Jisr Al-Shughour massacre
Jisr Al-Shughour (also Jisr ash-Shugur, Arabic جسر الشغور) is a town of around forty thousand residents in Idlib province, around twelve miles from the Turkish border. It's known for its conservative Sunni population with strong Muslim Brotherhood presence and has been the place of a massacre in 1980 in the same uprising that the famous Hama massacre was part of, when residents set the Ba'ath party headquarter on fire.
In early June 2011, when atrocities of that scale weren't already common in the current crisis, another massacre happened. 120 security members and an unknown number of civilians lost their life. In the aftermath, most of the residents fled the town, some to Aleppo and other near towns, but several thousand across the Turkish border which caused the first wave of refugees and the first camps to be set up for them in the neighboring country, at a time when the total number of dead in the crisis was estimated at around 1000 people.
The number of security personal killed is generally agreed on by all commentators, only the reasons differ. According to official government sources, terrorist groups overrun the town using government cars and wearing military uniforms, filmed themselves while causing general havoc and setting up several ambushes. According to opposition sources, a mutiny happened and some of the victims were defectors shot by their collegues because they refused to shoot at peaceful protesters, while others were killed by an angry mob in retaliation for their attacks on civilians.
- 1 Up until June 3: Early events - Funeral and Demonstrations
- 2 June 3-5: The actual killings
- 3 June 5-9: Aftermath - An empty town
- 4 June 10-12: The Army takes over
- 5 Starting June 13: Residents return
- 6 The point of no return?
- 7 Sources
- 8 References
Up until June 3: Early events - Funeral and Demonstrations
It's not really clear how far back the origins of the escalations go and what eventually triggered them. In a retrospective article published many months later, author Andrea Glioti quotes his sources Uthman and Omar:
- “I’m going to tell you what happened, even at the cost of damaging the cause of the revolution,” says Uthman, a refugee from Atma, who had to flee to the Turkish refugee camp of Reyhanli after the battle in Jisr Al-Shughour. According to Uthman, in Jisr as-Shughour everything started around 20 May 2011, when 15 Syrian workers were killed by state security forces. People were already prepared to respond to the attacks with force. In Omar’s account, the armed protests started right after this massacre. “On the third of June, we took weapons with us and hid them, while marching in the demonstration,” he recalls, “when the snipers of the military security (al-mukhabarat al-askariyyah) opened fire on us from the post office, we hit back—killing some of them”.
Ammar Talib Moaz, an alleged terrorist "confessing" to SyrianTV, visually not older than 20, mentions that on Friday the 3rd they heard about the killing of Basel al-Masri, and members of leading families of which al-Masri was part of went to his funeral, bringing arms. After that, they went to the post office and "committed a massacre" there.
While Ammar doesn't mention a demonstration, the funeral is mentioned and shown - without naming the deceased - in a Sky News report. The same report shows an undated scene with people running from a group in the background which seems to wear uniforms, but is on the street and not on the roof of a post office. Shots heard but no casualties seen.
June 3-5: The actual killings
On the next morning around 8am, Ammar Talib Moaz reports, the leading families ordered him to come to a district called Al-Sameaa where he and the others were equipped with guns and ammunition. They then headed to the Military Security Post where a crowd of 800 people came together. With 25 bullets each and parted in several groups around the area, the post was taken under fire until noon, when a truck full of primitive explosives arrived and broke through the fence. They helped explode the load by firing on it and finally the security personal inside came out and surrendered, but were all shot. The crowd entered the building and killed the remaining inhabitants, with Ammar and his friend filming.
Andrea Glioti has another source interviewed in Turkey describing a similar event, apparently not refering to the post office taken the day before, but to the military security post:
- “The siege of the post office lasted for 3 hours,” remembers Tareq Abdul-Haqq, a 26-year-old activist from Jisr As-Shughur, while showing me the videos he filmed during the clashes. “We tried everything: dynamite barrels used in construction, exploding a gas cylinder . . . in the end the last surviving officers came out because the noise of these explosions drove them crazy.” The wider confrontation with military security forces lasted for two days, causing the government in Damascus to deploy a reserve security contingent to the restive city on 5 June 2011. Unexpectedly, the insurgents succeeded in resisting the offensive with Kalashnikovs seized from the security headquarters, and the contingent had to retreat. “After having defeated military security, we set up checkpoints and planted landmines [in preparation] to face the arrival of the army,” says Omar.
The original rebel-supported explanation for the high number of dead security personnel - if admitted at all - was that a mutiny happened inside the forces, as parts of them refused to follow orders to shoot on the peaceful, unarmed protesters.
Pseudonymous activist "Mohammed Fazo" told the BBC that snipers shot at the Friday funeral from the post office (and up to two other rooftops according to what wounded "Ahmad" told AP according to Al-Jazeera), killing many of the 15000 attendees "as if they were firing at a herd of sheep. Actually, they might have had more mercy on the sheep", as "Abu Abdulla" put it to the BBC. When the people reacted to the bloodbath and surrounded the security post, the people inside called in the army for support.
- Mohammed Fazo says that when the soldiers arrived, many refused to open fire when they realised the protesters were unarmed. "When the army did not fire at us, the security services fired at the army personnel who refused to shoot at us. And then the army responded by firing at the security personnel who were firing on their own colleagues and shot them dead."
- Early on Tuesday, another account from a resident reached by BBC Arabic: "There are army soldiers who gave themselves up to the civilians, they joined the civilians and the army killed them. I swear to God, that we are all civilians... there are no terrorists in Jisr al-Shughour."
Other media carried similar reports. At least one video testimony shows a man reporting how the snipers shot at civilians, which caused army personal to change sides refusing to follow orders, ending up being shot at themselves.
Andrea Glioti's article mentions after the June 3 post office attack:
- The protesters were then joined by the battalion led by Lieutenant Colonel Hussein Al-Harmoush, the first high-ranking officer to defect, and planned an offensive against military security forces, which were the only intelligence branch that refused to hand over its weapons.
Based on his announcement of defection posted on youtube, Harmoush became a hero of the events as reported in the western media. As the BBC describes in an article published two weeks after the events,
- A reporter for Time Magazine tracked the colonel down in a village near the Turkish border. According to the article, Lt Col Harmoush said he and his men had been sent to Jisr al-Shughour to restore order. When the army began shelling the town, he said, he decided to defect. He claimed to have taken 30 of his men with him.
This story was repeated all over western media. But...
- ... when the BBC finally tracked the colonel down on the phone, he told a story that was rather different from the myth that was already writing itself into the history books. His defection, he said, had actually taken place four days after the killings in Jisr al-Shughour, on 9 June. Furthermore, he said he had defected on his own, and only joined up with a number of other defectors in the town later. "I was not there at that time. I arrived there on 9 June, and when I arrived, there was absolutely no Syrian army there." Furthermore, he said, none of the other defectors he joined had been present at the time of the alleged massacre. He admitted he had invented much of his initial story purely to keep the Syrian army at bay.
On September 16, 2011, AFP announced that Syrian TV reported Harmoush's "return". In an interview broadcasted by Syrian TV, the Lt Col tells a third story.
As he now says - as far as making sense of the confusing English summary goes -, he failed a security course in the Army in 2010 and defected later, months before the video. He then fled to Turkey "because of the violence", adding that he thinks armed groups were responsible and he never received killing orders while he was serving, contrary to what he says in the defection video. After arrival in Turkey, he received initial support of $US1000 and a used laptop. He was then contacted by several people of the Muslim Brotherhood, the FSA and by Sheikh Adnan Al-Aroor, to all of whom he delivered intel about army strength and other details, while going back and forth between Turkey and Syria. He was promised support on several occasions but promises weren't met. While he says that the defection video was made in a district of Jisr Al-Shugour, his involvement with the actual events seems to be minor if not non-existant. He received SYP 50,000 for the video while the person who made it received SYP 2 Million.
While it is unclear how Harmoush ended up doing this interview and there might have been pressure involved, his statement to the BBC already admitting fraud indicates that he certainly wasn't the hero and leader of the protectors of the people early media reports following his defection video made him to be.
In January 2015 Önder Sığırcıkoğlu, an ex-Senior MIT (Turkish intelligence) official made statements to the Turkish press about Turkey's role in training and arming the "rebels" in the early stages of the crisis. He claims that it was him who handed Harmoush back to Syrian authorities because his conscience didn't allow him to let the "killer of 138 people" escape justice. After an investigation by Turkish authorities he and seven others were arrested and tried. Sığırcıkoğlu was handed a 20 years prison term but was able to escape after 32 months while being transported from one prison to another.
- “In 10 or 11 June 2011 we received an MIT communique noting the arrival of a dissident Syrian Lt.Colonel in the camp. We were tasked with drawing up a report on his involvement in military operations. Upon inquiry I identified the Lt.Colonel in question to be Hussein al-Harmoush, the leader of the armed opposition in Jisr al-Shughour and instigator of the clashes there. He disclosed in the interview that he was a fundamentalist sunni, a Russia-trained explosives specialist last assigned to the engineering department of the 11th army division in Homs. Harmoush had been in constant conflict with his superiors over his strict Islamism and had played a leading part in organizing the armed opposition in Jisr al-Shughour. He recounted how they neutralized Syrian security personnel and captured Jisr al-Shughour’s post office, and how they set off an explosive device of Harmoush’s making at the premises of the military unit. Survivors of the explosion were forced to surrender to the forces of Harmoush who, in his own account, had 138 of them summarily executed.”
On February 1, 2015, it was alleged that one of the leaked "Caesar" photos showed Lt. Col. Harmoush died "under torture" in prison. This was reported by Lebanese daily Zaman al-Wasl (English version - Arabic version with working image) The visual match, however, is rather dubious. This report also mentions competing claims Harmoush was killed by firing squad in early 2012, and that he remained alive at the end of 2013, well after the last "Caesar" photo should have been taken in August. By this report, he was innocent of anything but statements of dissent, and became imprisoned after he was "kidnapped by Syrian regime in September 2011, from a refugee camp on the Turkish border," a claim Mr. Sığırcıkoğlu would obviously contest.
Black Beards don't speak Arabic
According to official Syrian sources, not only were the locals during the days armed and violent, but there were also foreigners involved who engaged in some unusual action sniping/posing in uniforms/causing general havoc.
An indication that there might be some truth to that comes from none other than Martin Chulov, chief correspondent for all things Syria of the British Guardian newspaper and featured in many articles of this wiki as bringing what "activists say" to the western readers attention. Then reporting from the Turkish border region, he gave two Skype interviews about the events, on the 9th and 10th. In the first, he cites two alleged sources for the mutiny described above, while in the second he makes some interesting remarks about outside forces being involved.
Chulov informs us that "all" the refugees they were able to interview during the last two days, in camps and in hospitals, reported to have seen "fully bearded men" wearing black being present during the events on Saturday. To make it even more unusual (as Chulov knows and points out Syrian security personnel rarely wears full beards), those people did not speak Arabic. Which kind of excuses him for not drawing the obvious conclusion that those were "Shabiha" - in addition to the fact that this term was not yet introduced to the global media at that point - but stating that, still reporting from the Turkish border region, the clear implications must be that those people were Iranians. For some reason this potential scoop is missing from his written reports about the events.
They may be fighting for Syria, not Assad. They may also be winning: Robert Fisk reports from inside Syria – The Independent, 26 April 2013
- Many were killed in Jisr al-Shughur back in June of 2011 when the Syrian army lost 89 dead in a rebel ambush. A villager called Fouad explains that there was one survivor who came from a neighbouring village. “I telephoned him to ask what happened to the other men,” he said. “He said: ‘I don’t know because they cut out my eyes.’ He said that someone led him away and he thought he would be executed but found himself in an ambulance and was taken to hospital in Latakia.” One of the Jisr al-Shughur dead was returned to Hayalin, but relatives found that his coffin contained only his legs.
At least one fatality listed by the pro-opposition Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria may a horrible picture: Mahmoud Rajab Saeb, local civilian man field executed June 5, it says - a bit later for the timeline as we understand it. It appears had his teeth smashed out, and probably later had his left eye area either blown out or cut out. The date can't be right anyway: the picture is in a Youtube video uploaded on June 2, PST, a bit earlier than most events considered.
June 5-9: Aftermath - An empty town
June 10-12: The Army takes over
Starting June 13: Residents return
The point of no return?
harvested http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Jisr_ash-Shugur and Google
- Syria unrest: 'Deadly clashes' in Jisr al-Shughour, BBC, June 5, 2011
- Syria to send in army after 120 troops killed, Reuters, June 6, 2011
- Syria vows 'decisive' response in Jisr al-Shughour, BBC, June 7, 2011
- Syria ratchets up military operation on Jisr al-Shughour, Martin Chulov, Guardian, June 10, 2011
- Syrian army 'cracking' amid crackdown (incl. links to three defector statement videos), Al Jazeera, June 11, 2011
- Syrian unrest: Army in control of Jisr al-Shughour, BBC, June 12, 2011
- People of Jisr al-Shughour Return to Their City, Normal Life Returns Gradually, Islamic Invitation Turkey, June 16, 2011
- Jisr al-Shaghour – the Government Story as told by a Foreign Member of the Organized Press Visit, a friend of Joshua Landis reports from his visit with a Foregin Press Corps shown around by the Government, June 21, 2011
harvested first ten result pages of youtube
- Assassinating a 70-year-old woman in Syria in Jisr Al Shughour on 04-06-2011 by Al Assad's, 27sec, english subtitles, uploaded by freemansyria80, September 20, 2011
- Syria - Wounded from Jisr Al Shughour, 102sec, shows wounded "from violent clashes between government forces and protesters", uploaded by newsmob, June 6, 2011
- Nadim Houry from Human Rights Watch fears more killings in Jisr al-Shughour, Skype interview by the same guy who interviewed Chulov, HRW guy reports what his sources tell him, uploaded by MrWeaves, June 10, 2011
- Mass grave of 10 Syrian Policemen found in border town Jisr al-Shughour, PressTV English report, uploaded by ardalanhamrah, June 13, 2011
- Mass Graves Uncovered in Syria, Al Arabiya report on the same mass grave, uploaded June 13, 2011
- Syrian Refugees Escape to Turkey, Al Arabiya report on refugees arriving in Hatay, uploaded June 15, 2011
- Syrian troops into besieged city of Jisr al-Shughour, shows raw footage, non-english reports by a Voice of America subsidary, uploaded June 13, 2011
Alleged Confessions and Testimonies
- Syria - 20110625 - Jisr al-Shughour - State TV claims footage is confession of men being terrorist, three confessions, Syrian TV, uploaded again with different title by by GHSRMENA, July 1, 2011
- Terrorist Al-Hajji Discloses Details of Armed Groups' Massacres in Jisr Al-Shughour, interview with english subs, uploaded by SyriaonlineTV, October 31, 2011
- Khawandi Relates Details of Fabricating Stories on Syria Events including gunmen ("Bassam Al-Masri") and media fakers from Jisr Al-Shughour, English subs/summary, uploaded by SyriaonlineTV, September 4, 2011
- "Surviving a terrorist attack in Syria" Part 1 Part 2, an interview aired on the Syrian Arab State TV with a family including a British wife who got attacked by armed terrorist groups in Syria Jisr al-Shughour area (in early September), uploaded September 29, 2011
- Syrian Army - Brutality without limits - New vedio footage filmed by soldiers, SkyNews report from the days of the events in question, hilariously showing a number of PRO-government rallies claiming they demand Assad to go - and some apparent soldiers abusing civilians, uploaded June 12, 2011
For the moment for reference and basis for further research follows the whole SANA article as the site is difficult to reach at the moment (photos showing killed security members, no particular significance).
Photos of Brutal Massacres against Army, Police and Security Forces Perpetrated by Armed Terrorist Groups in Jisr al-Shugour
[Wednesday] Jun 08, 2011
JISR AL-SHUGHOUR, IDLEB, (SANA) - The Syrian TV broadcast photos of the brutal massacres perpetrated by organized armed terrorist groups against the civilians and the army, police and security forces groups in Jisr al-Shughour in the province of Idleb.
Members of the terrorist groups used government cars and military uniform to commit their crimes of killing, terrifying people and sabotaging.
They filmed themselves committing vandalism acts to manipulate the photos and videos and distort the reputation of the army.
The terrorists attacked police and security centers as well as other governmental and private institutions, violated the streets, neighborhoods and houses and used rooftops to sniper and shoot at citizens and security forces.
The criminal groups didn't stop there. They also set up ambushes for police and security forces, mutilated the bodies of some martyrs and threw the bodies of others into the Orontes River, in addition to putting barriers on the roads and terrifying people.
The groups members also kidnapped a number of the martyrs' bodies and buried them in the ground to later promote them as if they are mass graves with the help of the channels they are working with in inciting against Syria.
The citizens in Jisr al-Shughour called for the help of the army and security forces to enter the city and protect them and their children against the crimes of those terrorist groups and punish them severely.
The number of the martyrs of police and security members exceeded 120 until Monday evening, who were killed at the hands of the armed terrorist groups in Jisr al-Shughour.
The injured members of the security forces who were attacked on Monday by armed terrorist groups in Jisr al-Shughour narrated the details of the attack.
One of the wounded security members, Murad Qadour, said "At ten o'clock and a half we were subjected to a surprise attack by armed terrorist groups and I was shot in my right foot, then I was hospitalized to Idleb Hospital at seven pm…Later, I was moved to Aleppo Hospital and my health condition is stable now…I stress that I will sacrifice my soul for the sake of my motherland and its leader."
Another injured security member, Ahmad Ali, said "We moved to support our colleagues in Jisr al-Shughour as they were surrounded by armed terrorists…We passed through a road between the mountains where we were ambushed by armed groups and they opened fire on us."
Ali added "A number of the security members were martyred by the fire of the gunmen who were using various types of weapons such as the snipers, machineguns and rifles," indicating that a number of the bodies were mutilated.
An injured security member, Hassan Dalou, said "We were ambushed by terrorist groups on the road between the mountains while we were in the way to support our colleagues who were cordoned off by armed terrorist groups in Jisr al-Shoghour and they opened fire on us."
Dalou affirmed that a huge number of the security members were injured and martyred, denying the news broadcast by the channels of instigation and sedition.
He indicated that the citizens of the area know the truth and they know that what the instigation channels broadcast are lies and fabrications as the task of the security forces is to protect the citizens from the armed groups.
Injured security member, Ja'afar Taher Mahmoud, said "The armed groups displaced some of citizens from their houses to booby-trap them and to prepare an ambush," indicating that he and his colleagues thought that those who were in the houses and farms were peasants and they were surprised as they opened fire on them from four directions.
For their part, a number of Idleb citizens stressed that the members of the army and security forces are their brothers and those who attack them are conspiring against Syria, condemning the massacres perpetrated by the armed terrorist groups in Jisr al-Shoghour as 120 members of the military, security and police forces were martyred.
Citizen, Abu Mohammad, said that the terrorist groups mutilated the bodies of the martyrs and buried a huge number of them behind the security detachment as they killed them to say later that they found a mass grave and to convey this news to the biased satellite channels which instigate against Syria.
R. Raslan/H. Said/ R. al-Jazaeri
- Photos of Brutal Massacres against Army, Police and Security Forces Perpetrated by Armed Terrorist Groups in Jisr al-Shugour, SANA, June 08, 2011
- Syria: Massacre Feared After Army Mutiny - Report on Jisr Al-Shugour, SkyNews, uploaded by sneakysyrian, June 12, 2011
- Secrets from Jisr Al-Shughour: Was this Syria's Point of no Return?, Majalla magazine, April 5, 2012
- Terrorist Confession - Jisr Al-Shogour Crimes, uploaded by TruthSyria, September 28, 2011
- Residents of Jisr al-Shughour deny Syrian masacre of security personnel, The Telegraph, June 7, 2011
- Syria crisis: Investigating Jisr al-Shughour, BBC, June 22, 2011
- Thousands of Syrians flee to Turkey (incl. video), Al Jazeera, June 11, 2011
- Syria: What really happened in Jisr al-Shughour?, BBC, June 7, 2011
- Syrian town empties as government tanks mass outside, Martin Chulov, Guardian, June 7, 2011
- Syria - 20110612 - Jisr Al Shughour - Man tells about the shooting of defecting soldiers, dutch subtitles, uploaded by GHRSMENA, June 28, 2011
- Syrian Soldier Hussein Harmoush announces split from Army 09/06/2011, uploaded by freedomforeveryone20, June 10, 2011
- Defected Syrian officer returns: Syrian State TV, AFP, uploaded September 16, 2011
- Hussein Harmoush Defected Army Officer, English subs/summary, uploaded by SyriaonlineTV, September 16, 2011
- Interview with Turkish OdaTV, January 2015, Part 1, Part 2, English translation by Al Masdar News, Part 1, Part 2 (mirror)
- Turkish defector exposing the role in Syria, English language summary of Turkish article, As'ad AbuKhalil, January 22, 2015
- Martin Chulov on possible Iranian involvement in Syrian crackdown, Skype interview, uploaded by MrWeaves, June 10, 2011
- Martin Chulov on 2011-06-09 at 15.24 For Internet, Skype interview, uploaded by MrWeaves, June 9, 2011
- Fearing Military Assault, Thousands Flee Northern Syrian Town, PBS NewsHour, uploaded June 9, 2011
- Security, Tranquility Back to Jisr Al Shughour, Syrian TV report from June, 14 (full news report with other topics and date here) in English, includes confession of involved locals, uploaded by AlthoraAlsoriah2011, August 8, 2011