Assassination of Ahrar al-Sham Military Leadership In Syria

Research Credit: Syria Live Update News @YallaSouriya

This week there was an assassination of the top Syrian Ahrar al-Sham military leadership, including 30 key commanders of 1st and 2nd highest rank. They were meeting in an underground meeting place in Bab Al Hawa on the Syrian-Turkish border on September 9th, 2014. Including companions, there were a total of 75 attendees in the building.

This was their normal secure meeting place at the compound of one of the military commanders. Among those killed was the top commander and founder of Ahrar al-Sham, Emir Abu Abdullah al-Hamawi. Also killed were top military commander Abu Talha al-Ghab, religious ideologues Abu Abdelmalek, al-Sharei and Abu Sariya al-Sham, and many more.

A statement released by the Tawheed commander said, “It was clear the members were meeting to discuss fortifying their group’s position and developing their strategy to reorganize and bring Ahrar al-Sham into the future Free Syrian Army.”

Syrian Commanders Ahrar al Sham

Was This Another Chemical Weapons Attack?

It is reported that there is one survivor who was in the room and can tell the story of what took place although he is in critical condition. The survivor is a brother to the commander Hassan Aboud. Some commanders in Harakat, which is the homebase for Ahrar al-Sham, told Aljazeera that the deadly explosion also contained some type of chemical agent.

It is not clear at this time specifically how the explosive blast was delivered, there seems to be no question whether a chemical agent was used. Activist report that when the explosion went off all the oxygen was sucked out of the air and people died.

What happened next isn’t known. An investigation will be opened to determine what chemical weapons were used at the scene. Some of the 30 bodies were found without any wounds which is consistent with death by chemical agent. The bodies that were found without wounds were examined by 10 doctors. Presumably, this incident will be another that will be referred to the OPCW for review. The OPCW recently returned an opinion that 4 villages were gassed by Assad in May, 2014 with a chemical agent.

Keeping It Real …

  1. The survivor of the blast said that just before the blast one of the members of the meeting council got up and left the room. The member that left the room was identified as someone local from Bab Al Hawa. While this could have been a lucky coincidence, there is an implication that this person may have been a spy for the other team (whichever team it is) and left to:
    1. set off a charge (or notify someone to); some have said the explosion came from a IED
    2. call in an air strike; several eye witnesses identified planes flying overhead at low altitudes, and the survivors stated that “missiles” came flying through the windows of the bunker.
  2. Ahrar al-Sham states there was a huge security breach within the Ahrar al-Sham group regarding when the meeting was to take place, and then at the facility if the explosive was actually placed at the site there was a serious breakdown in ground security.
    1. The security team for the compound said, “To those who speak about a bomb carrier and car bomb, we did not see at the HQ gate which Abu Ayman’s home a car bomb entering before the explosion and no bomb carrier.”
  3. Ram Hamdan reporting for Aljazeera stated, Ahrar al-Sham and other opposition groups are pointing fingers at possible perpetrators of this crime.
    1. Some are pointing their finger directly to Damascus and the Assad regime. This is very plausible as Assad’s war machine has become weaker. A reorganized and better coordinated Ahrar al-Sham would not be good news for the regime.
      1. There were reports of low flying planes over the compound and the witness reported missiles entering the room through windows. This will still need to be investigated as the targeting would have had to be incredibly precise.
      2. This is the most likely scenario since the regime has Russian precision missiles.
    2. Others are pointing fingers at Daesh (ISIS). If they did commit this crime the regime would benefit the most, and of course ISIS would likely benefit in the short run while the Ahrar al-Sham reassign new leaders and realign. [Cyclone of Mixed Messages]
      1. There was a report that ISIS used a car bomb to deliver explosives which caused the deaths. This is unlikely as some of the bodies were unharmed due to explosives and only due to a chemical agent. “A car bomb is not a good vehicle for chemical agent.”
    3. Many others are calling this assassination an intervention of Iran Intelligence. In this case, Assad would be the primary benefactor. If the Iran Intelligence did this crime it is clear that it was done to prop up the Assad regime once again.
  4. A Majlis-ash-Shura or “an advisory council” has already been appointed to name a new commander and military commander for Ahrar al-Sham. Unfortunately in Syria, there is little time to mourn as the regime and ISIS take advantage of every sign of apparent weakness.

  6. Vladimir Ahmedov, a respected Russian Blogger, stated in his post on September 9th that Ahrar al-Sham is “more dangerous for Assad and his INTERNATIONAL supporters and HALESH (some others) in the view of taking power.
    1. Vladimir was talking about Ahrar’s ability to fill roles as leaders of major municipalities and local councils, rather than taking Assad’s “throne.”

Why do we keep referring back to the Assad regime as the perpetrator and / or benefactor? Anyone that belongs to the Terror Network (defined below) must have a special relationship with the Assad regime. With regards to Syria, Iran has stated they will cut back on weapons and Iran Revolutionary Guard loaned to Syria. These numbers will be reduced down proportionately with the number of military forces Assad has in his own Army; and the cooperation of partners to Assad’s cause (meaning ISIS and Hezbollah).

Will anyone jump up and claim responsibility for “one more human tragedy in Syria?” Probably not, although if ISIS was the perpetrator, they probably would. ISIS gets pleasure out of creating pain and mayhem for others. They also get excitement from knowing their actions cause others pain, which is why they generally display their handywork proudly for all to see.

Knowing who is responsible would be great, however, for Ahrar al Sham. Preventing a future similar disaster would be even better. The best preventative measure is “do not put all your key personnel together in one room in or around Syria.” Secure teleconferencing may be just the ticket.

Kimberly Jones is a global nomad with a special interest in the Middle East and North Africa. She grew up in Saudi Arabia and traveled throughout the MENA growing deeply attached to the people and the culture.