last edits January 9, 2015
One of the more interesting findings we (CIWCL-ACLOS) can add to the record of the Houla Massacre came late in the investigation, inspired by patterns traced beneath the May 2, 2013 al-Bayda massacre. A year after Houla, a crime of similar size and even greater barbarity hit a small Sunni village near coastal Baniyas, and was followed the next day with another hideous and more murky massacre in Baniyas itself.
One seemingly minor fact was the single victim Sheikh Omar al-Biassi, a retired Imam who was a known government loyalist and critic of the rebellion. Rebel sources acknowledged this to some degree, but managed to make it seem irrelevant. However ... our research on opposition victim records showed only about 70 reliably-listed victims, to the claims of nearly 170. Of the 69 currently listed at the VDC (it was once 70) 23 are named Biassi (diff. spellings), Fattouh, or Fattouh-Biassi. A further 37 have three other names of families that can be shown to be intermarried with the targeted Biassis. That's 60 victims, out of the cited death tolls of 62, 70, and less reliably 165 and 169. That is, virtually the entire verified part of the massacre is of people with illustrated, apparent relationship - by blood or marriage - to the government-loyalist retired imam.
In Houla too there was some reason the two main family groups were singled out. Allegedly, the Sunni Al-Sayed families were picked for being government supporters (related to the new secretary of Syria's parliament, careers in the police and military, non-defected), and the Abdulrazaqs for failing to support the rebels, plus according to some, converting to Shi'ism. The opposition is short on reasons, just pointing out that the victims all were just as Sunni as anyone, mildly anti-government to neutral or passively pro-government and no threat to anyone. Mainly they were just Sunni people, in a Sunni town, massacred by Alawites from just down the road and that had a clear enough story arc.
And perhaps because the alleged indiscriminate distance shelling is important to show the government and its artillery were involved, there was always extra emphasis put on the few victims who appear to have died randomly from that.
The original reading has the listed victims in 4 groups with massacred Abdulrazaq families (app. 60-62 names) being the largest, and the Al-Sayeds category roughly tied with Other/unclear civilian, at about 15-20 each, with the rebel fighters (about 4-6) last, and defending soldiers not even mentioned, of course.
An original list at ACLOS of "other" ignored a few possible rebels to note possible massacre victim family names: Kurdi, Abbara, Al-Sweiee/Alsoiei, Ismael, Harmoush, Zegahi/Zikahi. Scattered clues eventually brought together suggest all of these names - as well as Moussa, Bakour, Hussein, and Arouq - are of families intermarried with the alleged convert Abdulrazaq clan. Some were married right into and died in those homes, some apparently were targeted elsewhere over the relation. It may be there was nothing random about any of the death toll, aside from the actual battle casualties. As explained below, these - when read this way - expand the Abdulrazaq portion of the massacre by 22-23 victims, for about 80 total of the now-best-reading death toll of 110 civilian victims.
Sources: Full citations not ready at the moment. An early rundown by FSA "activist" Akrama Bakour (a very possible perpetrator in the massacre) traced out some of these connections in his early account to the BBC (see here) The rest come from correlating different opposition lists and records, especially the "2014 list" no longer available at its original spot on Facebook. The names as listed by family, compiled in this PDF. The photos it once came with, we'll see...
A generally coherent picture emerges, with some patches of greater mystery and some links tying in clusters of victims being fairly solid. Names that seemingly connect and how:
* Kurdi, Arouq, Hussein +9-10 victims, listed as executed: Akrama Bakour said that Shabiha first "entered the neighbourhood," meaning Saad Street, "and met a shepherd at the entrance. His name is Mahmoud al-Kurdi, and he was with his daughter-in-law and his four grandsons. They shot them, killing them all except the daughter-in-law. She was shot in the thigh and belly area but she is still alive. They then entered the house of Samir Abdul Razaq," which he then clarifies was intimately related to the Kurdis. Besides those named Abdulrazaq, Samir lost "his daughter-in-law Halloum El Khlaf, six months pregnant, with her son Ala'a Abdul Razaq, and Samir's sister-in-law Khaloud El Khalaf, and her daughter, Rahaf Al Hussein - but her daughter Zahra Al Hussein was shot twice but survived."
Khlaf, in all other sources, comes out Kurdi: VDC and the rest list Haloum Hussein al-Kurdi (baby son Alaa is named Abdulrazaq in the lists, so not "other"), Rahaf Hussein, and Khloud/Khalida al-Kurdi.
"Samir's wife was hit with the back of the rifles but she fainted and is now still alive," Bakour continued, ending the Kardi segment with. "Also among the victims in this house were four kids whose father is Fadi al-Kurdi." The best reading is that Fadi al-Kurdi's kids are the same as Mahmoud's "four grandsons" (Omar, Mohammed, Mahmoud, and Mustafa Fadi al-Kurdi), and just mentioned here twice. Otherwise, the second set of four Kurdi kids is missing from everyone else's lists. That's 8 "other" name victims.
Missing from this tally is Mustafa's wife, Zainab Arouq (retained "maiden name") widely listed as a victim, and, according to the 2014 list, listing a Fadi Mahmoud family (his dad should be named Mahmoud) with only two boys, and a 9-year-old girl also named Zainab, and shown in a photo. This may be one of the missing boys re-branded, rightly or not, or another victim not listed before (with two brothers missing here) That's 9-10 names.
* Al-Sweiee +4 boys, executed. These boys aged about 9-11 were always listed, noted by the VDC as having a mother named something like Amama, not listed as a victim. But the 2014 list includes her, as Omamah Abed al-Rahman Abed Al-razaq, 32 years old, married to Bassam Khaled Al-Sweeai (absent, survived) and mother of the four listed boys (Jaber, Hazem, Hatem Bassam al-Sweiee (or Alsoiei) and a Bassam or Bassam Jaber al-Sweiee. That's 4 related "others" and a previously-unlisted Abdulrazaq victim, at least per that source.
* Ismael +2 two women executed: Both of these are clearly married-in women who retained "maiden names." Haloum Ismael, 52 years old, married to Abdelrahman Khaled Abdulrazaq, two adult children Salma and Mahmoud listed as killed with them. Safeera Mouhamed Ismael, 27 years old, married to a Feras Abdelrahhman Abdulrazaq (the above's son?). Two boys age 5 and 9, Hamza and Abdelrahman, werebkilled with extra brutality per the photos with the 2014 list original posting - skull sliced open, jaw torn off. Safira is rare for adult female victims in being shown, with a bloodied face.
* Harmoush +2 One executed, one shelled: Two adult females named Fadia Harmoush, but with different middle names, have long been listed as Houla Massacre victims. One is given in the 2014 list as Fadia Abed Al-Hakeem Harfoush 35, wife of one Ouqba Meysar Harmoush, her maiden name missing. Killed in unexplained shelling. Location unknown. Only the name makes it likely she's related to Fadia Ashraf Harmoush, 25 years old, married to Shaalan Abdelkhalek Abdulrazaq but with the usual maiden name, with 4 kids aged 3-8 killed.
* Zegahi/Zikahi/Moussa +2: The "rebel defector" mentioned two members of this family killed in rebel shelling that seemed accidental even to him. One fighter, firing on the military intelligence HQ on Main Street with a "bazooka," missed and hit the house "next door, killing two members of the family Al-Zegahi, which, as it is said, just have been sitting down and peacefully drunk tea." VDC lists only one who might be killed here, a young man Raed Ishaq Al-Zikahi, but listed as field executed. The other: a wife in an Abdulrazaq home. Previously just Badriah Qadour Moussa, unclear execution victim, age 36 with 5 kids. The 2014 list has Bedreih Abed Al-Kader Al-zukahi, 45 years old mother of the Feisal Shafq Abed Al-razaq, with five children aged 10-14 (as given) and killed with extra brutality. So does Moussa someow translate to Zegahi? Raed's case supports that: one list had a victim Raed Ishaak Moussa dying in his place...
* Bakour +1: Raghda Saed Bakour is listed as the wife of surviving Ayman Abdulrazaq, and mother of five massacred children aged 18 months to 17 years, at least two with skulls sliced open.
* Abbara +2-?: VDC and most full lists of 108 or so victims include both Ammar Abduljawad Abbara and Mohammed Shafiq Abarra age 27 - both killed by shelling . FSA fghter Akrima Bakour told the BBC one Mohammad Abbara along with "his daughter Amina and her family of seven" were "killed in the massacre" as well as a Mohammed Shafiq Abbara There is an Amina Shafiq Abdulrazaq listed, married with kids named Abdulrazaq. This suggests she married an Abdulrazaq man and, unusually, had that appear as her name rather than the usual here (see above). Was her maiden name Abbara embarrassing? No Mohammed Abbara old enough to have daughter with kids is listed by anyone else. The VDC gives both the Shafiq-named people (Safira and Mohammed) as married with 5 children ... if it were the same five, that would be a family of 7 total. But the 2014 list with family breakdowns says he was married to no victims, and she was married to a Mohammed Refiq Abdulrazaq, not deceased, and only one daughter died with her (Bayan Mohammed Abdulrazaq).
In short, a lot almost lines up here but remains confused. Any link to the Abbaras remains speculative, but supporting it we have Bakour's listing that 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.
The Abbara clan would seem wealthy land-owners: the rebel defector mentioned in passing "the house on the northern corner of the square belongs to the family Abbara." In fact, Wikimapia labels (not 100% reliable) suggest they own most of the land around the center of Taldou aside from the mosque. These show a Daoud Abbara owns the seven buildings around the clocktower post's northwest corner referred to by the defector. Further, they say his grandfather owns the open land and some homes to the southwest of the clocktower, and other Abbaras own buildings just west of these. (see here) As for those killed, which he did not specify as including any Abbaras: "The families were wealthy, but the bandits assumed them as traitors, because these families have never supported the armed rebels through donations."
VDC list, all shelling and shooting victims, civilian: 7 total, missing a few others. Yousef (shelling) and Bakour (shooting) are likely rebel fighters after all. The other 5 are listed as dying just from "shelling," which should be fairly random. - Mohammad Shafiq Abbara Shelling Ammar Abduljawad Abbara -Yakoub Hussein Abdulrazaq - Fadia Abdul Hameed Harmosh - Fatima Ahmad Abdulaal "She was martyred during displacing because of the shelling" Only Fatima escapes a clear implied link; four of those five random deaths are seemingly related to the Abdulrazaqs - one of them apparently is an Abdulrazaq.
|Yacoub, and that actor guy from the strange videos - note how|
they don't put any one name on here.
The rebel defector said "The second family, who was killed by the bandits, lived in the northwest. Even there, the family Abdul Rasak has a house, and this family has become a victim of the bandits." Perhaps that's Yacoub, and he's from north of this point. Mr. Zegahi may be from Main Street by the intel HQ, and the Abbaras are likely from around the overrun clocktower post. This group may be all the scattered/northern adult male relations of the Abdulrazaqs, mostly listed as random shelling victims. As they appear, they were killed elsewhere and dumped here at the head of the road down which the remainder were being killed. Then they were scooped-up and driven south to be formally integrated into the gathered victims and displayed that way.
So... 22-23 "other" entries that may not be "other," in a civilian death toll of 110 or a bit lower (some of those, like Omamah and young Zainab, were never on those lists). Variously, 57-62 Abdulrazaq names already appear, so we have a total of 79-85 Abdulrazaq-related victims, a clear and overwhelming majority. That plus the 15 known al-Sayed relatives is just about everyone, and only two female victims (Fatima Abdulaal and Dalal Abbas) remain clearly civilian and not clearly linked to one of the target families.
So much for "random shelling," and for random targeting of any and all Sunnis. As with the later Al-Bayda Massacre we started with, the body-scooping rebels claim they just found the victims that way, killed by Shabiha-types, for no other reason than being random folks in a Sunni Muslim town. But beneath that bland brush-off, the details in both cases show a very targeted focus on certain families within these towns. And these are the ones with clear or alleged pro-government sympathies and/or a religious inclination the Sunni extremist rebellion disapproves of. The rebels offer no good reason why Shabiha single out these particular families over and over, and just hope that the world keeps blithely ignoring this recurrent pattern of brutality and deceit.