Houla:Alleged witnesses for a rebel attack
Any number of the following alleged witnesses could be the same as another – some obvious matches have already been compressed. Most of them are anonymous, making it harder to decide on a match than with the other listing of alleged witnesses for a loyalist massacre.
- 1 ANNA Interviews
- 2 Early Interviews With Locals
- 3 Refugees at the Monestary
- 4 Main Street, May 27
- 5 Others
- 6 References
This set of testimonies was obtained in the immediate aftermath by a duo of journalists traveling the region, Marat Musin and Olga Kulygina from Russia/Abkhazia. They run a website named Abkhazian Network News Agency (ANNA-News). Video of two witness testimonies was released and shown on Syrian and Russian TV, and cited in a SANA news item about the Government investigation. Russian transcripts of the videos were published by Musin and translated by bloggers first into German and from that into English. It's not entirely clear if the team was independently conducting and then sharing these interviews with the media or initially working together with the government investigation.
The Rebel Defector
The first witness of two featured in the SANA article claims he was directly involved in the terrorist attack, but for whatever reason now wanted to expose it. ANNA (translated) explained:
- “The person in this interview is a rebel who has forwarded himself to the authorities. We know who this person is and also know his name, but for reasons of the safety of his family, we do not bring it to the public. We vouch for the fact that he talks about things, which he has seen with his own eyes. We know, however, not the motives behind his self-denunciation.” 
He gave much detail about the parties involved, their vendettas, the attack and how it played out across the city. From a video interview with the man, identity obscured in a darkened room, shown on SANA TV June 1. :
- [He] said that he used to accompany the gunmen and knew the details of their work, and that three days before the massacre, the gunmen had been discussing something that would happen on Friday, saying that it was something "special and big." He said that on Friday May 25th after noon prayers, gunmen showed up near the Clock Roundabout, while a large group headed down the road to al-Sad area which is known as Tripoli road, with the first group beginning to shoot their guns in the air to keep the checkpoint at the roundabout busy and give the impression that they intend to attack it.
- The witness said that he joined the second group which consisted of several armed groups from several areas, some he knew and some he didn't, and all of them heavily armed. Then the gunmen opening fire at random at a security detachment in the area, hitting its personnel along with nearby houses and locals. [...] The witness said that the gunmen's intention was to liquidate a specific family over membership in the People's Assembly and the fact that it's members didn't join protests, ... the gunmen wanted to make this a "present" for becoming a member. 
The video itself, posted with English subtitles by Syriaonline, adds more details. On the terrorists: "their trade is abduction, murder, and theft, through which they amassed millions." The attackers "didn't even fire at the detachments, but rather at the house where Okba Al-Sayed, his brother, his sister-in-law, and their children were, killing them." He notes the way surrounding homes of other families were mostly untouched: this was a targeted attack against certain families. 
In the more detailed full transcripts published by ANNA, the man offers further details on the attack and attackers:
- On Friday, after the prayers, a unit of the fighters gathered in the northern district of the village, which is located beyond the checkpoint, next to the place with the clock.
Larger units of rebels gathered on the Tripoli road that leads to water storage, more (units) also in the district Al-Nasiriyah, on the Satto-road and on the road that leads to the confectionery factory.
- The northern units opened fire to distract the attention of the military post (checkpoint) on the place with the clock. I was with a unit on the Tripoli road, which operated in conjunction with other units. This was the Salafi unit of Khaled Abdul Wakhed, the unity of Abdul Malek, the unit under Saleh Nidal Bakki, even more under the command of Haysam Al-Hassan, as well as units from Ikrim Akrab, Kafr Laha and also a unit of the valley in Dahab. Besides these (units), there were still a large amount of armed strangers. 
On those killed:
- The families were wealthy, but the bandits assumed them as traitors, because these families have never supported the armed rebels through donations. They were mainly killed from the unit of the Al-Hassan clan – these are people from a large family who are in our area since long time and also known as common bandits.
- The second family, who was killed by the bandits, lived in the northwest. Even there, the family Abdul Rasak has a house, and this family has become a victim of the bandits. So what is all this talk about the Schabiha or the army, which would have been between these two points, in a region, which was entirely controlled by the rebels." 
A video we had missed, posted by Eretz Zen back on June 10, 2012, with English subtitles (must be turned on) provides some useful details. Original source unsure, but a rebel insider speaks for eight minutes in more detail than elsewhere. From what he says, this could be the rebel defector, but in case it's yet another and because the above section is long enough, here's another. The guy is more visible here (still coming). Most of what he says adds just little details here and there to what we've heard from other sources. He seems vague on the families, suggesting the Abdulrazaqs only lost one household with maybe 4 children while the Sayed and Moawiyas had high birthrates, explaining the large number of kids (rather, numerous Abdulrazaq homes added up to about 16 children and several mothers killed. Anyway, best single addition that gets a block quote, from around 2:15 on who was selected for the massacre: pacifists who were doing well financially but didn't buy weapons and join the rebellion - friends of Assad, no mention of religion.
- "So the day the parliamentary elections were being held, we had a candidate in Tal Daw called Abdul-Muthis Mashlab. We took his picture and placed it next to a trash can with a sign saying elect your representative, while people placed their old shoes in the trash bin as a mockery of Mashlab, not the Syrian government. --Caustic Logic (talk) 13:20, 11 November 2013 (UTC)
"Arifah" (A Knowledgeable Woman)
"Arifah" is a name chosen, for this site, to refer to this witness. It's the feminine version of Arif, an Arabic name meaning 'knowledgeable.' This witness, also cited in the SANA article and on record on video, is a woman from Taldou who says that she was born and lived there for her entire life. She reports what she witnessed but also what she knows from her family and associates accounts and from listening to the radio chatter of the rebels attacking Taldou.
According to her, the locals involved in the events were "in peaceful times" smugglers and sellers of oil illegally extracted from the local pipelines. Now, they make their living mostly by kidnapping people for ransom; she accuses them of murder, torture, and rape. In the days before the events, the word was that something big was about to happen. "Arifah" or associates intercepted cell phone communications, but the "bandits" as she calls them were also openly bragging about it.
"Arifah" recalls the events on May 25 starting with these locals firing at "the ckeckpoint" at around 2 pm after the friday prayers. Simultanously, a group lead by Nidal Bakkur and consisting mostly of people from the Al-Hassan clan, attacked "the second checkpoint" at an elevated location outside the village. Judging from the UN report , this is most likely the checkpoint at the water basin/dam while the "first" is at the "Qaws" at the south-eastern entrance to the village.
The group suffered losses of about 25 people and asked for back-up (the calls were intercepted). At around 3:30 pm they had overtaken the upper checkpoint. Shortly after that they had taken the "second" checkpoint and the police station. They then proceeded to murder the Al-Sayed family which lived across the street from the police station.
She says 3 families of that clan including 20 children were murdered there. Additionally she speaks of 10 of the Abdul Razaq family, although it's not clear if this happened at the same place and time. That's all she mentions about non-combatant victims.
At 7 pm, Abdul Razak T(a)las, the leader of the Al-Farouq-Brigade of the Free Syrian Army, arrived with 250 men from Ar-Rastan and additional groups from the villages Aqraba and Farlaha. They took over the remaining checkpoint at the mosque (not clear where that is, likely at the central clocktower roundabout).
At 8 pm, the murdered civilians and the rebels fallen in the fights at the checkpoints were already moved to the mosque.
During the night and early morning, some additional havoc was caused in the overtaken city. The witness heard by intercepting communication that they dressed in army uniforms and used tools fallen into their hands. They were also seen on Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya filming and "reporting" from the events.
At 11 am on Saturday, the UN observers (and with them Alex Thomson?) arrived. The fallen rebels involved in the action were presented as civilians, while the conquering rebels dressed in army uniforms to pose as defectors. They were surrounded by their family members who told the story of a government attack with heavy shelling and posed as victim's relatives, while the relatives of the real victims were nowhere to be seen.
Al Khosam, law enforcement officer
“My name is Al Khosam, I am a law enforcement officer. I served in the village of Taldou, the district of Al-Hula, a province of Homs. On Friday, our checkpoint was attacked by a large group of militants. There were thousands. Q: How do you protect yourself? Answer: A simple weapon. We had 20 people, we called support, and when they were coming for us, I was wounded, and regained consciousness in the hospital. 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.” 
Ahmed Mahmoud Al-Khali, wounded soldier
“I am Ahmed Mahmoud al Khali. I’m from the city Manbej. Was wounded in Taldou. I come from a support group that came to the aid of our comrades, who were stationed at the checkpoint. Militants destroyed two infantry fighting vehicles and one BRDM standing at our checkpoint. We moved out to Taldou in a BMP, to pick up our wounded comrades from the checkpoint within the city. We drove them back in the BMP, and I filled in their place. 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. And the commission had seen them all. They put them in the car and drove away. I do not know where they took them, probably for burial.”
Resident on roof of police station
“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 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.”
Early Interviews With Locals
A set of ten witnesses was video interviewed in and around Taldou, apparently on May 26. The microphone suggests a Syrian source (SANA?), but Abkhazia's ANNA News was also there at the time recording interviews, and aired the fullest set of these (seven of the ten). These are in a table to help correlate between three sources: ANNA (video, Russian) , SANA (video, English) , Pravda (article, English, based on interviews attributed to ANNA)  Most matches are well-founded guesses, but Syed Abdul Wahab as witness 3 is arbitrary, and could go with 4, 6, or 7 as well. But #3 is the slightly best filler guess to complete matches and minimize the risk of over-counting. Images are from ANNA's video, except the three not shown in it. English testimony in column 4 is from SANA and/or Pravda, translation improved as possible.
Refugees at the Monestary
Agnès de la Croix-Mariam
Lebanese nun, runs the Monestary of St. James (website) in Qara, south of Homs. Not a direct witness, but has reported earlier from her visits to Homs were she investigated the dire situation of the local Christians in rebel controlled areas. Her monestary is known for being a safe-haven for refugees and some have fled Taldou to go there.
Dutch Arabist Martin Janssen contacted the monastery: "At my express request, the monastery sent me all the information that they had managed to collect information on the events in Houla. The monastery writes "that our coverage is based on stories of local witnesses ..." They report the general "rebel attack" story. Interesting detail: There is allegedly video of how the rebels wrapped "the corpses [of people they killed at the hospital] in sheets that [had] the Arabic inscription Health Ministry"
In a video statement where she claims to have phone contacts in Taldou as well, she accuses the rebels of taking dead bodies from the Hospital and arranging them in the mosque for "massacre" presentation to the UN Observers.
German journalist Alfred Hackensberger visited the monestary himself and interviewed the nun: “From [Jibril] we knew it as the very first, that the massacre was not committed by the Syrian army, but by the rebels,” says Sister Agnes-Mariam. He had witnessed the atrocities and informed the monastery on the same day.
Jibril (name changed by the author) is a man in his late thirties. Alfred Hackensberger reports what he told him:
“The fighting began around noon, when the rebels, coming from Ar-Rastan and Saan, attacked the checkpoints of the army around Hula,” says the man in his late thirties. The position at the entrance near the hospital was the first thing that was overrun. The soldiers fled and the rebels went to the hospital and killed patients there. Why, he does not know it, and just as little why so many other people were killed. Then, several teams targeted went in selected houses and had started to shoot all of the inhabitants. “They did nothing to the neighbors”, says Jibril. Of the two families which were killed, he knew the Sajid’s personal. “They were Sunni Muslims, like all of us”, he says. “They were killed by them because they have rejected to join the revolution.” They’ve even murdered a Member of Parliament, who insisted on his candidacy in the elections in early May and had refused the boycott of the FSA. ” After the massacre, the rebels have brought all the dead bodies to the mosque”, said Jibril. On the question of whether the regime loyal, the Shabiha, have massacred the people, Jibril raised his head and snaps with the tongue, customary. “Exemplary nonsense”, he says. Anyone who has seen Taldu, will have doubts about the reports, that several hundred soldiers and Assad-supporters were able to come to the village without any resistance. Hula (al-Houla) is in rebel hands, since December 2011. Taldu lies in an open area where there is little opportunity to seek cover. The village is easy to defend with machine guns and bazookas. The Army would like to reclaim Taldu, but it has not been done. Jibril says, “Of course, many people know what really happened in Hula”. But all fear for their lives. “Who’s there and now opens his mouth, can only replay the version of the rebels. Everything else is the certain death.” 
Mother Agnes' monastery took in a eyewitness from Kafr Laha, one of the towns of Houla. His account was quoted directly, but translated to French, in the Catholic-run site Vox Clamantis immediately after the massacre, on May 26.  As his testimony is similar, the person could be the same as "Jibril". He seems to be drawing on second-hand information, actually, but that doesn't mean it's invalid information, just subject to all the problems of second-hand, and translated, accounts like this. He said:
- 'The gangs are out of Rastan and Saan, between Homs and Hama to 20 hours. They attacked the barricades of police around the hospital Al Watani (National) and have killed and injured nearly 35 elements of the police then entered the government hospital. Inside the hospital were patients and health teams and some parents accompanying patients, nearly 25 people. Armed gangs have killed everyone present and then burned the hospital after transporting the corpses. On the videotapes of rebel sees that those carrying the corpses do on blankets on which is written in Arabic "the ministry of health." This proves they are perpetrators. Armed bands were then directed to nearby homes, they slaughtered their inhabitants and burned five houses after transporting the corpses. Reinforcements arrived from the police. There were exchanges of fire and nine terrorists were killed.
- Along the way they are introduced into a pharmacy and the pharmacist shot as punishment for selling drugs to a member service of the order, and they burned his pharmacy. To 22 hours armed gangs moved towards the village of Tal Daw. They invested the southern district and massacred Alawite families, men, women and children, then set fire after transporting the corpses. The bodies were placed together in a mosque to show Hula for the Observers to the UN as a massacre by the army.
Main Street, May 27
Two journalist teams, led by Alex Thomson for British Channel 4 and Catalina Gomez for Colombian El Tiempo, visited Taldou together with the UN observers on Sunday, the 27th. They were unable to enter the city center and stopped on main street, where they investigated the scene and talked to army personal and residents. Thomson returned Wednesday, this time managed to enter the city center and obtained a central set of testimonies for the other narrative.
But on Sunday, he is stuck halfway down Main Street where heavy fighting is going on. Soldiers tell him that snipers with M16 rifles are aiming at them from the north, and that's indeed what he witnesses including one soldier getting wounded, although he can't say if the sound is really of the US-made weapon. He meets "an engineer" named Ahmed Masood who shows him his house which he says was attacked by terrorists, but after questioning admits that he himself wasn't there when that happened. Thomson notices that there are next to no civilians and gets told that they were forced to leave prior to the "terrorist attack" and those who refused to do so were murdered. Reports from the UN mission are congruent with Thomson's impression that fighting up north went on during the whole visit.
Catalina Gomez initial report corroborates the story told to Thomson about the "terrorists" forcing the civilians to leave and killing those who refused to en detail. The soldiers she talks with also point out that the sniper rifles they hear "are American", but she calls them F16, maybe due to her not knowing the correct name and mishearing during the shooting (In a later piece she corrects herself). Contrary to Thomson who seems to stay on the street and goes south, she hides in the buildings together with some soldiers who show her around. She sees several dead bodies which hadn't been removed by that time, while others had already been taken care of, for example in the Al-Sayed family house she visits and films. She mentions six tanks on the street south of the "destroyed blue armored vehicle", likely the one seen at the Military Intelligence HQ. A commander explains that they are there to protect the trucks delivering food to the fighting army further north. He goes into more detail and names Abdulrazaq Tlass and Ahmad Addullah as FSA leaders of the operation "with support of international terrorists". 
In a piece written a couple of days later she adds that the soldiers holding that point numbered around 30 including the commander, and that on the way out they were stopped for an hour by militia which checked everyones identity and equipment. By then she is more or less convinced that she has met the perpetrators of the massacre, given the overall published narrative and the result of Thomson's second visit.
Rainer Hermann's "Opposition members"
"Syrian opposition members who are from that region were during the last days able to reconstruct the most likely sequence of events based on accounts from authentic witnesses. ... The massacre of Houla happened after Friday prayers. The fighting started when Sunni rebels attacked three Syrian army checkpoints around Houla. These checkpoints were set up to protect the Alawi villages around the predominantly Sunni Houla from assaults. ... One attacked checkpoint called up units from the Syrian army, which has barracks some 1500 meters away, for help and was immediately reinforced. Dozens of soldiers and rebels were killed during the fighting around Houla which is said to have lasted about 90 minutes. During these fights the three villages were closed off from the outside world. According to the witness accounts the massacre happened during this timeframe. Killed were nearly exclusively families from the Alawi and Shia minorities in Houla which has a more than 90% Sunni population. Several dozen members of one extended family, which had in recent years converted from Sunni to Shia believe, were slaughtered. Also killed were members of the Alawi family Shomaliya and the family of a Sunni member of parliament who was [by the rebels] considered a government collaborator." 
Jürgen Todenhöfer's "Ahmed"
Interviewed by Jürgen Todenhöfer: Ahmed, a young man from Houla.
"Friends from the neighboring villages, with whom Ahmed had recently demonstrated against Assad, have invaded into his house to kill him and his family. They accused him that he had converted to the Shiite faith. Somehow he managed it, to convince his old friends, that he is still a Sunni Muslim.
Then the murderers rushed into the house next door, where his brother lived with his family. They have actually converted to the Shiite faith. They were murdered along with their children by the rebels."
In Todenhöfer's 2013 book "Du sollst nicht töten", Ahmed's former friends from neighboring villages who were among the killers are named as Ibrahim Al-Khalid and Dschalil Al-Youssuf. Todenhöfer writes that while he was visiting Damascus, he spoke with several other alleged witnesses who corroborated Ahmed's story.
- "Witnesses to al-Houla Massacre: Massacres Were Carried Out Against Specific Families That Support the Government" SANA, June 2, 2012.
- Interviewed by Marat Musin of ANNA-News, full transcript published June 3, 2012 in original Russian, translated from Russian to German, translated from German to English (local mirror)
- Youtube video with paraphrasing subtitles: "Witnesses to al-Houla Massacre in Syria (English subtitle by Syriaonline).wmv" Published on Jun 1, 2012 by SyriaonlineTV.
- UN Investigation "Oral Update", Jun 27, 2012, pdf
- Interviewed by Marat Musin of ANNA-News. Youtube video: "Al Hula witness" (9:34) Published on May 31, 2012 by sabinachiaburu. Subtitles after transcript in original Russian, translated from Russian to German, translated from German to English (local mirror)
- Summary of ANNA-News team investigation, Marat Musin, published in Russian, May 30,2012, translation here (local mirror)
- Аль-Хула, свидетельства жителей Youtube video, posted May 27, 2012 by newsanna
- Syria News 27 May 2012. Syrian Official Tv Channel Youtube video, posted May 27, 2012 by SiriaNews
- Making sense out of Syria By Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey, Pravda.ru, May 30, 2012
- Syrian rebels took bodies from hospital to stage massacre uploaded by Edudocumentay, June 16, 2012 (active posting, April 2013) Syrian rebels took bodies from hospital to stage massacre - nun, uploaded by Daniel Burnet, June 16, 2012 (original citation here, deleted)
- Martin Janssen, "De verschrikkingen van Houla", Dutch language report for Belgian De Redactie, published June 2,2012
- Interviewed at the Monestary by Alfred Hackensberger, German Daily Morgenpost, published June 23, 2012, translation from German here
- Fractionnements irreversibles en Syrie?Vox Clamantis, May 26, 2012 via Media Werkgroup Syria (translated from French with Google Translate)
- Houla, autopsie d’un massacre
- Piecing together the bloody truth in Houla, Alex Thomson, Channel4, published May 27, 2012
- Así quedó el sitio de la masacre de 108 civiles en Siria, Catalina Gomez, El Tiempo, published May 27, 2012
- Cadáveres y justificaciones en primera línea de fuego en la ciudad siria de Hula, Catalina Gomez, La Vanguardia, published May 29, 2012
- Viaje al corazón de la matanza de Hula, en Siria, Catalina Gomez, El Tiempo, published May 31, 2012
- Rainer Hermann, "Neue Erkenntnisse zu Getöteten von Hula", FAZ, published June 7, 2012, translation from German here
- Rainer Hermann, "Eine Auslöschung", FAZ, published June 13,2012, translation from German here
- Syria: German Author Todenhöfer met with Eyewitness from al-Houla Jürgen Todenhöfer, originally published in the German magazine Bild as Mein Treffen mit Assad, 9 July, 2012