"Targeting Specific Communities" in Syria, Case Study: The Baniyas Massacres
By Adam Larson
June 17, 2013
last edits August 11, 2013
"Specific Communities" as a Diagnostic of Guilt
The Syrian government's early June victory against rebel forces in the crucial border town of al-Qusair is a turning point in favor of eventual government victory nationwide. Perhaps for that reason, it has been loudly condemned; even before the campaign really started, the U.S. Condemned the dropping of leaflets instructing civilians how to evacuate safely, and U.N. Human Rights High Commissioner Navanethem "Navi" Pillay was predicting, on May 10, there would be massacres of civilians there. In the end, none were credibly reported, but Pillay's office said she was worried about military build-up around the city, and "feared further atrocities if the area was overrun." From what she heard, "local people clearly fear a possible repeat of last week’s killings of civilians." 
That referred to the Baniyas area massacres for which the Syrian government and allied militias were blamed. These were in the town of al-Bayda on May 2, and the Ras al-Nabi' district of Baniyas on May 3 (and perhaps in other towns and into the following days, depending; the record is a little confused).  Baniyas and its surrounding countryside is Sunni-majority, but lies within the Alawite-dominated Tartous province on Syria's Mediterranean coast. There were reasonable claims of 150 or more dead between them, and less credible claims of perhaps over 2,000 total, following attacks by the Syrian army and/or Alawite "Shabiha" militias. There was video-verified horrific violence against whole families - children and women with sliced throats and hacked-open faces, for example.
The fact of there being at least two big massacres reported over two days caused fear of #3 and beyond, and thus mass flight of thousands, as reported. There was stern world condemnation of what some termed a policy of genocide, and plenty of experts proved willing to explain Assad's sectarian strategy in this Alawite heartland. Navi Pillay for one was "appalled at the apparent killing of women, children and men in the village of Bayda, and possibly elsewhere in the Banias area," and felt that the killings "should spur the international community to act" to stop the fighting and hold criminals to account. 
That action, implicitly, should be directed against the Syrian government, which Pillay considered the guilty party. Aside from obviously partial opposition demands to do so, there was one bit of evidence which she cited for that decision: the attacks "seemed to indicate a campaign targeting specific communities perceived to be supportive of the opposition."  It's not certain what information she's drawing on here, but a helpful Los Angeles Times report citing her statement explained what she presumably meant:
“Although the coastal region is largely Alawite, the minority sect of Assad, the districts targeted are made up mostly of Sunni Muslims, who make up a majority of the Syrian population and have led the uprising against the Assad government.” 
That is, her argument seems just his crude: "Specific communities" = the nation's majority. Essentially, the government's forces were attacking Sunnis in general, who are perceived (and correctly, she might suggest) as opposing them. But if that were true, of course, the war would have been over long ago; Sunnis make up as much as 75% of Syria's 22 million people. It's closer to the truth to say only a small portion of them, augmented by very many Sunni foreigners, make up the force the rest of Syria is up against.
Moving from the general to the specific, indeed we see the complication of one type of region in another sort of province. And some will be dazzled enough by that dynamic to succumb to sloppy thinking like Commissioner Pillay seems to be indulging in. However,t it wasn't entire cities at large that were targeted, but specific people and locales within them. And at the more telling level of homes, it wouldn't be the first time if the details in Tartous pointed to the targeting of specific communities that support the government and/or don't toe the rebels' narrow religious line.
The Houla Massacre Precedent
The infamous “Houla massacre” of May 25, 2012 is often given as the best example of the Sunni-terrorizing massacre Pillay speaks of, and the parallels between this and al-Bayda/Baniyas are strong, as we shall see. However few people realize it, that's a chilling observation. A recent report assembled by this author showed how the best evidence and clearest thinking over the last year actually supports the "government version" of events, the one swiftly bypassed in favor of the "rebel" version blaming the government. 
By mid-2012, armed rebels ran the general Houla area except Taldou (the southern town of the Houla region). They controlled Taldou too, as of May 26. In between, security posts were overrun, vacated, and torched. And around 100 local men, women, and children were shot and hacked to death in their homes, presumably by killers from whichever side had the upper hand that afternoon.
In that sidelined “government” version, the dead - aside from a few rebel fighters and something like 30 soldiers and police - were comprised of Shi'ite converts (the Abdulrazaq families, former Sunnis, with over 60 killed, including at least 38 children) and government supporting Sunnis (the al-Sayed families). The latter included retired officer Oqba al-Sayed, retired police officer/colonel Muawiya al-Sayed, and his son Ahmed - a soldier on leave with a broken leg. At least some Sayeds, reportedly, were relatives of the new Peoples' Assembly (parliament) secretary, chosen in an election the rebels had firmly rejected.
By various sources on both sides, and available visuals, the victims had heads smashed, throats cut, eyes gouged out, etc. The government took note of the Taldou terrorists' "Algerian killing style," as seen from their peers in the 1990s, with the intent to mutilate bodies to use them to project terror. 
Such specifics aside, this rebel attack version of events is jointly supported by many of the witnesses, much video evidence, and considerable logic. It does run counter to what rebels and other alleged witnesses and survivors reported, but of course it would. If it's true, we can deduce that the anti-government crowd - the hundreds who hit Taldou, at least - were not keen on reforms, democracy, compromise, sectarian accord, or Human Rights. Nor would they be much worried about honesty with outside powers, whose military support they seek, as the supposed champions of values they clearly possess little of.
The Al-Bayda Incident: Background
Now we turn to the May 2 of this year and the first and best-illustrated of the two reported Tartous massacre, in the hilltop town of Al-Bayda, a few kilometers south of the coastal city Baniyas. The reported death tolls there range from 50+ to over 100, as well as crazy numbers like 800. The most reliable estimates - with names - seems to be something around 70.  Whether killed soldiers/Shabiha or rebel fighters are included in any of the varying tallies is unclear, but opposition reports make it sound like all victims were civilian. A few fighting age men were seen executed in the main square, with others killed in batches of 5-12 around town, some with heads brutally smashed-in. At least two other heart-wrenching scenes showed numbers of women and children gathered into single rooms and cut down, largely in the neck. 
As in many other such cases, the massacre in Al-Bayda came about the same time (either before or after) a battle between rebel and government forces. Several sources say it was a late April attack on a checkpoint that spurred loyalist fighters - alternately given as soldiers or Popular Committee/National Defense Forces fighters, aka "Shabiha" - to try an early morning raid on al-Bayda on May 2. Opposition activists said the rebels had few to no fighters there, but the roughly 40 attackers seem to have been ambushed by some reasonably effective team. A generally-agreed seven of them were killed in fighting, and the rest - around 30 - were taken prisoner by the rebels.  These had apparently come in a few white vans, one later seen burning in the city square, and a Hyundai Porter pick-up, frequently used for Syrian security forces, also abandoned in the square. 
It was this early clash, most agree, that brought the larger army presence of later in the day. Those beefed-up authorities either cleansed al-Bayda of the militants, seizing the considerable weapons cache shown on TV, or alternately, planted the weapons and rampaged around killing scores of innocents just for having the right religion. "Genocide" and "ethnic cleansing" have been used to describe the campaign around Baniyas. An Alawi militia commander overseeing the al-Bayda operation announced on May 2 his hopes to "cleanse" all Baniyas of "traitors." "Traitors" was generally read by the opposition as all Sunni people, and so "cleanse" became evidence for genocidal intent, just as they reported the follow-up massacre in Baniyas itself. However, it's more likely that he meant only to ruthlessly scrub out the armed terrorists, who are usually, and with some evidence, accused of committing massacres like the one that just happened. 
Al-Bayda's Leading Sunni Family – 36 Victims
Usually with these surprise massacres in un-cleansed areas, certain families are singled out, like the Abdulrazaqs and al-Sayeds in Houla. In al-Bayda as well this was the case; here the family Biassi (various spellings) was the main focus of cruelty. The opposition Syrian Center for Documentation of Violations (SCDV) lists 70 massacre victims total, all given as civilians; at least 24 of them seeming to be members of this extended family (see below).  Rebel historian and alleged survivor "Ahmad" spoke to Reuters, for a late May report, of 36 Biassis killed.  Representing over a third and perhaps more than half of those killed, clearly this "specific community" is worth a closer look.
This unfortunate family was headed by sheik Omar al-Biassi, aged 63, the imam of al-Bayda's main mosque, although by one reports he resigned two years ago.  Usually conflicted, this case is clearer than most – everyone agrees that sheik al-Biassi was a government loyalist. Initial opposition reports name him and some relatives, but make no mention of his significance. Later on, rebel body mover "Omar, of nearby Ras al-Nabeh" mentioned seeing the body of "the village sheik, Omar al-Bayassi, whom some considered pro-government."  He was said to be a rejector of the violent uprising.  He was a member of the National Reconciliation Commission, "a known advocate of interfaith dialogue and national unity" and "a true Syrian patriot," Voice of Russia heard.  Reuters heard from anti-government activists "sheikh Biyasi … was a government loyalist who alienated local people with his political views." "Ahmad" would have been one of those alienated, but he was only sad to see how "even though [Biassi] always opposed the protests, they still killed him." 
The Imam was reportedly a rebellion/protest supporter at one time, but had apparently run afoul of the opposition. An activist said, from friends in Baniyas, the sheik "was a big revhead" until the opposition "made a lie about him that SAA (Syrian Arab Army) killed him," which he had to refute on TV. "Apparently FSA hated him for this," and so they killed him for real on May 2.  This time they said he'd been murdered by the Assad regime, it was proven with a rebel ("citizen journalist") photo of the bloodied sheik, published only on the 4th, with the new detail "Omar Bayasi was AL Bayda Mosque's Imam," just as loyalist sources were starting to mention the fact. 
(note Aug. 11: the stricken part was a mix-up: a possible relative Ahmad Biassi has this story - see second article below)
The activist reasoned that "whoever killed those soldiers" in the early ambush "also killed the 2 [Biassi] families."  In fact, at least one source says sheik Omar was tasked that morning with negotiating for the release of the captured "Shabiha." As Syria Truth reported (from Arabic), the situation "prompted the army to assign the imam to negotiate with the gunmen for the release of the hostages." They answered with a resounding no, presumably killed the captives, then also "resorted to killing the sheik and his wife (there is information saying they were killed in a slaughter, but it is uncertain)." 
At least sheik Omar's son as well is mentioned in other sources, and included for good measure was his sister's family, the activist's sources heard: "The other family that was killed was his sister - Manar Biaasie, her husband and their kids."  The New York Times pulled heartstrings with two specified victims: "Moaz al-Biassi, 1 year old, and his sister Afnan, 3."  For a possible further detail, one opposition-supplied family member cited a husband-wife couple, allegedly her aunt and uncle, killed with their three children; all were "slaughtered in the neck." 
More details: An early short list of victims in Arabic featured "Omar Nassiriyah aka Omar Biassi," prominence not mentioned, and "Manar Albiassi" and "Zakaria al-Shawish," given as married to each other and killed together, with no mention of children.  The SCDV lists 22 Bayyasi and Bayyasa names, including Manar Ezzadin and Omar Aziz ("known as Omar Naser"), plus Omar's wife and a daughter, names not given, and a son, Hamza Omar Aziz.  There's also the "Fattouh Bayyasa" sub-family, apparently related by marriage, with four children and four adults (including mother Safaa Ali Bayyasa) listed as killed there.  With all Fattouhs and Mr. Shawish added, there are 24 names of those killed on the 2nd, identifiable as kin of the imam.
The same database shows at least two more dying in the following days; on May 4, Isma Bayyasi, adult male, died in al-Bayda from "shooting" - not field execution - "by regime forces sniper's shot." Then on May 6, somewhere in Banias, one Fahima Yasin Bayyasi, female, age 20, was also killed by "shooting." 
All-in-all, alleged survivor "Ahmad" told Reuters, "the Biyasi family suffered some of the worst losses, with 36 documented deaths," all or most of them visually verified by Ahmed himself. There is a lot of detail he shares, from his "meticulous notes" on the bodies he personally discovered in situ, correlated with available videos he almost seems to be just describing. 
All this will require more analysis for fuller understanding, but so far familiar patterns seem evident. The opposition activists have informants embedded, it almost seems, with the angel of death's own battalion. As usual, the "Shabiha" left their victims behind unguarded, it almost seems with phone tips to rebel videographers, in hopes of having their crime exposed to the world. As with Houla and so many other scenes of so many other heinous crimes, the degree of access these "activists" enjoy is rather suspicious.
Ignoring Community Specifics as Diagnostic of Mental Corruption
As to why the regime killed its own loyalists here, and kept picking them off for days, activists didn't and perhaps couldn't explain. "Even though [Biassi] always opposed the protests," said "Ahmad," "they still killed him" and also eradicated his seed in a very targeted and specific way. Presumably, they would have us believe, the only reason was the family's religion, and their general prominence in that religious context.
Sheik al-Biassi was a leading Sunni to be sure, and would have spoken for the sane majority who reject evil. And he was slaughtered with his kin by – it seems – the rebel terrorists, to send a message to those who might get in their way next time. We should all be "appalled at the apparent killing of women, children and men" in al-Bayda, to quote Ms. Pillay: it "should spur the international community to act to find a solution to the conflict." Further, "those responsible for serious human rights violations," and it's reasonably clear who that was in al-Bayda on May 2, should be "made to account for their crimes," not handed more weapons, as the Western powers and their clients have been allowing for two years now.
If the al-Bayda massacre was a rebel operation, the reported follow-on massacre in the Ras al-Nabi' district of Baniyas falls into suspicion of being the same. And if any families can be seen targeted in both towns, it strengthens the connection. It does seem that happens here, at least per the opposition SCDV martyrs database. Any of these could just be two families of the same name, or related: Taha (4 members killed in Bayda, 11 in Baniyas), Khaddam (a man in Bayda, a man, two women, a boy and a girl in Baniyas), Lolo (an adult male in each massacre), Othman (4 members in Bayda, one in Baniyas), and, if Dahbash and Debesh are the same name/family, an apparent father-son set was killed in each massacre.  Following from the Biassis, one family we have the most information on, these common threads suggest that the same rebels, with the same mysterious gripes against certain families, carried out both massacres.
But Navi (the naïve?) already said the government should be blamed for this, because the "specific" victims were "perceived to be supportive of the opposition." She should explain now by whom they were perceived that way, and how accurate she thinks that perception was. Clearly it was not from accurate victim specifics of the al-Bayda massacre, as the opposite case is much better illustrated there.
Rather, the perception comes, at least in part, from the dangerous myth that Syria's Sunnis at large have risen up, and are collectively suffering massacres in return. This myth has been aggressively fostered by the opposition from the beginning, and continues even as semi-credible reports recently said at least one in three victims, of around 100-120,000 killed, were of the demonized Alawite sect. This came from the usually gospel Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, no less, passing on calculations (which are open to debate) of as many as 41,000 Alawites, military and civilian, snuffed out by Sunni extremist rebels since 2011. 
And the myth has always ignored the majority of Sunnis - likely a vast majority - who still support the government as the party of sanity. In fact, it seems to be those most visible among the Sunnis in that support, and their families, that are being wiped out - along with the Alawite "enemies of God" - for breaking this poorly-written rebel script.
And where are the "world community's" Human Rights gatekeepers, like Navi Pillay, as these crimes occur time and again? Playing logic games about vague "specifics," to cover for their blatant covering for the perpetrators, and to enable continued punishment of the victims, it seems.
ACLOS = A Closer Look On Syria, a research site where the author's research is done
 Press briefing, United Nations Office at Geneva, May 10, 2013 http://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B9C2E/(httpNewsByYear_en)/F540CE03B72CB7DDC1257B6700369815
 ACLOS: Al-Bayda Massacre: http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Al-Bayda_Massacre Baniyas Massacre: http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Baniyas_massacre (see "discussion" pages also)
 Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2013 http://www.latimes.com/news/world/worldnow/la-fg-wn-united-nations-atrocities-qusair-syria-20130510,0,6028835.story
 Official Truth, Real Truth, and Impunity for the Syrian Houla Massacre of May, 2012. PDF report, 79 pages, published May 15, 2013. Citizen's Investigation into War Crimes in Libya. PDF download page: http://ciwclibya.org/reports/realtruthhoula.html
See also summary article at Global Research: http://www.globalresearch.ca/syria-one-year-after-the-houla-massacre-new-report-on-official-vs-real-truth/5335562
 The “Graying” of the Islamist Houla Massacre http://ciwclibya.org/syria/thegrayingoftheislamisthoulamassacre.html
 ACLOS: http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Al-Bayda_Massacre#Death_Toll
 ACLOS: http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Al-Bayda_Massacre#Victims_in_Detail
 ACLOS: http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Al-Bayda_Massacre#Where_are_the_Shabiha.3F
 ACLOS: http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Al-Bayda_Massacre#Hyundai_Porter_pickups
 ACLOS: http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Baniyas_massacre#Mihrac_Ural.C2.A0
 Syrian Center for Documentation of Violations, Martyrs, Banias:Beida, May 2, 2013 http://www.vdc-sy.info/index.php/en/martyrs/1/c29ydGJ5PWEua2lsbGVkX2RhdGV8c29ydGRpcj1ERVNDfGFwcHJvdmVkPXZpc2libGV8ZXh0cmFkaXNwbGF5PTB8c3RhcnREYXRlPTIwMTMtMDUtMDJ8ZW5kRGF0ZT0yMDEzLTA1LTAyfA==
 Reuters, May 28 http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/28/us-syria-crisis-village-insight-idUSBRE94R08H20130528
 An Atrocity in Syria, With No Victim Too Small. By Anne Barnard and Hania Mourtada, New York Times, May 14, 2013 http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/15/world/middleeast/grisly-killings-in-syrian-towns-dim-hopes-for-peace-talks.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
 Syria Truth http://www.syriatruth.org/الأخبار/أحداثالسـاعة/tabid/93/Article/9669/Default.aspx
 Voice of Russia, May 4, 2013 http://english.ruvr.ru/2013_05_04/214684802/Situation
 posted Facebook Timeline photo (warning, graphic) with extended comments Posted by Syriangirl Partisan, May 10, 2013 https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=316418491821439&set=a.118282211635069.19554.100003598729905&type=1
 Yalla Souriya, May 4, 2013 http://yallasouriya.wordpress.com/2013/05/04/syuria-omar-bayasi-was-al-bayda-mosques-imam/
 Syria: Sunni village 'massacred' in Alawite heartland By Ruth Sherlock, Magdy Samaan, and Richard Spencer, the Telegraph, 6:32PM BST 03 May 2013 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10036680/Syria-Sunni-village-massacred-in-Alawite-heartland.html
 Partial victims list, May 2, Arabic language https://www.facebook.com/Saned.N.N/posts/648416878518109
 ACLOS http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Al-Bayda_Massacre#Fattouh_Sub-Family
 ACLOS http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Al-Bayda_Massacre#Later_Deaths
 ACLOS: http://acloserlookonsyria.shoutwiki.com/wiki/Talk:Baniyas_massacre#Families_Hit_in_Both_Baniyas_Massacres
 SOHR, Arabic: http://syriahr.net/index.php?option=com_news&nid=5883&Itemid=2&task=displaynews#.UbSCOUaJM99 http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/14/us-syria-crisis-deaths-idUSBRE94D0L420130514