Sheikh Bader Ghazzal, the local Alawite religious authority in Barouda who presided over the maqam. According to Jabhat al-Nusra, the opposition group that executed him, the sheikh, who was a relative of Fadl Ghazzal, an advisor to the former Syrian president, Hafez al-Assad, was killed because of his support for the Syrian government.
The investigation found that at least 20 distinct armed opposition groups participated in the operation they termed the “Campaign of the Descendants of Aisha the Mother of Believers,” the “Barouda Offensive,” or the “Operation to Liberate the Coast,” which lasted from August 4-August 18. It is not clear however whether all or most of these groups were present in the villages on August 4 when the evidence Human Rights Watch has collected suggests the vast majority of the abuses took place. Five groups however, who were the key fundraisers, organizers, planners, and executors of the attacks were clearly present from the outset of the operation on August 4. These are:
- Islamic State of Iraq and Sham
- Jabhat al-Nusra
- Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar
- Suquor al-Izz
Human Rights Watch also has evidence, collected through interviews, an onsite investigation, and a review of opposition statements and videos, linking all five to specific incidents that amount to war crimes.
Sheikh Saqr, the leader of Suquor al-Izz, seems to identify himself on what is believed to be his Twitter account as the person responsible for the finances for the operation and that Abu Taha from Ahrar al-Sham was his deputy in this regard. The operation was reportedly largely financed by private Gulf based donors.
In the case of the other groups who participated in the operation, the extent of their involvement in fundraising, planning, and leading it, and direct participation in abuses is not clear. It is also unclear whether their fighters were present and involved in the operation on August 4, the date when Human Rights Watch believes the abuses took place.
One of these groups is the Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army which is led by Salim Idriss, the Chief of Staff. Several statements from Idriss, days after the beginning of the operation, indicate that fighters under his command were participating in it days after August 4.
International human rights law unequivocally prohibits summary and extrajudicial executions. In situations of armed conflict in which international humanitarian law applies, deliberately killing civilians and injured, surrendered, or captured soldiers (those hors de combat) would constitute a war crime.
The evidence collected by Human Rights Watch strongly suggests that the serious abuses carried out by the opposition groups on August 4 were not the actions of a group of rogue fighters. The coordinated nature of the overall operation in which at least 20 distinct groups participated and the number of villages affected, in combination with the organized manner in which they carried out the crimes on August 4—the simultaneous arrival of fighters that surrounded the villages, the systematic killing of entire families or killing of adult male relatives and holding women and children as hostages, and the statements from fighters and others who are holding these civilians hostage regarding their intentions to exchange them for detainees held by the government—suggests that the crimes were premeditated and organized.
The evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch strongly suggests that the killings, hostage taking, and other abuses committed by the opposition forces on August 4 rise to the level of crimes against humanity. The scale and organization of these crimes indicate that they were systematic as well as being planned as part of an attack on a civilian population.
The local commanders of Ahrar al-Sham, Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, Jabhat al-Nusra, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, andSuquor al-Izz who led the operation may bear responsibility for the killings, hostage taking, and other abuses described in this report. The senior leaders of these groups may also bear responsibility for these abuses. For both war crimes and crimes against humanity, the principle of “command responsibility” applies to military commanders and others in position of authority who may be criminally liable for crimes committed by forces under their effective command and control. This covers situations when they knew or should have known of crimes being committed by their subordinates and failed to prevent the crimes or hand over those responsible for prosecution. In addition, fighters from these and other groups who directly ordered or perpetrated abuses, should be held criminally accountable for their actions.
All concerned governments with influence over these armed opposition groups should press them to end deliberate, indiscriminate, and disproportionate strikes and other attacks on civilians. In addition, all governments, companies, and individuals should immediately stop selling or supplying weapons, ammunition, materiel, and funds to these groups, given compelling evidence that they have committed crimes against humanity, until they stop committing these crimes and perpetrators are fully and appropriately held to account. Arms sales and military assistance to the groups may make the individuals supplying them complicit in crimes they commit.
Governments should also not permit the use of their national territory for the shipment to these groups of arms, ammunition, and other materiel. Given that most foreign fighters in these groups reportedly gain access to Syria via Turkey, from which they also smuggle their weapons, obtain money and other supplies, and retreat to for medical treatment, Turkey should increase border patrols, restrict entry of fighters and arm flows to groups credibly found to be implicated in systematic human rights violations. Under the principle of universal jurisdiction and in accordance with national laws Turkey should also investigate and prosecute those in Turkey suspected of committing, being complicit in, or having command responsibility for international crimes.
The UN Security Council and Turkey’s allies should call on Turkey in particular to do more to verify that no arms are passing through Turkey to these groups.
Human Rights Watch has previously documented and condemned executions carried out by opposition fighters in areas under their control in Homs and Aleppo governorates. Human Rights Watch has also documented and condemned summary and extrajudicial executions by government and pro-government forces following ground operations in many parts of Syria, including in Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, Tartous, Homs and Idlib governorates.
Human Rights Watch has long called on the UN Security Council to sanction individuals credibly implicated in serious human rights violations and to take up the issue of accountability for these crimes by referring the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court (ICC).