Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Aqrab Connection

July 26 (last edits July 27)

Aqrab is a mid-sized town of - originally - about 11,000 people. It lies just about 2 km north of the Houla region, and even called a part of Houla in some readings, despite being across the border in Hama province.

The direct Houla Massacre-Aqrab connection is of two parts: fighters from there swooping south to help, and victims from there dying either with the Abdulrazaq familiess in Taldou, in Aqrab, or both.

The indirect connections also are fascinating, with a massacre in each locale about six months apart, each with its own telling patterns covered below. First, the two connections to events of May 25, 2012:

Fighters From:
"Houla" Sunni solidarity rebels from Aqrab reportedly took part in the May 25 battle. The ANNA News witnesses reported:
At 7:00 pm, Al-Farouq brigade, led by Abdulrazak Tlass, of the so-called “Free Syrian Army” arrived. He had more than 250 armed men with him from the city of Rastan, he also had 2 other groups with him one from Al-Qabo village, led by Yehya Al-Yusef, and another from Falla village.
These towns sounds like Al-Qabo and Fullah/Fallah - the two main Alawite villages the Shabiha were said to come from. Why are Sunni rebel fighters coming from there too? Apparently not, and this is an especially odd/ironic mix-up. The better telling seems this seems to be based on:
The town was attacked from the north-east by groups of bandits and mercenaries, numbering up to 700 people. The militants came from Ar-Rastan (the Brigade of al-Farouk from the Free Syrian Army led by the terrorist Abdul Razak Tlass and numbering 250), from the village of Akraba (led by the terrorist Yahya Al-Yousef), from the village Farlaha , joined by local gangsters, and from Al Hula.
I conclude Qabo = Akraba/Aqrab, and Falla = Farlaha = Kafr Laha, the biggest town of Houla just north of Taldou. Al Hula = elsewhere in, maybe Taldou itself.

Possible verification for the presence of a Yousef family contingent comes from a May 25 victim listed by only the VDC - Saeed Mohammad Munib Al-Yousef "martyr" # 17034. The entry number shows he was reported earlier than most victims, who number well above the 1700s. All the other rebel fighters are listed in this early portion. Age 32 and hailing from Houla (again, sometimes considered to include Aqrab), it says he was a civilian who died in shelling.

Civilian doesn't mean much in this context; another one killed by "shelling" that day was Talal Bakour, # 17017 who the same source notes was the "brother of defected major Nidal Bakour," an alleged leader of one unit involved directly in the massacres. How did his brother get shot if not by fighting or helping alongside his brother? He was dressed in sporty clothes, prepared for physical movement, like the fighters we see on video. The same may go for Saeed al-Yousef, image-free as far as we know. He was likely tagging along with his brother Yehya as they both helped pave the way for the massacres of May 25.

Victims From: 
The 2014 list of victims says, as prior sources did, that the whole Fadi Mahmoud Al-Kurdi family "came from Aqrab village." Fadi's wife was an Abdulrazaq - un-listed, unnamed, implicitly a survivor, and by some details likely to be - allegedly - a shot survivor blaming Shabiha and calling herself "Rasha Abdulrazaq." That part is unclear, and the father Fadi also didn't die, by not being in the frame to begin with - off on business or what is unclear. Just the 3 sons and/or 2 of them and, the new list says, a daughter Zeynab Fadi Adulrazaq, age 9. Or, the provided photos might say, all 3 plus the girl. (to be considered better...)

But that wasn't all - these 3-4 kids also had their paternal grandparents fall to assassins that day. Fadi's father, Mahmoud, and his wife Zainab Arouq, both from Aqrab but implicitly - by being listed as Houla Massacre victims - killed in Taldou, in the zone of "Shabiha" invasion. Zainab - the granddaughter's namesake - isn't listed in the 2014 roster unless it's by that reincarnation, but her husband is, with this odd note:

91- Mahmoud Omer Al-kurdi, 45 years old, father, he was resident of Aqrab village and lived in place where massacred happened. (emphasis mine)

The straight reading of that is that he was killed in a part of the "Houla Massacre" that happened in Aqrab where he lived. Nothing else rules that out, nor directly supports it.

Well, Akrama Bakour counters it, saying the "shepherd" al-Kurdi was killed at the entrance to the Abdulrazaq alley on Saad Street. But he seems to place the children both with him and inside Samir Abdulrazaq's house - maybe they were all visiting and he was the last to arrive, caught as he pulled up and killed first. His wife isn't mentioned there. Why this one victim out of all would be jut outside the area is unclear, when he and his wife are also the most likely to have been killed all the way outside of Al-Houla proper. That might be his coded way of explaining how they too came to die by the Shabiha who, we hear, walked to and from Fullah 1.5 km away. He just shifted Mustafa way south to that alley, but not into some house of his own there.

Further, the alleged movement of fighters from there to Taldou means either place is entirely reachable to that force likely in either location. They could hit at least the granparents in Aqrab early on, or just take them captive to kill with the others, before setting out to Taldou at mid-day. Whereas those alleged idiot thugs from Fullah would face a ten km march each way to and from Aqrab. Therefore, Bakour's story that they all happened to be visiting the Abdulrazaq in-laws that day.

Indirect Links: Massacre to Massacre
(modified from the report, pages 51-52)

Just after the Houla Massacre, when allegations of Shia or Alawi victims were widespread, opposition people countered with a blanket claim that anyone killed in Houla was by default a Sunni. That's all that lived in any of its three towns or implicitly in the whole area.

But Aqrab, often considered part of Al-Houla, was then, before, and for another six months, a Sunni majority city with a western Alawite district of about 2,000 people. The world learned faintly about this – and the CIWCL learned much more - after an early December, 2012, attack by rebels from Houla, Aqrab, and Rastan who took over the western district and emptied it. Reports say most inhabitants fed in time, but about 500 civilians were taken hostage. Including children and women, these were mostly of an extended  Jubeili family, and perhaps some Melhems, among others. About half of these were freed in exchanges with the government over the following week, with rebels saying nothing to the world.

They only broke the news of an Aqrab Massacre on December 11 - about 200 Alawites in a house were blown up by their “Shabiha” captors, they said, with help from the Syrian army and air force. That story fell apart spectacularly, thanks to an unexpected, spot-on report by Channel 4's Alex Thomson showing that house still standing unscathed the next day. But the fate of the fnal 200-230 or so smoked-out Alawite civilians has never been settled. See the ACLOS page on Aqrab Massacre. I made sure Alex Thomson saw it, and he says it "seems to bear out what I reported from Aqrab at the time."

Either way, after this, opposition sources could say Aqrab was 100% Sunni, the way they said al-Houla was - right after the May massacre. I would caution against reading too much – or too little – into that parallel.

The Aqrab connection increases the possibility of Alawite massacre victims. But with nothing else but an erred suggestion of that (see Houla Massacre Myths) and that they married into a family of alleged Shia converts, we should presume the Kurdis' religious status as simply unknown.

For effect, the rudimentary map we came up with for the few locations we could place in Aqrab - explained here.

Abdulrazaq-Abbara-Clocktower Connection?

This post constitutes a challenge to the 2014 report
<- Return to Main Challenge Space
Challenge brought July 21
last edits July 28
I'll bring the first challenge myself, by urging myself to take a second look at one last-minute addition to the report that was a little speculative to start, and was then complicated by some even more last-minute information I wasn't up to making revisions over. This is to be reviewed, I figured, so why not leave this spot ready for an early revisitation?

From page 34: Clocktower Family Massacred?
A German-language map ACLOS cited early on says this small block of buildings includes the home of a family Abbara. [18] This is based on ANNA News and “the Defector” who said “the house on the northern corner of the square belongs to the family Abbara.” [11] It's not clear to what extent this corner was the family's house vs. the Army's base.

FSA fighter Akrima Bakour told the BBC one Mohammad Abbara along with "his daughter Amina and her family of seven" were "killed in the massacre" [15] The Opposition VDC may reflect this, but differently. Only two victims of that name appear as killed in Houla that day, both adult men killed by “shelling.” The younger is Ammar, age 23. [19] There is one Amina listed at the VDC (as “Amna” - a typo) - Amina Shafeeq Abdul Razaq, age 43, executed. She was “married and has 5 children,” a note shared by several other female victims there, but only one male: Mohammad Shafiq Abbara, age 27. The shared Shafiq suggests brother, usually, not husband. But wasn't he Amina's father? Bakour put the Shafiq on another guy listed with them - Mohammad Shafiq Abdul Razaq.

There are also an unclaimed batch of four boys named Al-Sweiee, and given with “mother's name: Amama” (There is a female name Amima, but like Amna, Amama is not a known (common) name) [19] It's possible this somehow correlates to the same family of seven, obscured with this confusing record. Otherwise, perhaps they didn't get this one fully reported, but is seems connected to both this spot and that family.

There's some talk of an Abdulrazaq family killed in the north of town; “the Defector” said “the second family, who was killed by the bandits, lived [partly] in the northwest. Even there, the family Abdul Rasak has a house.” [7] Maybe it wasn't in the northwest of town they lived, but on the northeast corner of that center of town, well north of the other Abdulrazaqs.

So there is compelling – if little-noted - evidence that a family basically living at a security post rebels overran was massacred on that day. They probably would not have been rounded up and eliminated during the mid-day distraction, but after 7:00, the time Arifah specifies the event even the CoI acknowledges with “the clocktower checkpoint was overrun.”
The 2014 list adds a name missing before: #21 Omamah Abed al-Rahman Abed Al-razaq,32 years old," the mother in the "Bassam Khaled Al-Sweeai family." This is convincing-sounding detail, but the trustworthiness of this list too is in question. For one thing, the four boys became three here, as if to make room for the new mom, but that could mean nothing.

By this list, #41 Amina Shafiq is instead attached to the family of Mouhamed Refiq Abed Al-razaq - lacking the usual maiden name for married-in wives - perhaps a sign of something amiss. By this, she was killed alongside only her daughter Bayan Mouhamed Refiq Abed Al-razaq, age 14 (otherwise just Bayan Mohammed, close enough). Amina's husband apparently survived, unlike victim #99 Mouhammed Shafiq Abbara, who died alongside no family members at all. Both wound up seeming lonely like that - another possible sign they've been forcibly split up.

Considering, then: Akrama Bakour's "Mohammed Shafiq Abdulrazaq" - oddly listed right before "Mohammad Abbara and his daughter Amina" - would presumably be the husband M. Refiq, just named a bit wrong. But here, he didn't implicitly survive, but rather he explicitly died. And he then appeared on no lists ... unless it's as M.S. Abbara... (listed twice then by Akrama, unless there really were two Mohammeds, one actually being her father ...)

So there are two different ways the Al-Sweiee boys might connect to the Abdulrazaqs via their mother. One I guessed, the other is provided by the new list. It's possible neither is right, but one likely is.

Any link to the Abbaras remains speculative, built into my guess link for the Sweiee boys. But supporting it we have Bakour's Abbara-related "family of 7" with its implications of such a relation; at the verty least, consider that listing excludes the Al-Sayeds, and so seems to focus on the Abdulrazaqs and their relations exclusively. The surrounding name suggestions, and otherwise unexplained "family of 7" all further suggest that was a pretty good guess.

If there were a relation here, the killing that day of any of any Abbaras - by "shelling" or whatever - was most likely a planned part of the same targeted operation against the families down Saad Street. It seems Abbaras were killed at a place rebels definitely overran. That alone might be adequate reason to confuse this link with smudged identities and a made-up last name leaving such speculation the only way to piece the puzzle together. It might look like this:

* Father Mohammed Shafiq Abdulrazaq and mother Amina Mohammed Abbara - have their last names simply swapped, ages adjusted if needed. They both get the Shafiq part, leaving a clue.
* Five children for a family of 7 total: eldest, daughter Bayan Mohammed is kept the same, and the four boys, last names changed to Al-Sweiee, first names also possibly changed. Later a different mother is made up to explain them.
* Amina's father Mohammed Abbara was deleted from the listings, and the once-damning Abdulrazaq-Abbara link would thus be obscured.

Above: composite panorama of the military portion of the overrun clocktower area on May 30 (not May 27)

Location (??) at left. They lived somewhere in there, some say.

Another note to add: a belated search on Wikimapia bears out the general picture of an Abbara family at the clocktower roundabout. At least five labels - placed by whoever and based on whatever - suggest they own several homes and perhaps surrounding land, dominating the center of town aside from the mosque and cemetery.

First, the indicated block of houses has a label the right shape to include the whole thing, but offset some meters east. Translated, it says "(goods/retail/accessories) house Abbara Daoud 7." It seems to include the very corner building and everything north - about 7 buildings, likely then what the 7 refers to. Town center in a block of buildings you own would be a good place to open a shop, become fairly wealthy, intermarry, basically host the Army ...  In the image above, it would either be around the corner ahead, or in the space now used as the Army post. Maybe it's what was commandeered, likely with some reimbursement from the government, and you can see where that kind of thing might raise some eyebrows...

Next, three patches of land and homes south of the roundabout are also listed as home to Abbara men:
* Just south of the clocktower, related: House Hajj (aged) Abdul Karim Abbara. God rest his soul. Grandson, Daoud Abbara
* A bit west of that: House of Nazir and Bahaa Abbara
* A bit further west: House of Hosni Abbara + Yahya Salim Abbara

And, it says, there's at least one more home in a marked block just northwest of the mosque - Engineer (المهندس - Mohandis) Mohammed Iyad Abbara Abu Ubaida - that's a more likely match than the shop block for an indirect Abdulrazaq family in the northwest, but maybe a better yet explanation is the true one.

Mapped out, labels shifted a bit to make more sense:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Houla Massacre Myths

(post created July 19, to be filled in)
last edits Jan, 12, 2015

Minor/Early-Settled Myths
(see also ACLOS: proven false claims)
These distortions were highlighted by critics during the short span there were lots of people talking about it. They're generally too common, obvious, or unimportant to interest me much past initial discovery.

- The victims were mainly killed by the Army shelling:
The alleged Army shelling was clearly emphasized in all early reports, and some of the earliest do imply that alone caused the death toll, initially reported smaller but growing as bodies were pulled from "beneath rubble". For example, one report as late as the 28th said it was now 90 people who were killed in "the shelling." This may be mere instinct when that claim was common following such events - and they always specify artillery only the military has, never mortars, RPGs, improvised rockets - things they have. So there's been an emphasis on this aspect to clarify the blame, but rebels said from the beginning, at first muddled but soon clearer, that there were also horrific in-home massacres - by "Shabiha" - after the shelling.

- BBC Iraq image: Another popular point of criticism was an early image the BBC ran that made the massacre look simply enormous - it showed hundreds of wrapped bodies that, as readers quickly discovered, died in Iraq years earlier and had the photo already used for that. It was an undeniable error of some sort, quickly acknowledged by the BBC and retracted (see here for their explanation). There may be more theorizing about true reasons, etc. but it didn't seem worth digging for.

- Army artillery tracks were seen from space:
The BBC, again but less known, cited a supposed expert who found likely artillery tracks in May 26 satellite images. This was the first point I tackled, and easily destroyed: Suspected Tree Farm Reveals Houla Massacre Deception. On checking past imagery, I could prove these sinister "tracks" far south of town predated the massacre by at least three months, and seem to be planting roads in a tree farm. Later 2013 images in Google Earth show they've remained unused and faded away since - and in their place, the kind of tracks he meant appeared at the place (the "Water Company") one would have seen them on the 26th if they existed. But they apparently did not exist then.

Crucial Myths
(mostly forthcoming)

- Army shelling preceding the massacre is proven: As Syrian authorities and others noted, here and elsewhere, of the bodies shown, none of them is jumbled, broken and dusty like victims pulled from "beneath rubble" would be, though a very few look like people hit with RPGs in the open). There's no video proof of shelling that isn't at least as consistent with the evidenced rebel offensive. But there are various signs and thinking that have been cited to convince millions - even Russia's diplomats - that the Army shelled Taldou that day. This deserves its own post (f/c)

- The Shelling Was Because "Houla" is a "rebel-held town":
This was a strong theme of the Houla Massacre article at Wikipedia until I stepped in recently to clarify some things. "Two otion-held towns" is not Taldou. The vague impression of general Houla control coupled with vague reports of shelling and a massacre in "Houla," often called a singular "town," is misleading. As I said, it "makes it sound like only anti-rebel people would attack an all-rebel town, or all-rebel towns in that area." In fact, as the main article now clarifies,
"the UN's June report noted "Government forces are present in Al-Houla" with "fortified checkpoints" they show on an attached map. This shows only the south end of Taldou, between rebel-held Houla and the Alawi and Shia villages. All the reported massacre sites, also labeled on that map, are in this immediate area of Taldou. [26]"

Rebels took over security posts there, on that very day, and set them smoldering. There were five, and the UN acknowledge two of them as overrun by rebels in some kind of offensive. Two others are contested. One of the contested posts is 120 meters north of one massacre site. Another is exactly across the street from another massacre site, and positioned to defend the remainder, the UN decided, as long as it wasn't, say, overrun and torched by sunset. They didn't think it was, but the video record suggests otherwise.

In this context, some stupid quotes, all from a single horrendous Al-Jazeera report:
* "Hadi al-Abdallah, speaking from Homs, said Houla is under the control of the Free Syrian Army, which means government troops cannot enter the town. Instead, they are launching shells from a distance in a bid to defeat the rebels."
* "...government forces tried to break into the town, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said."
* "A team of UN observers visited the Homs area to assess the situation on Saturday. Some activists complained, however, that they just visited the village of Taldou, at the edge of Houla, rather than entering the town."

Fact: someone shelled a part of Houla, just with mortars, RPGs, and heavy guns on "ratmobiles," as far as we can tell. It was the one area in Houla that ''rebel troops'' could not enter,  the government-controlled southern half of Taldou. Everything relevant was there, all the damage, the massacre sites, and even the mass grave in the northern, rebel-held half (and the monitors went there, twice, and heard plenty of lies and also a hushed-up "other story") The same logic behind Al-Jazeera's sources, better informed, would dictate that rebels pounded the center and south of town from their nearby positions in Houla, including north Taldou, to defeat those holding it. Then, logically, they must have entered like they usually could not, and conducted the massacre against the people the soldiers had just been protecting. If all we had to go on was the fact that Taldou was government-held, this would be a lazy leap to blame the rebels. But we also have the video record that shows them taking out the posts they would need to for this to be the reality.

- Rebels Withdrew Before the Massacres:
As explained above, they could only withdraw from the affected area if they first entered it, which would require a military offensive to knock out security posts. Then, as the video proves, they had to come back in a short time and again access the place to recover the bodies they were then seen with. In fact, it's most logical to presume they forced their entry before the massacre, stayed during it, and then got the bodies because they just killed them. 

- The Mobile Post was Never Overrun:(f/c)
- The Hospital Remained Functional:(f/c)
- "The crime scene remained in Government-controlled territory the entire time":(f/c)
- Children's Throats Were Slit: (f/c)
- The Way Children Were Killed Does NOT Suggest Islamists:(f/c)
- There was no Conversion for the Abdulrazaq Family: (f/c)

- Alawites were Killed in the Houla Massacre:
The famous June report by journalist Rainer Hermann in Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) passed on that (as translated) the victims “were nearly exclusively families from the Alawi and Shia minorities in Houla” or government loyalist Sunnis. As noted with glee by critics, the Alawite part is technically an error. Hermann was told that "members of the Alawi family Shomaliya." were among the dead, but there's no such family. Activists also say there were no Alawites in Houla, but that appears unproven - it seems fairly close to or possibly zero, but not close enough or sure enough to rule it out. Rather, a lack of correct positive evidence leaves it not even really trying to be ruled in any longer.

- Rebels Did Not Massacre Alawite Civilians That Day:
Following on the last point, if no Alawite family was killed in Houla, all would seem well on that front. Except there is a whole true version few have bothered looking for. Rather, it seems at least ten civilians from two families in the Alawite village of al-Shumariyeh (not the family Shomaliya) were allegedly killed in a separate attack of May 25 (perhaps later that night or early on the 26th). On the south shore of Lake Homs, the Shumariyeh Massacre is too far away to be done by the same people, and was reportedly run by rebels out of al-Qusayr. But the two massacres might have been coordinated to send a signal about as implied in the FAZ piece – to terrorize Sunnis who convert, Sunnis who support the “Alawite regime,” and Alawi.

- "the loyalties of the victims" point to Shabiha: (f/c)
- Witnesses can be Trusted: (f/c)
- Okay, I mean IF they blame Shabiha: (f/c)

- It makes sense to let Shabiha massacre families in a campaign of genocide against the country's Sunni Majority: WTF?

- There is a "lack of credible information supporting other possibilities": This statement by the CoI has been shown wrong by the new report. Strong video evidence of a rebel offensive the offeders deny is more credible by far than rebel-supplied alleged witnesses who blame the same people rebels do, and clash with the video record just like they do.

Suggested Posts

July 19

There's a lot of material to cover, much already done but needing improvements, distillation and summarization, perhaps here. I'm not sure how many posts it's wide to create, and in what order. Here I'll let readers suggest issues they'd like to add to, or see covered. Each new post gives me space (if not time) to explain. And it gives readers comment space, and defines what it is. So let me know what comments or questions you have and I'll create a space for that.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Witness Reliability

Post started July 17
Last edited December 17

At A Closer Look On Syria, we've opted for the term "alleged witnesses" to describe people on both sides of the Houla Massacre narrative schism - Houla: Alleged Witnesses. Here, we will gather some thoughts on reliability, pro and con, for both sets, and cite some examples.

(July 18 note: "We will" meaning we have/will, and I will organize some reflection of that here soon - to start, two samples in a category to show how we can critique witnesses from both sides)

Problematic Witnesses - Rebel Guilt Narrative:
1) "Arifah": Meaning 'a knowledgeable woman," this is the reference name ACLOS gave to the female half of the leading two witnesses presented by SANA et al. in early June. She claims much knowledge, but seemingly gathered it in a variety of ways; some visual observation but mostly listening to a radio scanner and second-hand information, including a litany of past rebel abuses many would question (we would suggest none of it's that far-fetched, but let's just not get distracted)
The UN's investigators concluded these two leading witnesses were the only ones in existence supporting a rebel attack. Between them, they almost totally ignore the "rebel defector" (as we dubbed him) with his detailed inside knowledge as a participant in the Battle for the Houla Massacre. They focused their criticism on "Arifah," partly with valid points.
(details forthcoming)

2) "Ahmed": There is one witness for the rebel guilt narrative who classes as a "miracle survivor," although not the usual "I hid behind a door" "they thought I was dead" type. He says he's an Abdulrazaq family member accused of coverting to Shi'ism, but had worked with local rebels before. So, he says, rebels he knew willingly spared him and his whole family (and then smuggled them out, let them just walk away amid the attack, had them stay put through it, or what, is all left unclear). All-in-all, "Ahmed," as he was called, has a problematic account. It raises a number of questions and doesn't answer them, and gives few details. It's far from ruled out, but neither does it seem sound enough to hang much weight on.
(source: Syria: German Author Todenhöfer met with Eyewitness from al-Houla Jurgen Todennhöfer, originally published in the German magazine Bild as Mein Treffen mit Assad, 9 July, 2012)

3) Others: most of the dozen or so interviewees just get one line comments, most of them showing no deeper insight than a general rebel attack they only each saw a part of. They complain that it left police and soldiers dead, houses and the hospital burnt, people displaced, and so on. Only the two leading witnesses, the Defector and Arifah, give much useful detail, one of those with some substantial and identifiable problems, the other without.

Problematic Witnesses - Shabiha Guilt Narrative:
    Any rebel-absolvers reading this who were just tempted to write off "Ahmed" as an obvious liar with an implausible survival story, take careful note here: he's the only one like that on that side. Conversely, opposition activists put forth at least 34-37 alleged miracle survivors, with at least 18 on record as witnesses who speak of or for the other half (explained here). If the "Shabiha" killed 106 and failed with 34, that's 140 at least intended, for a fail rate of no less than 24%. These generally unharmed people relate a cartoonish assault by idiot-brute villains who cut deals for no one, try to kill everyone, and fail a lot. Three different women claim they survived by hiding behind a door. One says she ran when one Shabih shot another by accident. Some hid in the barn, some played dead, passed out, etc.

    Some claim to be shot and might be. Some of the many people shown might be real survivors, shot and now in rebel custody, telling the rebel story - maybe because it's true, maybe for other reasons. They all consistently blame Shabiha and claim total innocence for local rebels and themselves. Like all Syrians, they suggest, the victims were peaceful rebel sympathizers who detest Bashar Al-Assad. They fail to mention in any form the rebel-initiated Battle for the Houla Massacre that came right before the massacre. No rebels were around then, only afterwards to save the survivors, praise God. So they say.

Just to highlight a few of particular unreliability (and with many runners-up):
1) "Ali Al-Sayed"
    Little "Ali Adel Al-Sayed, age 11 (visually about 9) says he played dead. In one version he says he did that by putting his hand over his face - it was bloody from being shot. But it was healed up within a few days, leaving only a faint scratch he shows as proof on that video. Compelling? Yes, apparently. He's adorable, and was nearly murdered by Assad. You just don't go questioning someone like that, and so few did.
    We started with him in June, 2012, and I had a detailed article up by July 3. In his multiple accounts, he gives three different names for his father, with the unused names swapped in alternately for his older brother and his uncle(s). He ... wow, he just has too much wrongness to relate here.
    The original article was expanded for the 2013 report, including the important correlation thatb he claims to represent the contested family allegedly related to the new parliament secretary Abdelmutti Al-Mashlab. Ali, the inconsistent malleable child witness, paints Aref Al-Sayed's family as distantly related, not a plausible motive, with no real political leaning except some flirtation with protests. But he cannot consistently remember the names of his elder male relatives or when and how they were killed (shot outside first, shot last after hiding through the massacre - behind a door - or killed later after they were taken away alive).
    This is the adorable star witness. His stories don't make much sense, but he recognized the Alawite accents and knows the International Community is supposed to be protecting them. Shame on all of, ays little Ali.

See also 2014 version of 2013 revision published on-site, here: "Fight for us" and other things Ali said

2) Ayman/Hassan/Abu Firas Abdulrazaq:

3) Malik Bakour:
    Defected soldier Malik Baqur (Bakour) gives one account (Der Speigel, video) where he was at the “protest” in the center of Taldou when he “received a message from the troops along Sadd [Saad] Street telling us that a group was coming from the next village” (that being Fullah, but they knew some were also from Alkabo (Alawi) and Algur (Shia) beyond). Who these well-informed “troops” are is unexplained and interesting. Then Malik says he walked down Saad, arriving at a spot “300 meters from the massacre area” in time to see the Alawite Shabiha marching all the way back to Fullah at 6:30, with a truck he recognized from a checkpoint there. He does not claim that they left behind a list of participants, but Malik's story is almost that perfectly preposterous.
    But he also says (Spiegel, text) that he was already at the home of his cousin on Saad Street, doing nothing in particular until the invasion and massacre (defected major Jihad Raslan told Spiegel he was at his own home doing nothing, 300 meters from the crime scene, and hooked up with Malik to inspect hoimes right after). This latter story, lining up with Jihad's, suggests there was no fight – or even protest - for them to be out in, which seems to be untrue. Also, one or both of Malik's stories – both of them confusingly published by Der Spiegel – must be untrue.
(Source: "Searching for the Truth Behind the Houla Massacre" By Christoph Reuter and Abd al-Kadher Adhun, Der Spiegel, July 23, 2012(for text part), video interviews for the video interview)

4) Rasha and Rasha:

5) "Fatima":

remaining content, any others, forthcoming.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Analyzing the Battle for the Houla Massacre

(when the discussion starts, here is where people can offer thoughts on the alleged rebel assault - the security posts, battle fronts, timelines, weaponry, tactical arguments, etc.)

Taldou Security Scene Graphic
* White targets = UN acknowledged as overrun.
Clocktower post: “overrun at some point.” MIHQ: (military intel): "likely" and implicitly overrun.
* Orange targets = the others. Qaws was “the new front line” after MIHQ. Aside from the “Water Co.” these are seriously contested; rebels may have also bypassed/overrun the Qaws and the Hospital.
* The lime-crimson labels (A.3 etc.) show where video exhibits in the report were flmed.
* “(ACLOS visual) Verifed massacre sites” = homes with blood or bodies in them, shown as crime scenes, that can be seen and in video and have been placed (see pages 40-43 and 46-50).

Saturday, July 12, 2014

ACLOS Research Guide

The main thing we have to offer here is detailed research, largely alreadfy done, on several pages at A Closer Look On Syria (ACLOS). There seems little point copying over all of it to here - some will be re-packaged, often linking to the right spot there. But the whole body of work can be perused directly with these organized links. The pages themselves are not all organized, filled-in, or updated - some rough spots, errors not corrected, etc. But on balance it's on the right track, if still in slow progress. We also have a "bad habit" - as CE puts it - of working things out first on the talk page, but never finishing and moving it to the front page (there are a lot of distractions!). So oftentimes, there's far more on the talk page - so check it before you give up.

ACLOS Houla research pages
- The Houla massacre - Talk

- Houla:Alleged witnesses (overview)
  - Houla:Alleged witnesses for a rebel attack
      - Houla:ANNA Testimonies

- Houla:Alleged witnesses for a government/Shabiha attack
     - Ali Al-Sayed
     - Hassan Abdel-Razzaq
     - Major Jihad Raslan

Houla:Victims - Talk
     - Houla:Abdulrazaq Families
     - Sunni or Shi'ite?
(rest - links forthcoming)
     - Houla Victims: Shumariyeh/Shomaliya

Houla:Scene - Talk
Houla, May 25: Who Was in Control? - Talk
     - Houla: Saad Street RPG Incident
     -Timeline(s) - talk
Al-Houla Before and After the Massacre

     - Houla, autopsie d’un massacre
     - Houla:Connecting The Dots
     - Houla:Proven false claims
     - Houla Media Office
(any I missed?)

Houla Massacre Victims

last edits July 27

The original reading of the death toll, with a variety of lists from both sides roughly agreeing, is a widely-accepted death toll of 108, with victims in 4 groups, largest to smallest:
  1. The Abdulrazaq families (app. 62 instances of that name, including most of the children killed.
  2. "Other" or unclear civilian of various names (about 20-25 entries).
  3. The Al-Sayed families (about 15-20 entries).
  4. Apparent rebel fighters and helpers killed by "shooting" or "shelling" instead of "field execution." (about 6).
So a better reading for the thing they reported - a massacre of innocent civilians, including whole families - would be about 100-104.  However, it seems some victims were missed in these lists and the number comes out probably at least as high as stated even without the rebels included (see lists, below).

Defending soldiers are not even mentioned, of course. Sources suggest these totaled at least 5-6, and one official source put the overall death toll at 114 - 108+6. They may or may not count the few "terrorists" killed in defense, and may or may not bear out their 108 otherwise toll.

ACLOS-compiled victim lists for reference (PDF download pages):
* Early Arabic-language opposition lists, translated, compared - 113 entries, a few duplicates, mostly in agreement.
* 2014 List, from a new Facebook page  -105 entries, sorted by family, with ages, family name details (all alleged) and links to the gruesome but useful new images they share for each family.
* "64 Children" Correlated List - combining the above two lists with another database, compressing duplicates and several most-likely matches, this still has 112 civilian victims listed, including 63-65 children, depending (most of the teenagers are usually listed as adults). Further, nine distinct apparent rebel fighters are split off, for a total of 121 entries. The degree may not be exactly right, but this document supports a slightly larger death toll than first reported.
* Released later: PDF report compiling graphic morgue photos for most victims, from the site the 2014 list was compiled from. Horrible, and not for everyone, but it's visual evidence of great importance to the case.

The size of the massacre and names of the victims are only slightly disputed, compared to the story behind it all - who they really were, who really killed them, and why. The "why" part will have a post here for discussion space (f/c).

We can add a few specifics with the research done so far. To start, a recent one:

* On examination (see here), records suggest most of the “other” civilians are clearly intermarried with the Abdulrazaqs, and the rest might be. Names Al-Kurdi, Harmoush, Zegahi/Mousa, Abbara, Al-Sweiee, Bakour, Ismael, make the category for the alleged Shi'ites and those killed living with them, or related and tracked down elsewhere in some cases, becomes a vast majority of the Houla Massacre death toll – about 85-90 or even more, out of of the 108 or so.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Houla Massacre Primer

(incomplete - last edits May 27, 2015)

(Feel free to consult the Wikipedia article, mainstream media sources, etc. as well, but don't skip this more informed primer)

The massacre under study occurred on May 25, 2012 in the town of Taldou, al-Houla area of northwest Homs Province, Syria (see area map below).

(map notes forthcoming, may be split-off) 

More specifically, the massacre sites were mainly along the southern edge of the southern half of Taldou - the part under government control. About 108 victims, mainly from two extended families, were singled out, with entire households liquidated, men, women, and especially children (about 50). The widely accepted death toll of 108 is disputable - it seems fairly close to that, but both a bit higher (some seem left off) and a bit lower (rebel fighters weren't "massacred" but killed in fighting). The number and nature and details are partly worked out, more work to come. See Houla Massacre Victims for a partial overview, some links, etc.

The actual details of what happened are best covered in the general investigative work of this blog. From here, this page is down to what different people have said, decided, and done since then - a short summary of the allegations and investigations from May 25, 2012 to present.

Both sides agree there was some type of violence in the early afternoon, followed by a massacre of over 100 civilians but from there it breaks down into two broad and irreconcilable narratives:

Shabiha Guilt Narrative:This story combines friday protests, maybe a little fighting at a checkpoint, and massive artillery shelling by the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), with the orders given differently but the shelling starting between 1 and 2 PM. This caused rebel forces with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to retreat from Taldou. With no one to stop them, local "Shabiha" militias from neighboring towns then invaded homes and massacred exclusively Sunni families for no obvious reason aside from their religion. The killers then withdrew, leaving the bodies behind for the rebels to find and exploit as proof of the crime the government - whose army gave cover to the operation - tried to deny and blame on "terrorists."

Rebel Guilt Narrative: An unprecedented rebel assault - 6-800 fighters estimated - attacked all security posts with mortars, RPGs, trucks with heavy machine guns, and more beginning about 2 PM. Over the afternoon they conquered four of the town's five security posts, keeping the other one pinned down in defensive mode. Then, they massacred the families they targeted: government-loyalist Sunnis (the Al-Sayeds) and converts to Shi'ite faith, former Sunnis (the Abdulrazaqs). The alleged survivors and witnesses rebels put forth were friends and family lying for them.

Initial reactions: The Western-led "international community" took the crime and solution as obvious: dead children and damage to the town were evident, and many decided damage can only be from artillery. That can only be the SAA, and so the massacres too must have been by them or allies. Besides, that's what the survivors and witnesses said. The Kofi Annan peace plan was kiiled at Houla, many would say - you can't negotiate with massacring scum like that. Syria's ambassadors were widely expelled, sanctions increased, and support surged for rebel fighters to help stop such massacres (instead, they got worse).

In early June unexpectedly pronounced counter-accusations of rebel guilt emerged and were widely reported. Syrian state media, working with Russian-language ANNA News produced a number of interviews with locals and two especially - one of them claimed to be a former rebel involved in the May 25 battle who had defected to tell the inside details. Rainer Hermann's two articles in the prominent German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) followed - sadly muddled (eg "Alawite family Shomaliya") but still useful. And there were others, some echoing Hermann, some scoring their own source. Between them the same basic picture emerged of a rebel victory followed by a tafrgeted massacre of their now-vulnerable enemies. 

The initial findings of the UN's Commission of Inquiry (CoI) was released in June: as many noted, it was troublingly vague pointing out repeatedly they could not rule out rebel guilt and in fact it made enough sense given the body of conflicting evidence they had gathered. Consider Alex Thomson's fair assessment of the first report here. As he notes:
The UN report says anti-government civilians and fighters from al-Houla were first on the scene of the massacre and took care of body retrieval and burial. The report leads to two possible reasons for this: they were there anyhow because they’d committed the atrocity. Or they’d heard the shots and screams, knew what had gone on and naturally entered the location at the first safe opportunity.
(Side-note: as this ambiguous report came out, Thomson was waiting to see it, and in a weird space - he himself had just been set-up by rebels to be shot by murky snipers in "no-man's land" after he went to investigate the follow-up massacre in Mazraat al-Qubeir in early June - quick action by their driver helped him survive unharmed, but ... "jaded." He might have a bias in these things, faintly present already in his next-day reports from Taldou, and sharp as hell by the December, 2012 alleged Aqrab Massacre of hundreds of Alawite civilians, just north of Houla, which was by then all rebel-held and man was that bad for the Alawite people of that once-mixed town - see the map at top - the Alawite district was on the western edge, and most managed to flee in time.)

Official Story Solidified
All this unusual open-mindedness was addressed with further reports strengthening the initial opposition claims. The German media apologized for Hermann with Der Spiegel's most intensive listen to often laughable alleged witnesses who sometimes contradict themselves. And as it went, the UN probe clarified its views on the same side, with a markedly different August report. This is widely cited as the definitive source due to its supposed impartiality, but their whole process is open to question and their results should not be taken as gospel by anyone but the lazy. 

(rest forthcoming)

2013 Report: Official Truth, Real Truth, and Impunity

July 6, 2014

Official Truth, Real Truth, and Impunity for the Syrian Houla Massacre of May 2012

This report from about the one-year anniversary (May 18, 2013) compiles seven main articles previously published, by four authors (including largely myself). Some are here translated to English for the first time, some represent refinements of important ACLOS research. Ronda Hauben's inclusions are great - she was a great help advising and getting this report filled in. It's a good overview.

* Direct PDF Link

* CIWCL download/overview page

* Promotional article at Global Research: Syria : One Year After the Houla Massacre. New Report on Official vs. Real Truth - #2 Google return for Houla Massacre