Eyewitnesses Corroborate Syrian Government Account of Houla Massacre

by Jun 6, 2012Foreign Policy5 comments

U.N. observers speak to members of the Free Syrian Army who claimed regime loyalists were responsible for the Houla massacre (Reuters/Houla News Network)

Unfortunately, with the corporate establishment media touting the official U.S. line that the Syrian government was responsible for the massacre, increasing foreign intervention is what may be expected to come of this atrocity.
U.N. observers speak to members of the Free Syrian Army who claimed regime loyalists were responsible for the Houla massacre (Reuters/Houla News Network)

U.N. observers speak to members of the Free Syrian Army who claimed regime loyalists were responsible for the Houla massacre (Reuters/Houla News Network)

I’ve written two earlier pieces on the massacre in Houla: “The Houla Massacre as Pretext for Regime Change in Syria” and “Dissecting U.S. Mainstream Media Reports on the Houla Massacre”. Read those first for background.

According to Syria’s ambassador to Russia, Riad Haddad, “These families were killed because they refused to cooperate with these terrorist groups.” Bloomberg reports, “Among the dead in Houla was the family of a lawmaker who refused to withdraw his name from the parliamentary vote, Haddad said.”

The Houla massacre has been widely reported, but lesser known is that “the bodies of 13 men were found bound and shot near the eastern city of Dair Alzour”. This was reported in the Los Angeles Times, but the report offered no suggestion of who might have been responsible, stating only:

The United States and the Syrian opposition allege that pro-Assad militiamen carried out the killings in Houla. But Syria has blamed “terrorists” seeking to sow sectarian tensions and torpedo Annan’s peace plan. Syria vows to seek justice against the killers once an investigation is complete this week.

Marat Musin, a journalist for the Abkhazian Network News Agency (ANNA), writes that killings took place in the village of Tal-Dow (or “Taldou”) on May 25, which is apparently a district of Houla (or “Al-Hula”) or neighboring village. The original report is in Russian, but relying on Google’s translation, Musin comments, “Apparently, the purpose of this operation was the adoption of UN Security Council resolution for the start of NATO military operations in Syria.”

In another report (translation here), Musin offers the following detailed account:

The town was attacked from the north-east by groups of bandits and mercenaries, numbering up to 700 people. The militants came from Ar-Rastan (the Brigade of al-Farouk from the Free Syrian Army led by the terrorist Abdul Razak Tlass and numbering 250), from the village of Akraba (led by the terrorist Yahya Al-Yousef), from the village Farlaha, joined by local gangsters, and from Al Hula.

The city of Ar-Rastan has long been abandoned by most civilians. Now Wahhabis from Lebanon dominate the scene, fueled with money and weapons by one of the main orchestrators of international terrorism, Saad Hariri, who heads the anti-Syrian political movement “Tayyar Al-Mustaqbal” (“Future Movement”). The road from Ar-Rastan to Al-Hula runs through Bedouin areas that remain mostly out of control of government troops, which made the militant attacks on Al Hula a complete surprise for the Syrian authorities.

When the rebels seized the lower checkpoint in the center of town and located next to the local police department, they began to sweep all the families loyal to the authorities in neighboring houses, including the elderly, women and children. Several families of the Al-Sayed were killed, including 20 young children and the family of the AbdulRazak. Many of those killed were “guilty” of the fact that they dared to chang from Sunnis to Shiites. The people were killed with knives and shot at point blank range. Then they presented the murdered to the UN and the international community as victims of bombings by the Syrian army, something that was not verified by any marks on their bodies.

Musin states that the rebel account that militias loyal to Syrian regime were responsible for the massacre is inconsistent since “the names of those killed were from people loyal to the authorities”.

Musin interviews a police officer named Al Khosam, whose checkpoint in Taldou was attacked by rebels on May 25. Al Khosam told Musin,

The attackers were from Ar-Rastan and Al-Hula. Insurgents control Taldou. They burned houses and killed people by the families, because they were loyal to the government. Raped the women and killed the children.

A soldier named Ahmed Mahmoud al Khali told Musin,

And after a while the UN observers came. They came to us, we led them to the homes of families who were cut by thugs. I saw a family of three brothers and their father in the same room. In another room we found dead young children and their mother. And another one- an old man killed in this house. Only five men, women and children. The woman raped and shot in the head, I covered her with a blanket.

A resident of Taldou gave the following account:

On Friday afternoon I was home. Hearing the shots, I came out to watch what was happening and saw that the fire came from the north side, towards the location of army checkpoint. As the army did not respond, they started to approach the homes, were subsequently the family was killed. When the army started to return fire, they used the women and children as human shields and continued firing at the checkpoint. When the army began answered, they fled. After that, the army took the surviving women and children and brought them into safety. At this time, Al Jazeera aired pictures and said that the Army committed the massacre at Al Hula.

In fact, they [the rebel forces] killed the civilians and children in Al-Hula. The bandits did not allow anyone to carry out their work. They steal everything that they can get their hands on: wheat, flour, oil and gas. Most of the fighters are from the city of Ar Rastan.

The dead were presented by the bands of UN and the “international community” as victims of the Syrian army, in order to increase the pressure against the “international community” to force a rapid adoption of a “suitable” resolution against Syria by the UN Security Council (UNSC), which will just be “pushed through” because of the horrible massacre. (False-Flag)

In another follow-up report (translation here), Musin writes:

During our trip to Al-Hula in the province of Homs, we have documented and filmed a dozen reports of witnesses of the attack on the Syrian city of Al-Hula (25th May 2012). The attack was carried out by a unit of armed fighters from Rastan, in which more than 700 gunmen were involved. They brought the city under their control and began with a cleansing action against loyalist (Pro-Assad) families, including elderly people, women and also children.

Musin names names, providing a list of 12 individuals who allegedly participated in the massacre. A female resident of Taldou, interviewed on camera with her face blurred out to protect her identify, told Musin:

Two days earlier the terrorists’ assistants told us that the Zero Hour is coming soon. We heard this with local terrorists, always talking about how they should create a fuss. I didn’t expect it would be this way. Until this event, they (armed terrorists) used to attack army checkpoints every Friday after the prayers (Friday prayers). They attack for several hours then things go back to normal….

On Friday, May the 25th, at 2 pm right after Friday prayers, an army checkpoint and the army repelled this attack. The armed group was led by Nidal Bakkour. Shortly after that, another armed group attacked another checkpoint. This second group is from a family called Al-Hallak, also locally called Al-Hassan….

When the UN Observers came, the armed men gathered the bodies in front of the observers and claimed that they’re civilians killed by the Syrian Arab Army, I heard that personally from them when they said it to the observers and they claimed that they found the bodies inside the houses….

Just against this police stations are the families’ houses. The residential buildings against this police stations are the where all those children and families that were killed. They killed all the children of Al-Sayed family; they were 3 families and 20 children. They also killed people from Abdulrazak family, 10 persons; they killed them because they support the authorities. Of Al-Sayed family they killed the family of the brother of Abdullah Al-Mashlab, the 3rd person in the Syrian parliament. He was elected on May 24th, the next day they killed his wife and 3 kids and his brother and his family as well.

This would seem to corroborate the statement of Ambassador Haddad in the Bloomberg report, presuming that Abdullah Al-Mashlab is the same legislator being referred to.

This same woman tells how rebels dressed as civilians presented the bodies to U.N. observers pretending to be family members or residents claiming that loyalist forces were responsible. She says, “When the observers arrived the armed men had occupied the empty houses and the armed men who accompanied the observers started showing the observers into the houses as if the owners were inside and they provided testimonies.”

This reminded me of a report I read earlier that I thought was very suspicious. A Channel 4 team arrived in Houla to interview eyewitnesses. Alex Thomson’s report on the visit notes that the area was under control of the rebels when they arrived. He writes:

At once we were pulled physically from house to house by people desperate to get their story to the outside world. Within minutes we meet 25-year-old Younis, lying in a room with two gunshot wounds in his torso. He’s telling us, weakly, how he was trying to help an 11-year-old boy on Friday when he was injured. The boy was shot dead.

But who shot him? We aren’t told. Continuing:

A 15-year-old girl lies on another bed not 10 yards away describing how she witnessed the Shabiya militia crouching behind a window as she tried to flee. She too was shot.

Now, the Western media has near universally used the word “Shabiya” to describe militias loyal to the Assad regime, but the BBC has an insightful report on the origins of the word and how it is used by the locals:

It is not clear exactly who they are and to whom they are loyal, but the term “shabiha” has repeatedly been used to describe them. Possibly derived from the Arabic word for “ghost” (“shabh”), it has come to mean “thugs” in modern day Syria.

The term is believed to have first appeared in relation to the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad after a crackdown was launched in the port city of Latakia, where a notorious, mafia-like organised crime syndicate called the Shabiha has existed since the 1970s.

In towns along the Mediterranean coast, local shabiha gangs are said to run protection rackets, weapons- and drug-smuggling rings, and other criminal enterprises. Residents reportedly dare not mention the name.

So the word is used by locals to refer to armed “thugs” involved in organized crime. The BBC, of course, goes on to assert, in line with the standard media line, that

Membership of the shabiha gangs is drawn largely from President Assad’s minority Alawite sect, which dominates the government, security services and military. Many are members of the Assad family itself, and the related Deeb and Makhlouf families.

Western media invariably equate any eyewitness account of “shabiha” with pro-regime militias. But it seems clear that the word could be used by locals to refer to any unidentified armed thug. Notice the BBC itself acknowledges that it’s “not clear exactly who they are and to whom they are loyal” as the word is used by locals to describe these “ghosts” of whom they dare not speak. As I questioned in my previous report, “Could witnesses be describing the murderers as ‘shabiha’ simply because they were ‘heavily armed men dressed in black’?”

Returning to the Channel 4 report, it continues:

Abdul Bari, 30, describes how he came by blast wounds during the protest after prayers on Friday.

Abdul Bari could very well be a victim of indiscriminate shelling of the area by the government military forces. However, most of the victims of the massacre were not killed by artillery or tank fire but were executed, up close and personal. It is the deaths of these civilians Western media are blaming on pro-regime forces, when the truth is we don’t know what occurred and the Syrian government’s claim that rebel forces or associated terrorist gangs were responsible is equally credible, if not more so.

The Channel 4 report goes on:

Whether we like it or not we were pretty much dragged onto the streets again. On one hand an 8-year old boy shot in the arm, next to him a man showing us video on his telephone of two children, their throats slit so deeply they are virtually decapitated.

Another man suddenly approaches, educated with good English. He has gone through the emotions to reach cold, measured anger.

When I first read that, I immediately questioned whether this strange character might not be a rebel tasked with serving as a handler for the media. Notice how his demeanor is described.

Over the next three hours I will deliberately ask him the same question to see if his story alters in any detail. It does not. He is willing to be interviewed and identified on camera. But to protect him we do not do this. Channel 4 News knows his name and full identity.

He describes in detail the world has not heard before what happened on Friday. He matters because over the next five hours we spend in Houla, scores of people will corroborate his story in various details.

Notice that the statement that “scores of people will corroborate his story in various details” is perfectly meaningless, since a great many of the details of what occurred that are agreed on by both sides. Apart from the above-discussed reference to “shabiha”, Thomson doesn’t offer a single example of eyewitness corroboration of this man’s claim that pro-regime thugs were responsible. Continuing:

He describes how there was intense shelling of the ground for several hours. After that the Shabiya – armed militia – entered the town from the southern to south western direction. He says there were around 100 of them dressed in military uniforms. They approached Dam Road which connects the large reservoir to the Houla villages. He says – and all agree – these men were Shia and Alawite who had come from specific Shia/Alawite villages to the south and west of Houla.

What does Thomson mean, “all agree”? Who are “all”? Members of the rebel army that controls the area? Does Thomson mean that everyone they talked to said “shabiha” were responsible? Does he mean that every single victim interviewed, every single surviving relative or friend of the family told his team pro-regime thugs carried out the massacre? If so, why does he not provide even a single example of such corroborating eyewitness testimony?

He names several villages and later we are taken to a rooftop where we can see those villages from the overwhelmingly Sunni town of Houla.

Two names come up time and again – Kabu and Felleh. They are so close, not more than two or three mile as the most. He goes on describing how the killers had written Shia slogans on their foreheads as they went house to house searching out and slaughtering Sunni families.

He says to us: “They have slaughtered us, they have killed us. When this is all over we will be victorious. And we will go there. And we will find them out and we will slaughter them and we will kill them. We will kill their men, women and children as they killed our men, women and children.”

It becomes fairly evident that this English-speaking guy who wants to kill Shia women and children is in all likelihood a member of the rebel forces who was tasked with handling the media in order to propagate the story that pro-regime forces were responsible for the massacre.

The testimony of the resident obtained by Marat Musin reinforces that conclusion. Whereas Thomson reported that “all agreed” pro-regime thugs were responsible, this female eyewitness told Musin,

[M]y father is dead, but my mother and siblings, we all have the same view of these events…. [T]he majority of people do share the same view, but they’re scared to death. Earlier, many of them used to participate in pro-regime rallies and they used to write slogans against Daraa, the FSA and the Armed men. However, the armed men took revenge against all those who wrote by killing them.

When asked how his village’s relations were with nearby villages, she responded:

Our relations were very good; they never harmed us or started any tension with us. However, the FSA attacked them because they belonged to other sects. One of the terrorists called Haytham Hallak kidnapped several persons from a nearby village and asked for a ransom, millions of Syrian Leras, to set the free. Another armed man called Abu Yaseer, kidnapped workers from the General Power Company because they were from a specific sect.

As for the terrorist Haytham Hallak, he killed one of the kidnapped people and injected fuel in the other’s blood and you can find him at a hospital in the city of Homs.

And she offered the following testimony illustrating how the description of “shabiha” could just as well refer to anti-regime forces:

Before the events started, those armed men used to be smugglers. There are fuel pipes near our village, they put taps at those pipes and powerful pumpers, and these are facts known to all the residents of the village. These armed men are originally, thieves, only a few of them have studied till the eighth grade. They kidnapped people of other sects. There was a Lebanese woman in the village who lived with her 3 kids and used to work as a janitor at the police station. The armed men kidnapped, raped, and hanged her. Then they threw her body in the fields, and dogs snapped at her body. It was a horrible and painful sight, she was completely naked. Such people can’t be called Arabs or Muslims, they’re monsters.

The last thing she said in her interview was this:

We are peaceful people all we want is that safety is back at the village and the country. We don’t want foreign intervention, we want peace and security.

Unfortunately, with the corporate establishment media touting the official U.S. line that the Syrian government was responsible for the massacre, increasing foreign intervention—as I detailed in my previous reports, the U.S. and its allies are already intervening, including by arming rebel forces—is what may be expected to come of this atrocity.

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About Jeremy R. Hammond

About Jeremy R. Hammond

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5 Comments

  1. matador

    These eyewitnesses who appear in the image are the same terrorists who massacre and the officer that you are looking at is not military but a civilian terrorist murderer is and his killing of children cold blood those belonging to the al Qaeda terrorist and Stop the stupidity or Asngaba hope the conscience of the people of Western awakening Syria exposed to world war by the terrorists of Al Qaeda and takfiris Wahhabis

    Reply
  2. brian

    FYI
    russian journalist ANhar Kochneva in Syria:
    There are a lot of soldiers of fortune among the bandits. They are Chechens, Romanians, French, Libyans, and Afghans. Moreover, there was a very funny accident with Afghan soldiers. A few Afghans were caught and asked, ‘What are you doing here?’ They replied, ‘We were told that we came to Israel, and at night we are shooting at Israeli buses. We are fighting with the enemy to liberate Palestine.’ It might be funny, but it is true. The guys were really surprised, ‘Are we in Syria? We thought we were in Israel!’

    Syria’s own criminals are also in armed gangs. These are real criminals who should be in prison. Such people can be found in any country. It is very typical that when they take control of a city they immediately burn criminal archives

    http://gbtimes.com/third-angle/syria/syria/eyewitness-account-media-lies-about-syria

    Reply
  3. brian

    more FYI:
    Prime German Paper: Syrian Rebels Committed Houla Massacre
    http://www.moonofalabama.org/2012/06/prime-german-paper-syrian-rebels-committed-houla-massacre.html

    Who committed the Houla massacre? “Already at the beginning of April, Mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix of the St. James Monastery warned of rebel atrocities’ being repackaged in both Arab and Western media accounts as regime atrocities. She cited the case of a massacre in the Khalidiya neighborhood in Homs. According to an account published in French on the monastery’s website, rebels gathered Christian and Alawi hostages in a building in Khalidiya and blew up the building with dynamite. They then attributed the crime to the regular Syrian army….”

    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/302261/report-rebels-responsible-houla-massacre-john-rosenthal#

    Reply

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