Ishtabraq Massacre

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Alawi children the Army of Conquest claims it found wandering after their parents abandoned them in Ishtabraq, late April. Note how uniformly happy they appear at this turn of events.

On April 25, 2015, militants of Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamist allies in the "army of conquest" seized Jisr al-Shughour in Idlib province - having taken the capitol Idlib a month earlier. On April 25 they also took control of an Alawi (Alawite) village named Ishtabraq (Arabic: اشتبرق - translates something like "glimmer") and reportedly committed a massacre.

In a letter dated April 28 (online copy of May 1 re-send to Security Council), the Syrian government informed the United Nations that "two days ago" "the terrorists killed some two hundred civilians, most of them women and children. The bodies were dumped in the fields, in the open." The letter also alleges "The Turkish Army provided logistical support and intense covering fire for the recent terrorist attacks on Jisr al-Shughur and Ishtabraq, and before that on Idlib, Kassab and Aleppo. The attacks were therefore a direct Turkish attack on Syria."

An April 29 report in al-Masdar News by well-informed journalist Leith Fadel has a confirmed minimum of 54 local civilians killed, with 65 unaccounted for, many probably dead in the fields. Soldiers who escaped the National Hospital in late May had to walk some of these fields and said bodies were still there rotting then - some but not all victims were civilians, they said.

There is a claim that the Islamist attackers used chemical weapons (see section below) In addition, many people were abducted, including women and children, with some reports of 200 taken, and over 100 being reported to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Available details are still sketchy and confused in June. So far the subject has been debated on social media, but barely mentioned in the media or by world powers, outside Syria. It seems too large and credible an allegation to stay that way, and in the interest of catching ourselves and the public up on the alleged details, here the CLOS page.


Ishtabraq Map.png

Location: just SW of Jisr al-Shughour, near the besieged National Hospital - on Wikimapia, labeled as an Alawi village.

The exact role of the al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra is not clear at the moment, but likely. A later Reuters report from June 11, about the ensuing Qalb Lawzah Massacre included this insight into JaN's attitude to people like the inhabitants of Ishtabraq (which is not mentioned in the report):

In an interview with Al Jazeera news channel last month, the leader of the Nusra Front urged members of the Alawite sect, another minority, to change their beliefs and to renounce President Bashar al-Assad, a fellow Alawite, if they wanted to remain safe.

An Arabic-language May 15 report from Dam Press, (pro-government - and has a rough English translation below) mentions Islamist rebels first threatened Ishtabraq, burned farmers' fields and chased the locals away, on June 5, 2011 (which lines up with the timeline of the 2011 Jisr Al-Shughour massacre). The Army regained control then and the residents were able to return and live in peace for nearly four years. [1]

The Dam Press report continues to say the new offensive started with a rebel rocket attack on April 21, 2015 which killed two villagers on the road. [1] The opposition VDC may list these victims here as unidentified man and woman, killed by warplane shelling somewhere in Idlib, not specified. "A fighter in the National Defense Forces stated that firing mortars , rockets and every other kind of shooting" continued from this attack until the morning of the 25th. [1]

Events as Reported

It was the morning of Saturday morning, April 25th, when villagers ay Jihadists finally entered Ishtabraq. Young civilian men supplemented the defenses by the NDF (National Defense Forces, aka Shabiha), Dam Press reports, slowing down the offensive and buying time for civilians to escape. [1]

One resident claims a sniper deliberately hit a baby "in the lap of his mother," killing him, and also "according to witnesses, the first victim was a man in a wheelchair who was knifed on his chair." [1]

Death Toll

In a letter dated April 28 (online copy of May 1 re-send to Security Council), the Syrian government informed the United Nations that "two days ago" "the terrorists killed some two hundred civilians, most of them women and children. The bodies were dumped in the fields, in the open."

Well-informed journalist Leith Fadel, with contacts in the area, first reported On Facebook April 26 that 130 were killed. An April 29 report in al-Masdar News by Fadel, however, a confirmed minimum of 54 local civilians killed, with 65 unaccounted for, fate unknown, besides those acknowledged as taken captive.

A May 15 report cites only "over 30" killed, 150 missing. [1] A circulated early list contains the names of 85 missing residents. [2]

The largest list yet published list in another Facebook one in Arabic - specified also as "martyrs and Missing Persons," gathered with the help of a man named Maher. This contains 178 entries, only 36 confirmed dead here, 5 released on May 11 (a woman and 5 children aged 1-12), and 137 unknown. 23 are noted as killed on April 25, with 13 other listed as dead, 10 of those "according to the declaration of the kidnappers." [3] From this:

killed April 25: Siham Ali, female, 55 Maya Ghazwan Atona female 13 Fawaz Mohammed Al-atrash 42 Mustafa Badria male 30 Mohamed Rajab Doba male 40 Musbah Ahmed Doba male 43 Saleh Wahid Doba male 20 Wesal Solomon Doba female, 60 Nasr Suleiman Fakhro 49 Mohammed Youssef hammoud male 30 Fatima Mustafa hammoud female, 65 Nafilah al Hayek female, 65 Ahmed bassam Hawat male 20 Ibrahim Younis Hrou male 60 Iyad Taleb Hrou 22 Gryab Ibrahim male, 72 Maram Ali khedira female, 30 Hossam Ahmed al-Masri male, 44 Hassan Ahmed, al-Masri male 42 Qasim Yusuf al-Masri male, 20 Mohammed Abdul Karim Shalfoun male 45 Yusuf Mohamed Shalfoun male 16 Aiteb Solomon female, 40

10 announcement by kidnappers Riaz Mohammad Shalfoun child martyr 14 - Abdul Karim Nader Shalfoun Female 55 - Raghda (al-Sahliya? "coastal") Female 47 Shahid announced kidnappers - Rajab Mustafa Hammoud 75 - Osama Jawdat Jarad Male 37 - Ali Jamil Doba Male 49 - Sana Mohammed Doba Female 40 - Hassiba Ahmed Fakhro Female 48 - Zainab Ahmed Fakhro Female 52 - Mohammed Naim Khedira Male 56

Other Samar Ibrahim Hrou Female 16 (just "martyr") - Ahmed Mohammed Abu Shukair 85 killed under detention? - Zaher Jawdat Jarad Male 38 martyr, Slaughtered

There is further evidence of captives being executed. Dam Press reports

People follow the news of their disaster via the opposition webpages that post daily videos of the kidnapped villagers, along with horrible threats of killing and radical fatwas. " Jarad" family was one of the most afflicted as it lost 38 members among martyrs , kidnapped and missing. Some families were only left with one or two survivors of the massacre. [1]
Ishtabraq Martyr Zaher Jarad.jpg

That gives 38 members of this family taken, fates at rebel discretion. The early list of 85 missing contains 25 named Jarad ( ﺟﺮﺍﺩ ). Entry #40 is Zaher Jarad, fate unclear as of April 29. [2] At right is an image from a local facebook group, posted May 11, of martyr Zaher Jarad with his captors, photo apparently found among rebel social media. It seems he's being threatened with two different knives here, and the site's researchers felt confident he was now dead. [4] As noted above, he was listed in June as Zaher Jawdat Jarad, age 38, the only confirmed martyr out of 36 described as "slaughtered" ( ذبحاً ).


(loyalist sources here, forthcoming ) The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) never reported anything like a massacre in Ishtabraq, but did hear and report on April 28 "Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic battalions were able to capture more than 100 persons in Jesr al-Shughour and Eshtabraq village since it took control on Jesr al-Shughour in the 25th of April, the detainees include dozens of soldiers in regime forces and NDF with their families. [5]

AFP reported on the 30th that the number had been raised; "(SOHR reported) some 200 people were being held by Al-Nusra and allied forces. ... The Observatory said they had been taken hostage from Jisr al-Shughur and the nearby Ishtabraq area during the battle for the town." [6] There would be acknowledged captives from both [places, but this could also be the Ishtabraq victims alone, made ambiguous with this non-specific either-or aspect; to read the report, it could be just a few Ishtabraq defenders taken and none of their family, for example.

Ishtabraq Captives 56 men.jpg

Above: around 56 captive men, from an Islamist rebel source, via loyalist source "Eshtabrak alAsad" on Facebook, May 13. There are other photos of men in smaller groupings. The total number just from photos is not clear at the moment. Likewise, whether they were captured in Jisr al-Shughour, Ishtabraq, both - or even neither - is not certain at the moment.

Ishtabraq children.jpg

Captive Alawi children aren't shown as that; the seven that the Islamist brigades showed in the inset photo (from this Facebook post, other sources confirm), and also in a video (May 11 Youtube posting), are claimed to be found wandering after their parents abandoned them. Either way, these were then in the "protective custody" of the Islamists, and likely stand in for a larger number. The fact that these ones were acknowledged and shown might bode well for their prospects. But conversely, there may well be others not acknowledged and more vulnerable to grim futures of one kind or another. Captive women don't seem to be acknowledged, from the limited sources we've seen so far.

As noted on the 178-names list, some 11 victims were listed as dead "according to the declaration of the kidnappers," and five more are listed as killed on May 11, presumably still in rebel custody. [3]

Chemical Weapons?

There is a published claim that the Islamist attackers used some kind a rocket-delivered choking agent, possibly of the kind used against the Shi'ite village of Khan al-Assal, Aleppo, in 2013. As Breaking reports "Hundreds of rockets, holding chemical substances fell down in Ishtabraq, prevented them from breathing, because of their resistance and facing the assault." [7] However, the source for all claims in this report seems to be alleged account from video and perhaps social media acounts, and could be a lie or a simple error. It could also be true, but so far, there is no known corroborating evidence. Further, the claim of "hundreds" of rockets could be accurate, just how someone remembered it seeming, or perhaps a false propaganda claim. (see talk page section for this claim)


Earlier this week, the Syrian government said a “massacre” of some 200 civilians had taken place in the region of Jisr al-Shughur, which fell Saturday to a coalition of al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front and other opposition groups. [6]
... (SOHR reported) some 200 people were being held by Al-Nusra and allied forces. ... The Observatory said they had been taken hostage from Jisr al-Shughur and the nearby Ishtabraq area during the battle for the town. [6]
On Monday (April 27), the foreign ministry sent a letter to the United Nations alleging that “terrorists have massacred nearly 200 civilians, the majority of them women and children, in Ishtabraq.” It alleged the bodies of those killed had been left in fields in the area.

During the long walk to safety, one soldier who quit the hospital on May 21 recounts

“Sometimes we just had to lie in the fields and there were dead bodies lying around,” Private Turkmani says. “They were smelling terribly because they had been in the sun for so long. Yes, there were civilians.”
“In this village, they massacred more than 100 men, women and children, Alawites,” one of Col Saleh’s men said. The towns around here are Alawite or Shia or in some cases Sunni, but Nusra – Sunnis themselves – evicted or killed the Sunni villagers, because they worked with the government. The fields smell of something rotten...

Note the town isn't named, and the time of the massacre isn't specified. But Fisk describes coming to Frikka and then proceding towards the national hospital, and seeing the sugar factory in between. As the map up top shows, that suggests it was either Ishtabraq or somewhere else quite nearby.

The Syrian Al-Qaeda group “Jabhat Al-Nusra” – in cooperation with Harakat Ahrar Al-Sham, Jaysh Al-Muhajireen, and Ajnad Al-Sham – captured the predominately Alawi village of Ishtabraq in southern Jisr Al-Shughour after three days of fierce firefights in the surrounding area.
Jabhat Al-Nusra and their allies originally captured the village of Ishtabraq during their capture of Jisr Al-Shughour; however, they lost the area during a brief Syrian Arab Army (SAA) offensive on Monday.
When the Al-Qaeda affiliate originally took the village of Ishtabraq, they reportedly executed 54 civilians, while the status of another 65 villagers was unknown; this report was confirmed by the villagers who escaped this area before the Al-Qaeda militants entered and they were later interviewed by Sham FM News.

The general conquest of Jisr al-Shughour was April 25. This suggests Ishtabraq was taken then, soon reclaimed, and taken again on the 29th. What followed sound like a second massacre.

Facebook’s pages have circulated a footage shows survivors of Ishtebraq massacre bearing witness after al-Nusra Front stormed into the village.

The report has an overpowering political flavor to it but it reports the survivors speaking of a brutal massacre of many residents and the capture of many others. Many were able to flee, some with serious wounds, walking to safety. One interesting allegation is the use of some kind of chemical weapon:  

Hundreds of rockets, holding chemical substances fell down in Ishtabraq, prevented them from breathing, because of their resistance and facing the assault.
In the village of Ishtabraq in southern Idlib province, reports of a massacre of dozens of Alawites have been circulating for several days, with both sides putting forward very different accounts of what happened.

Says state media ignored it until some anger spurred them to mention it, and gave death tolls from 30 to 130, mostly women and children. "Pro-opposition sources have also acknowledged the killings but say the victims were paramilitary fighters who were guilty of atrocities against civilians in the area." Rebels point out the regime kills only Sunnis, so ...

Rebel groups have also waged their own propaganda war. The Ansar al-Din Front militia, active in the Idlib area, Tuesday posted a photo of seven youngsters, seated and smiling in a field, and identified them as Alawites who had been abandoned by their parents during the recent fighting and chaos.
It says the children are “under the protection” of the militia, which did not respond to a request from The Daily Star for further comment.
  • SOHR April 25 The Nusra Front and Islamist factions could seize the village of Ishtabraq located in the southwest of the city of Jeser al- Shagour .
Graphic video confirms that the rebel faction Ansar al-Din executed a captured regime soldier when they took over Ishtabraq in Idlib Province this week. ... Pro-Assad outlets have been claiming a mass killing by Ansar al-Din in the village, captured on Monday. The only evidence at this point is audio, broadcast by a pro-regime radio station, claiming to be of families describing abductions and killings, and a prominent pro-Assad activist citing information from the “girl who used to babysit” him.


A truck used in the conquest of Ishtabraq


  • "Of the Earth: Idlib ... Ishtebraq" Al-Mayadeen, Arabic, 51 minutes, May 14 - official site - (on Youtube) ([(mirror) Translation? Site gives part 1, what happened the night of the attack? part 2 problems of displaced people and why the city fell - part 3 mother and son retrace their escape route (? near the site

مشاهد من تحرير قرية اشتبرق النصيرية والسهول المحيطة بها - features scene inset of Mark-1 plumbing truck.

Social Media

  • Zaid Benjamin June 10 Jabhat al-Nusra summarily executed 30 Durzi men in Qaleb Lawze town in #Idlib. The 2nd sectarian massacre in the province after Eshtabraq.
  • Leith Abou Fadel ‏@leithfadel · Apr 26 I love the justification for killing Alawis at Ishtabraq is "payback" - get fucked

  • May 21 #Jaish_Fateh have destroyed the Shrine of Alawite Sheikh Sayyedna Al-Khudr in #Ishtabraq #Jisr_Shughour
  • May 1 Urs link, photo of a victim.
Ishtabraq Victims 1.jpeg

Inset: the photo

Rebel Tweets

  • The brigade of the faith @imanbrigade Apr 25 #Idlib #لواء_الإيمان The liberation of the villages of "اشتبرق وغانية والسرمانية" in the countryside of #جسر_الشغور South after the battle with the militia of the #Assad
  • Jarjanaz 25 April Freeing the city of #Jisr al-Shughour, entire village #Ishtabraq #nusayris #Alawites in #rural West (Eastern Arabic date includes (20)15 and (April) 25) (standard battle compilation)
Ishtabraq 'Murtadeen Flee'.jpg

Inset: fleeing photo. Note they move along land contours to minimize exposure to a line of sight about the same as the Islamist cameraman's field of view. Murtadeen means one who has become an apostate (infidel) after once being Muslim (another derogatory term for Alawi, like Nusayri)

  • Jabhat Al Nusra Eng @abja78 - #Jabhatalnusra Nysayria flee out from #Jisr_Shughour Hospital and Mujahedeen kill and arrest most of them. Allah Akber
  • Julian Röpcke ‏@JulianRoepcke · Apr 28 Finally some #footage of rebels taking #Ishtabraq, S-W of #Jisr_Al_Shughur.

  • Julian Röpcke ‏@JulianRoepcke · Apr 28 Gosh! See multiple-vehicle collision of fleeing #Assad forces South of #Ishtabraq.
  • Ottoman İslambol۱٤٥٣ ‏@Ottomanisambol · Jun 5 After storming Ishtabraq, a Nusayri town in Idlib Prov., #Syria|n rebels encounter occult symbols (#Shia + Masonic). (images from the destroyed Khoder shrine)

Critical of Massacre Claims

  • Abdul ‏@al_7aleem · Apr 26 @BosnjoBoy @leithfadel 8 hours later still 0 evidence of Ishtabraq massacre save Leith's claims and a fake image by SANA from November.
  • GEOrge ‏@ArtWendeley · Apr 28 #Idlib: Still not clear what happened in Ishtabraq. Pro regime sources are reporting a rebel massacre.
  • Hans Scholl ‏@ver_scholl_en · May 2 @Conflict_Report @finriswolf no doubt reports about ishtabraq where widely disseminated among troops—instill motivation to fight hard now
  • GEOrge ‏@ArtWendeley · May 22@EliotHiggins @AbuJamajem They could instantly act to protect Alawite villages during offensives. Failed with Ishtabraq just recently...

GEOrge ‏@ArtWendeley · June 10 @leithfadel I suspect Ishtabraq killings related to the chaotic retreat of military and civilians. @BosnjoBoy @zaidbenjamin

Execution Video

  • Video: Idlib : "Moderate Syrian Rebels" Executes a Surrendered SAA Soldier 28-04-2015 - an unarmed man is shot dead by a group of Islamists who don't seem the slightest bit ashamed. Possibly in Ishtabraq, but either way a clue of what would happen if rebels did get into that town. A comment provides this translation:
    • Rebel 1: GET BACK NOW!
    • Rebel 2: One of Assads dogs
    • Soldier: Just let me...
    • Rebel 2: Where are you from?
    • Soldier: Tartous
    • Rebel 2: Alawite or Sunni
    • Soldier: Alawite
    • Rebel 1: Get BACK!
    • Rebel 2: Sit on the ground
    • (Fire Shots)
    • Rebel 2: Allahuakbar
    • Other rebels: non Syrian dialect (Tunisians?)
    • Other rebels: Allahuakbar
    • Rebel 4: I swear to God we will behead them one by one, EVERY SINGLE ONE (Last rebel was not Syrian