Mazraat al-Qubeir massacre

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This massacre occurred on June 6, 2012, in the small village of Mazraat Al-Qubeir, pop. ap.. 160, near Hama. The most common reported death toll is 78, but smaller numbers (and no larger ones) have been cited, and the number and identity of victims remains disputed and uncertain. Of course, the government blamed the rebels and vice-versa, as usual. The UK Telegraph called it "what appears to have been one of the bloodiest incidents since the start of the Syrian uprising." [1]

Rebel Narrative and Alleged Survivors

Opposition activists explain this domestic massacre scene. UNSMIS video, June 8

The attack the opposition describes was a heavy one for only 20-30 homes and 160-200 inhabitants. Reuters cited a Hama-based activist "Abu Ghazi," who described how nine Syrian army T-72 tanks had surrounded Qubeir at 2 PM and started shelling, then entered one hour later. "Plain-clothes fighters carrying guns, knives and heavy sticks" walked in behind, he said, citing survivors he spoke to. They started a massacre, of which he named more than 50 victims, "many from a single family called al-Yateem." He mentioned burning, ID problems, and the fact that "the bodies of between 25 and 30 men were taken away by the killers." [2] An anonymous Al-Yateem farmer, watching from the family olive grove, described the attack to Reuters:

"After the army fired on one area, security forces and shabbiha would go inside the houses. I heard gunshots inside three houses, then I saw them come out and burn them," the witness said. "Most of the time I couldn't hear anything over the artillery fire ... By 8 p.m., they were finished. [2]

The same man (same precise details) spoke to other sources like The Telegraph, as Leith Al-Hemary/Hamwy, a local activist (see below, "star witnesses") The rebel fighter they spoke with cited five known survivors: "Mr Hemary and his cousin" were two of these, and two more must be the injured boys "who survived a massacre in Mazraat al-Qubair," shown in a video still with the article (we haven't seen that video yet).

The witnesses were far enough away to live, but allegedly close enough to witness some damning festivities in Qubeir. Some of the Telegraph's witnesses (not quoted) "reported how the militiamen sang songs in praise of Mr Assad." [1] The Daily Mail heard the added detail that "militiamen danced over dead bodies while singing pro-Assad songs." [3] As usual, this falls into the category of things the surviving activists didn't think to video-record.

Star Witnesses: Al-Hamwy/Hamawi/Hemary/Hamouli

One name of interest is Al-Hamwy/Hamawi/Hemary/Hamouli (transliterations differ). At least two alleged survivors/witnesses giving variants of that name, have provided incredibly helpful details to the outside media. Another yet possible relative of theirs is an opposition videographer who documented the aftermath.

First, Laith/Leith Al-Hamwy, the clear star witness here, is "an activist in Mazraat al-Qubair," according to the Associated Press, as well as a survivor, whose family was among those killed. [4] The UK Telegraph reported his account in some detail, specifying seven lost family members whose suggested name - Al-Hamwy or something similar - simply does not appear on the victim list:

"Laith al-Hemary's brother whispered on the mobile phone: "There are shouts and screams coming from outside," he said. "They are killing everyone they find." Then the line went dead. At 5.10pm, three hours after the attack began, Mr Hemary's brother's voice died away and he stopped answering his calls. Pushing open the door of his home several hours later, Mr Hemary found the bodies of his mother, three sisters and three brothers lying bloodied on the ground. "They had been beaten on the head by sticks and stabbed with knives," he said. "I went to other homes. I saw family after family slaughtered by knives." [1]

Canadian CBC echoed this AP report: "Leith Al-Hamwy told The Associated Press by telephone that he survived by hiding in an olive grove about 800 metres from the farms as the killings were taking place. But he said his mother and six siblings, the youngest 10-year-old twins, did not." [5]

Reuters, on the other hand, reported on a man giving all the same story details as Mr. Hamwy/Hemary, but no name. This anonymous occasion is also the one spot he claims membership in the primary target family, suggesting his name should be Yatim/Yateem:

a Syrian farmer said ... "There was smoke rising from the buildings and a horrible smell of human flesh burning," [as he] watched Syrian troops and "shabbiha" gunmen attack his village as he hid in his family olive grove. "It was like a ghost town," he told Reuters by telephone, asking not to be named because he feared for his safety.
[...]
The witness, who claimed he was a Yateem family member, said he had spoken to his brother on a cellphone as gunmen rampaged through the town. "The last conversation we had, I told him I saw the forces coming to our house," he said. "After the shabbiha and tanks left, the first thing I did was run to my house. It was burned. All seven people from my house were killed. I saw bodies on the stairs, the bathroom and bedroom. They were all burned." [2]

He had a relative in the field; the UK Telegraph noted "Mr Hemary and his cousin were among only a handful of survivors of the massacre." [1] It's possible this refers to Abu Hisham al-Hamawi (Hamwy/Hemary), a witness if not a survivor, spoken to by the Guardian's Martin Chulov:

Abu Hisham al-Hamawi (Hamwy/Hemary), a resident of the Mazraat area, whose home is on the outskirts of al-Qubair, said that minutes before the attack was launched at about 2.30pm on Tuesday he witnessed Shabiha militiamen from nearby Alawite villages pass by his home en route to al-Qubair. "I knew some of them from school," he said. "I know their names. I know their villages. I know exactly who they are. They are Shabiha, no doubt. They passed by here with the regime army." [6]

He said there were no problems or tensions previously, no provocation for the cruelty. Apparently the same man, local "Abou Hisham al-Hamouli," from "a village just over a mile from al-Qubeir" spoke to the Telegraph alongside Leith, with no mention of relation and different name spellings given (Hamouli vs. Hemary). He told them "I saw a two-month-old child without a head. I saw the burnt corpse of a woman. Her two children were wrapped around, hugging her. They died like that. There were two [sic] many burnt bodies." [1]

The same family name also appear on yet another regional opposition man involved with this massacre and its evidence. Samer Al-Hamwy is another activist in Halfaya, a larger town just a few miles to the north of Maxraat Al-Qubeir. The alleged Halfaya Bakery Bombing would occur there in December, and a number of videos and some newsworthy reports on that were provided by Samer (Youtube channel: Samer alHamwi Halfaya). This possible relation to Leith, and thus allegedly to some of the victims of the Qubeir massacre, was around in June to film some of their bodies in rebel possession. Two June 7 videos of the victims are listed and examined above (see video assessment). He doesn't seem terribly upset at the deaths of his possible relatives, just the usual shock video blaming Assad and Kofi Annan almost equally. (the videos - warning, graphic)

Government Narrative

The exact position of the government, especially on the death toll, isn't entirely clear. It seems they acknowledge only nine massacre deaths, and apparently a larger number of rebel fighters killed when the government responded. If this is so, this similarity is more with the Tremseh "massacre" than with Houla -a small rebel massacre, then armed clashes killing fighters and maybe soldiers.

The state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) reported the day after the massacre: "Several people from Mazraat al-Qubeir and Marzaf villages in Hama countryside narrated the horror and crimes which were committed by the armed terrorist groups against them, revealing the reality of the horrific crime which took place in their village last night as 9 citizens were killed [in] cold blood." They cited local Abu Hawash from Mazraat al-Qubeir village, speaking to SANA by phone. He said "terrorists" armed with RPG launchers and "PKC machineguns" had attacked, and he welcomed government protection. Another local called Abu Mohammad "said an armed terrorist group infiltrated to Mazraat al-Qubeir and killed 9 citizens, adding that after the crime took place, the residents called the authorities to protect them. [7]

Syria's permanent representative to the UN, Dr. Bashar Al-Jafari, clarified the government's position at the United Nations, also on June 7. This can be seen on video [8] and summarized in an article from Al Manara. [9] That reads in part:

Concerning the latest massacre in Al-Qubeir, Al-Jaafari said that killing innocent civilians in al-Qubeir took place 5 hours before any clashes happened, adding that the images broadcast by al-Jazeera and al-Arabia are not those of the massacre victims. The Syrian TVs will air the true images of the massacre…The instigative media channels have taken to airing such fabrications before the UN Security Council meetings, added al-Jaafari.

Manara also passed on Jaafari's explanation that, according to locals, "the gunmen who committed the crime came from another village called Jreijes which led the locals to call for the help of the law-enforcement members." [9] The location of this town is not clear - perhaps the nearby Jarjarah (here on Google Maps). What Jaafari means about the videos isn't certain; at Tremseh, the bodies of dozens of slain fighters were shown as massacre victims, when really they were casualties of a lost battle. Here, it's said there are videos showing "at least a dozen" women and children dead and wrapped. Jaafari and SANA cited only nine, but apparently based on partial information of what they say is a rebel crime with rebels controlling the evidence.

Location and Demographics

Mazraat Al-Qubeir seems to be a smaller village near the larger town of "Mazraf" , shown by the BBC on satellite. Mazraf is locatable on Google maps. "The nearby village of Maarizab" where the dead were buried by some accounts, could be the place we're seeing. Wikipedia's entry for Al-Qubeir, the tiny site of the massacre, cites a nearby larger town Maazraf. Note the switch in the position of the R, making a fit with Maarizab possible. Another place given on Wikimapia translates Farm Qubeir. The farm word, pasted into Google Translate, is pronounced Mazraat.

Wikipedia cites a few sources to explain Qubeir is "a settlement in the Hama Governorate of Syria, near the larger village of Maarzaf." comprised of around 30 homes, with a population around 160. 78 dead from 160 inhabitants, if true, would mean half the town was killed off in this attack. CNN reported something like that: "The village had only about 200 people. In one lethal sweep, almost half were gone." [10] Little wonder it's been described as a ghost town afterwards. There are a few areas around Mazraf/Maarzaf with about 20-30 houses as reported, according to Google maps. The visuals in the UNSMIS video might help set the location, but unique details seem to be scarce. It seems to be a hilltop village, fairly barren land seen up-close, mountains in the distance (0:15), perhaps to the south-southwest. [11]

Qubeir map sites.png

The location of Qubeir itself has remained confused until now, with the inset map, a site has been chosen matching with UN monitor video shot there on June 8 (see below). (for detailed visual explanation, see talk page) Three attack-scarred buildings are shown up-close in the video, those from the north end to village center circled in orange (visual match). This area is less than one mile south/southeast of Marzaf, and contains almost exactly 30 buildings (not all shown here). The best access would be by the main roads, but rebels took the monitors down extremely rough back roads for no clear reason.

Surrounded Sunnis

There is no way to really verify the rebel claim that the victims in Mazraat Al-Qubeir were of Syria's Sunni Muslim majority, but neither is there any specific reason to doubt it. Reuters heard that most of the victims were from the extended Al-Yateem family, which was in fact Sunni. [2] The village they dominated, not surprisingly, was "a Sunni farming enclave" given as Kubeir in a Now Lebanon piece. Further, it was described as "surrounded by Alawite villages." [12]

Qubeir was attacked savagely by those town's militias, activists say, just like Alawite-ringed Al-Houla reportedly had been (although the rebel-attacked Alawite neighborhood within Al-Houla was ignored). A man named Manhal Abu Bakr told Reuters that "many young men from the Alawite villages around al-Qabeer have died fighting for Assad against the rebels, They wanted revenge, and so they took it out on the nearest Sunni village." Activist Abu Ghazi "...said many other bodies were dragged away to a nearby Alawite village." [2]

Reuters reported Qubeir "may have been targeted in revenge or as collective punishment," but noted "most said Mazraat al-Qubeir had never joined the revolt against four decades of Assad family rule." [2] That's supposed to imply the Alawites' genocidal designs aren't against any rebellion, but against Syria's Sunnis at large. However, it might instead suggest the rebels would have a motive to attack this particular town, and so send a message to other regional fence-sitters: "the Shabiha might come for you next" (besides making the genocide point for the outsiders). This would be another parallel with the Houla massacre; those targeted were reported as primarily Sunnis who rejected the rebellion and/or had converted to Shi'ism.

Site Images

The following images come from our only (known) glimpse of the massacre sites, a video released by the UN monitor mission UNSMIS following their June 8 visit. [11] The three locations circled in the map above are shown in order north to south. (more notes perhaps forthcoming)

The Victims

Names and Numbers

The largest death toll of 78 is also the most widely cited, but not necessarily the most accurate. An early list on Shaam News' Facebook page gave only 59 victims, some not even identified. As listed, the dead were overwhelmingly (75%) from one family, Al-Yatim; 44 of the listed 59 names are Al-Yatim, with a few each from Ulwan and Faris families, and a few other names plus the unknowns. [13] (see the discussion page for that full listing) The Syrian National Congress reported that only 35 of the dead "were from the same Al-Yatim family" among that family "more than half of them women and children." [14] Activist Abu Ghazi named 54 people killed, 42 of them Al-Yatims. "They were peaceful Syrians, neither with the regime nor against it," he said. [2]

The Syrian government's initial claim of only nine massacre victims and promises to show them, as well as their full death toll and explanation of the discrepancies, will be covered here when and if that information is located.

Video Assessment

female victims #4 and #5

The following two videos from local activist Samer Al-Hamwy (see below) will form the basis of our visual assessment of the massacre victims. The graphic videos were both published June 6 (but dated 7/6), and seem to be filmed in daylight hours (although inside what seems to be a mosque). That would put it no later than sunset at 7:46 PM local time, and likely quite a bit before; the brightly-lit ledge suggests the sun is still fairly high and shining largely down. And this is likely after a drive (of three loaded pickups) to somewhere besides Qubeir village. For reference, the killings reportedly happened in the afternoon, under government/Shabiha control, somewhere after 2 PM, continuing to at least 5:10 PM. In fact, Mr. Al-Hamwy says "by 8 p.m., [the killers] were finished". [2] They were finished with these victims, and the rebels had snuck off the evidence, well before that point.

The total number of bodies shown between them is at least 19. Each video shows a slightly different body spread in the same red-carpeted, marble-walled space. The longer and clearer video, apparently, was shot first, with a few more bodies inserted between prior to the second video. All 19 victims, counting from right-to-left, cause of death/injuries unclear unless noted.

  1. a baby, girl apparently
  2. charred, in something like burlap
  3. baby boy, blue shirt, face-down with much of his skull visible in the back
  4. young woman, possible mother of that boy (he's at first covered by her blanket)
  5. older woman, wrapped in white
  6. man, yellow-crimson blanket, bloodied nose (short video only)
  7. blue blanket, charred
    (the space between 7 and 11 was empty in the long video)
  8. man, face smashed completely in, floral blanket (short video only)
  9. charred, in something like burlap (short video only)
  10. older boy, face bloodied, partly yellow blanket (short video only)
    (between 10 and 11 and after 19 is some ambiguity, maybe other bodies)
    (11-19 are all wrapped in white, mostly laid across a large black blanket)
  11. young boy, 6
  12. baby, hands perhaps tied
  13. child or baby
  14. older boy
  15. girl ?, around 9, reddened mouth
  16. boy, around 10
  17. boy, around 12
  18. woman? face bloodied
  19. older man

At least three women among these dead, and at least 10 children, with three of those just little babies. That primarily men were added for the second video suggests they could be fighters killed in subsequent clashes, as opposed to massacre victims. Nonetheless, this is clearly an "at least" picture, and at 13 it's already more than the nine dead women and children SANA and Syrian officials would attribute to regional terrorists.

Investigations

There has been no adequate investigation, outside Syria, of this incident. As for inside, we're not supposed to know and we're not quite sure (see above: Government Narrative ).

Investigators Obstructed and Shot At

UN observers with UNSMIS who tried to visit the site on June 7 came under fire from what they described as "small arms", fired by unseen gunmen, leaving it unclear who was trying to keep them away. No one was injured in the shooting. [5] They were later able to visit, the following day, taking notes and releasing some valuable video footage. [11]

UK Channel 4's chief correspondent Alex Thomson made it in close enough to try and report from the scene, but he too was shot at. As he wrote on his Channel 4 blog, "I’m quite clear the rebels deliberately set us up to be shot by the Syrian Army. Dead journos are bad for Damascus." [15] Interestingly, Thomson notes his unusual reporter status and the reaction of some:

really irritating guy who claims to be from “rebel intelligence” and won’t quite accept that we have a visa from the government. In his book foreign journos are people smuggled in from Lebanon illegally and that’s that. We don’t fit his profile. He and his mates are making things difficult for our driver and translator too – their Damascus IDs and our Damascus van reg are not helping. This is new. Different. Hostile.

This hostility had them decide to turn back. A black car with four men offered to lead them back out of town, but led them to a different place in "no-man's land." Gunfire opened on the car. Their escort "roared off as soon as we re-appeared" from a dead-end alley. Apparently no one was injured as the driver sped them back to safety on his own. [15]

Thomson reported a member of the Arab League observers affirming to him "I read your piece “set up to be shot in no mans land”, I can relate as I had that same experience in Al Zabadani during our tour.” [15]

Body Snatching

However, an accounting has been difficult; no bodies were seen by the time UNSMIS investigators arrived; only some parts of mutilated and burnt victims and a fair amount of their blood remained. The bodies had been removed by disputed parties for different reasons.

"Activists say government forces removed many of the bodies from Qubair but a number are said to have been buried in the nearby village of Maarzaf," BBC News reported. The Telegraph heard "the exact number of victims could not be confirmed, but people from the nearby village of Maarizab said they had buried 57 corpses. A further thirty bodies were missing and had not yet been buried, said activists." [1] This would give us a death toll of 87, nine higher than the generally accepted one. Reuters heard "the bodies of between 25 and 30 men were taken away by the killers," according to activist Abu Ghazi. [2] (Why so many men?) CNN: "The Shabiha hauled the other bodies away to neighboring villages, the activist said." [10]

The sequence of alleged events is not completely clear. When the Army and Shabiha attcaked, some villagers say they were close enough to hear the shooting inside homes and the killers singing praise to Bashar Al-Assad. They linger for some hours; "a former soldier who joined the rebel Free Syrian Army" was in the village that day, but only "within hours of the massacre," when government troops were still present, so he didn't stay but long enough to verify dead people inside homes that weren't too well-guarded. [1] Other rebels had, before 7:45 PM, gathered at least 19 bodies and made at least two videos over a span of time in an apparent mosque they feel safe in. Some 57 bodies, presumably including these 19, were taken to Mazraf and presumably buried in an anonymous rebel mass grave. CNN heard "Some victims, maybe about 40, were buried Thursday, said a youth activist who was not named for safety reasons. They were not buried in the way their families would have wanted but in mass graves." [10]

So, the Shabiha took some 20-30 of their victims' bodies, perhaps to cover up the horrific nature of the massacre before the UN's investigators arrived. Rebel videos don't seem to testify to any beheaded victims or other described signs of Islamo-nihilist cruelty, suggesting someone else carted off those victims. But the reported 57 the killers left behind, perhaps less mangled but still evidence of their crime, were also cleared out - by the rebels. Thus it was, allegedly, a collaborative effort that left the crime scenes empty by the following day.

And of course as we consider intention to hide the bodies from investigators, it must be remembered that investigators were kept away from the site as well, and the signs suggest most clearly that it was unseen rebel gunmen that were shooting at investigators from the media and the UN.

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Full Horror of the Al-Qubeir Masacre EmergesThe Telegraph, June 8, 2012
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 2.8 Syria Hama Massacre: Mazraat Al Qubair Survivor Tells Of Horror In Villages Erika Solomon and Oliver Holmes, Reuters, June 7, 2012, via Huffington Post
  3. As the world dithers over Syria, shocking evidence of an entire family massacred by Assad thugs: Father finds his wife and five children among the victims of the Houla atrocity By Nabila Ramdani and Ian Gallagher. The Daily Mail, June 9, 2012.
  4. Syrian troops bomb rebel-held neighborhood in Homs Associated Press viaFoxNews, June 8, 2012
  5. 5.0 5.1 Unarmed UN monitors shot at in SyriaThe Associated Press Posted: Jun 7, 2012 8:23 AM ET
  6. Syrian regime troops and militiamen 'seen walking towards massacre site' By Martin Chulov, the Guardian, Thursday 7 June 2012 11.28 EDT
  7. "Mazraat al-Qubeir People Tell of Horror and Armed Terrorist Groups' Crimes against them" SANA news report, June 7, 2012. [sana.sy/eng/21/2012/06/07/424129.htm Original link] Google Cache
  8. Intervention of Syria's Permanent Representative to the UN, Dr. Bashar Al-Jafari, 07-06-2012Youtube video. Published on Jun 7, 2012 by MrGeourg
  9. 9.0 9.1 Jaafari: Al-Qubeir Massacre Committed 5 Hrs before Clashes HappenedAlmanar, June 8, 2012
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 In Syria, a massacre feels eerily familiar By Moni Basu, CNN, June 7, 2012
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 UN Observers enter Mazraat al-QubeirYoutube video, Published on Jun 8, 2012 by UNSMIS
  12. Siniora condemns massacre in Syria’s Al-KubeirNow Lebanon, June 8, 2012.
  13. Shaam News
  14. [1]
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 Set up to be shot in Syria’s no man’s land?Alex Thomson, Channel 4 News Blog, June 8, 2012.