Aqrab Massacre

Dec. 2-11, 2012

Page last updated August 17, 2013

Introduction, June 10, 2013

(last edits July 9)


Just over six months ago, on December 2/3, 2012, Syrian rebel forces in Sunni-majority Aqrab, Syria, and from nearby al-Houla, quietly took over Aqrab and attacked the city's western district. That was then inhabited by Alawites, co-religionists of president Bashar al-Assad. By the best information available, most of the 2-3,000 inhabitants fled before their homes were torched - no right of return for these Arabs. But about 500, mostly from one massive family, were taken captive by the attackers.


Opposition activists didn't acknowledge any of this, of course. They recorded a few civilians killed by “warplane shelling” in the takeover days, before a week of silence set in as rebels administered their newly "liberated" area and its remaining people. But on December 11 - out of nowhere, it seemed - activists announced a shocking story of 125-200 Alawites imprisoned in some building, murdered by their own "Shabiha" captors and the Syrian military, including more shelling/bombing. 


But that exact story was proven untrue, there was never a revised version from the rebels, and no one else knows for sure just what happened to the last captives. In effect, as many as 235 Syrian civilians – men, women, and children – basically vanished. There are no videos proving they're dead, but nothing proving otherwise. They don't even appear on the opposition lists of the dead or the missing, almost as if they aren't human. 


As reported, it was a rather large war crime, eclipsing the 108 dead in the nearby Houla massacre, and placing among the largest massacres yet. It started with rebel-believing noise as Alawite-on-Alawite violence, an exciting omen sure to spur an Alawite awakening to support the rebels. But the record soon suggested a mysterious but genocidal rebel crime, and one of unsettling proportions. People edged away. Investigations fizzeld out. Six months of silence, so far, have followed. 


This page is dedicated to charting the change in that silence over the next six months. There was an early try to make noise, with an open letter to Human Rights Watch about their “murky” investigation. There was no response to that prod, and who can blame them? I and the tiny CIWCL have no subpoena power or anything to make them talk about things they'd rather not. 


So over the next moths, along with other projects, a new, not-too-rushed, round of agitation. 


Syrians or anyone with knowledge of the events there, especially verifiable evidence or detailed accounts, or just research links, etc., who happen to see this, should feel free to contact me and contribute to the ongoing investigation adam@ciwclibya.org


Or join the investigation at A Closer Look On Syria (ACLOS), and add to our Aqrab page and Talk page.


Below is the best short summary of the Aqrab incident, for basic context. See also the open letter (linked above) for an older and slightly fuller overview, and/or the full deal at the ACLOS pages linked right above. 


Beneath that will be a record of any results - with special emphasis on continued silence - from the new campaign. It should be interesting. 


- Adam Larson,

CIWCL co-founder

June 11, 2013

(last edits, June 15)

The following summary is a segment of an essay included in the recent report Official Truth, Real Truth, and Impunity for the Syrian Houla Massacre, page 74, from the section "Massacre Marketing Flops and Close Calls in Syria."


One alleged Army/Shabiha massacre that was free * of confusing rebel losses happened on December 10/11 in Aqrab, about a mile north of Al-Houla’s Tal Dahab. At least 125 and up to 235 civilians were the victims - this time not Sunni but Alawi (Alawite). The news came with a detailed and bizarre opposition story, in which a few Alawi Shabiha militiamen held these men, women, and children as human shields, in a building the FSA was also besieging. The Shabiha refused to let the civilians be rescued and blew them up with grenades or some explosion, escaped or committed suicide, and then had the army and air force each blow the house up as well, while the Sunni rebels did nothing but get framed. [18]

 

This stupid story was quietly put down with next-day news video from Channel 4’s Alex Thomson, the master of going to the scene in Syria and verifying what so many others insist they cannot. He spoke to Alawi prisoners who were released in exchanges; they described the rebel attack of December 2 and the week of captivity, some 500 locals crammed into a Sunni businessman’s house ** and treated as expendable bargaining chips. From just outside Aqrab, Thomson’s crew filmed the house the witnesses say they were held in, its upper floor painted red. It was completely intact, which is odd considering the multiple explosive destructions reported. [19]

 

The house was, however pouring smoke from its upper floor (this is visible in the imagery, but not mentioned in the report). One released woman told a Lebanese TV crew the Alawi families were being intentionally smoked out there: "they’re burning tires inside the building to suffocate them. There’s no water, no food. Perhaps 3/4 of the people there are already dead by now." [20] This was apparently to force acceptance of the rebel ultimatum – surrender the men ("Shabiha") to die, and the women and children could live for now, as human shields among the rebels in Al-Houla. Alex Thomson heard about one batch of around 70 prisoners who were released, and driven out in four trucks. Three made it to the safe village next door, but "a fourth truck … went to rebel-held al-Houla instead and there, an unnamed woman and boy, apparently speaking under duress, told rebels that pro-government militias, not rebels, took them prisoner." [19] There were more than the two witnesses, and their video testimony was the original proof that had so many willing to believe the stupid opposition story. One old woman confirming it on video looks exhausted and has smoke stained nostrils. ***  [20]

 

These same Al-Houla rebels, whose prior antics this report has explored, last described their remaining Alawi captives (125-235) - incorrectly, it seems - as blown up. They have given no word or sign either way since then as to what actually happened. And yet still they evade any rebuke for what fits at least a few definitions of genocide, even absent a massacre. This is well worth reflecting on.

 

Whether it be a small rebel massacre, large rebel genocide operation, a battle lost by rebels, or any combination of these, it’s usually presented - and easily accepted - as another crime of an unaccountable regime. Not every offering is purchased, but explicit returns are unheard of. Some crimes are deemed defective - all but impossible to pin it on the "regime," but still too hard to blame on the only remaining alternative. At worst, such items are labeled "murky" and left unclaimed in the parking lot, like the 100+ lost people of Aqrab. 


* Update for this edit: relatively free ... at least one or a few rebels died in the fighting.
** Actually, the religion and affiliation of Abu Ismael is unclear - this may be the last corner of an area the Alawites first corralled themselves into for better defense.
*** Several survivors and one possible martyr among the prisoners show smoke stains. See here.
Please see, if you haven't, UK Channel 4's airing of chief correspondent Alex Thomson's dispatch, from the edge of Aqrab:


"Reports can't be verified?" Usually, no one checks. Here, Thomson did and found that the rebel report cannot be verified, only refuted. 

One of the questions I'll be asking people is just what is  wrong with this report, aside from challenging the rebel explanation lodged by rebel-controlled witnesses ("apparently speaking under duress," Thomson notes)?
Consider This... 
aaa"opposition activists said ... pro-government militiamen besieged by rebels had blown up a building in the village where they had been holding the civilians hostage, and it had then been bombed by warplanes." - BBC 
"[rebels] are burning tires inside the building to suffocate [the prisoners]." - Released prisoner to Al Mayadeen TV http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVZGIuXLHIs
"opposition activists said ... pro-government militiamen besieged by rebels had blown up a building in the village where they had been holding the civilians hostage, and it had then been bombed by warplanes." - BBC 
"[rebels] are burning tires inside the building to suffocate [the prisoners]." - Released prisoner to Al Mayadeen TV http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVZGIuXLHIs
"opposition activists said ... pro-government militiamen besieged by rebels had blown up a building in the village where they had been holding the civilians hostage, and it had then been bombed by warplanes." - BBC 
"opposition activists said ... pro-government militiamen besieged by rebels had blown up a building in the village where they had been holding the civilians hostage, and it had then been bombed by warplanes." - BBC 
"[rebels] are burning tires inside the building to suffocate [the prisoners]." - Released prisoner to Al Mayadeen TV http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVZGIuXLHIs

This is the house Channel 4 filmed as the one the Alawite hostages were held in. Which account fits the physical evidence better? 


"opposition activists said ... pro-government militiamen besieged by rebels had blown up a building in the village where they had been holding the civilians hostage, and it had then been bombed by warplanes." - BBC

vs.

"[rebels] are burning tires inside the building to suffocate [the prisoners]." - Released prisoner to Al Mayadeen TV 

"opposition activists said ... pro-government militiamen besieged by rebels had blown up a building in the village where they had been holding the civilians hostage, and it had then been bombed by warplanes." - BBC 
"[rebels] are burning tires inside the building to suffocate [the prisoners]." - Released prisoner to Al Mayadeen TV http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVZGIuXLHIs
"opposition activists said ... pro-government militiamen besieged by rebels had blown up a building in the village where they had been holding the civilians hostage, and it had then been bombed by warplanes." - BBC 
"[rebels] are burning tires inside the building to suffocate [the prisoners]." - Released prisoner to Al Mayadeen TV http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVZGIuXLHIs
At left is a dead 6-year-old girl who may well be one victim of the still unproven and mysterious massacre. Her skull appears to have been hacked open by a bladed weapon. See the details behind this and other peripheral fatalities around the occupation and massacre(s) of Alawite Aqrab, entirely blamed on a wild assortment of "shelling" by the government, here
Aqrab Massacre Map
Until it's copied over, see here for details on the locations and how the hostage house in particular was decided on.
Agitation Record
last update July 9

I'm more giving people a ready opportunity to counteract the silence than I am expecting to "pressure" them to do so. However, anyone who says nothing when given that chance will be taken as saying something with that, not just to me or the CIWCL, but to the world, and will be properly criticized for actively adding their voice to the continued silence. 


Note: this page will change and grow with time, but the process will not be swift. Besides slow responses, I'm only making attempts slowly. The time span to check back will be days and weeks. 


June 12: as CL4Syr, I have tweeted Nadim Houry, Human Rights Watch's Middle East director, and I have e-mailed Amnesty International's senior crisis response person Donatella Rovera, about their investigations, if they exist (Houry said yes, HRW has/had one, AI no comment I'm aware of). 

General tweet: "It's been six silent months since 200 Alawites vanished into a rebel black hole in Aqrab. Time for more noise?" (link to this page)

@ Nadim Houry: (directed to this page, then) "Prelim. findings? Educated guesses? Any clue where the victims went? Anything helps."

June 15: Tweet to Alex Thomson (@alextomo): "Hey, big fan. Aqrab, Syria, 6 months later: New info? Your feelings?" (directed)

June 20: Tweet to Ali Hashemi, chief correspondent at Al-Mayadeen. "Hi! Reviving Aqrab Massacre issue - al-Mayadeen filed a great report - anything you can do to help?" 

Tried Syria Politik, who also reported on Aqrab, but they stopped publishing in February and are apparently out of contact now. 

July 1/2:  Still no further responses to any of the above. But I tried Alex Thomson again, and got a response this time. See below. 

General Response Record
Human Rights Watch: Nadim Houry tweeted (June 12), no response.

Amnesty International: I e-mailed Donatella Rovera on June 12, and she responded immediately, but no information handy (out of office for the time period for personal reasons). She said she would check with others. No word back; presumably Amnesty has no such file. 

U.N. Human Rights Council/OHCHR: No attempt yet.

Red Cross/Red Crescent: No attempt yet. Note: a team from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent was filmed in Aqrab, perhaps visiting the captives, Dec. 10 or earlier. 

Alex Thomson: Response, July 1 See here:
Adam Larson‏ @CL4Syr
@alextomo "Youtube pathologists" at work:  http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Aqrab_Mas…
1:47 AM - 1 Jul 13 
alex thomson ‏@alextomo
1:47 AM - 1 Jul 13 
alex thomson ‏@alextomo
1:47 AM - 1 Jul 13 
alex thomson ‏@alextomo
1:47 AM - 1 Jul 13 
alex thomson ‏@alextomo
1:47 AM (PDT) 1 Jul 13

alex thomson @alextomo 
1:47 AM - 1 Jul 13 
alex thomson ‏@alextomo 
@CL4Syr seems to bear out what I reported from Aqrab at the time
11:22 AM (PDT) - 1 Jul 13
@CL4Syr seems to bear out what I reported from Aqrab at the time
11:22 AM (PDT) 1 Jul 13

Other Media: A tweet sent to Ali Hashemi of Al-Mayadeen TV (Lebanon), no response. Otherwise, no attempt yet.  

Others: I'm accepting idea submissions.

New Information 
(none yet, July 9)