Aden in 2005

A Youtube video on Aden in 2005:

A video of interest mainly to people who once lived in Aden. Landing at Aden airport (footage taken from within aircraft), Khormaksar, Crater (tanks, commercial centre, market halls, fishermen at Front Bay), Ma’alla, Steamer Point. Please also see part 2 (Gold Mohur beach, car ride around Aden). Footage taken in December 2005.

Sisi vs. Sabbahi

Nasserist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi recently requested the chance to debate former defense minister Abdel Fattah El Sisi (whose propagandists have done quite a bit of Nasser-invoking themselves recently), prompting treasured local wit Sarah Carr to ask: "So will there be a public debate between Sisi and Sabahy. Will it just revolve around who loves Nasser harder?"

This sent contributor Paul Mutter down an imaginary wormhole from which -- courtesy this classic SNL sketch -- the following emerged: 

"I have a fever and only (more) Nasser can cure it."

"I have a fever and only (more) Nasser can cure it."

[ePalestine] Haaretz: A Jewish response to Israeli checkpoints


A Jewish response to Israeli checkpoints

The Israeli army restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement for the sake of security. How can we strike a balance between serving one people’s freedom at the cost of another’s?

By | Apr. 8, 2014

Palestinian workers from Hebron at Tarqumiya Checkpoint

"...I met Sam Bahour last month whilst on an Encounter trip to Bethlehem, where he related his story...."


Be Jewish,



Everything about this list:

To unsubscribe, send mail to:

To subscribe, send mail to:

[ePalestine] Le Monde diplomatique: If Kerry fails, what then? (By Sam Bahour and Tony Klug)

Le Monde diplomatique

Exclusive 8 April 2014

If Kerry fails, what then?

by Sam Bahour and Tony Klug

Suppose the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, fails to cajole the Israeli and Palestinian leaders into finally ending their conflict. What would happen next?


Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant in Ramallah and serves as a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. Tony Klug is a veteran Middle East analyst and a special advisor to the Oxford Research Group.



Everything about this list:

To unsubscribe, send mail to:

To subscribe, send mail to:

The Desert Falcons: An Elite Pro-Assad Force

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi

In the ongoing rebel offensive on Latakia, a new force on the regime side has come to light: namely, the Suqur al-Sahara’ (‘Desert Falcons’).

Desert Falcons insignia (left), and an anonymous member of the brigade (right).

The Arabic outlet El-Nashra explains:

‘Among these forces [that have emerged in the Syrian civil war] are the Desert Falcons that are fighting in Kasab and are considered the prong of attack and defence of the region especially at Point 45. They began operating in Homs and especially on the borders with Iraq to cut supply/aid paths between armed men in the two lands.

These forces are considered among the elite of men fighting in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad, and there are fighting in its ranks members of military expertise, retired officers and members of the army, as well as volunteers from Syrian youth and age groups averaging between 25 and 40 years of age.

The Desert Falcons forces have medium capabilities and arms as well as machine-gun fire, and the army supports it with artillery when necessary, but it specializes in setting up ambushes and carrying out difficult special assignments.

They have already carried out a large number of combat missions on the Jordanian and Iraqi borders, and a group of them are currently participating in the battles in the Kasab area and its surrounding.’

Rather than a merely symbolic presence, the Desert Falcons are a real fighting force and are acknowledged by the Muqawama Suriya as an allied group in the fight to retake Kasab. Below are some more photos including martyrs for the group.

Members of the Desert Falcons with Syrian army soldiers in unspecified location.

10245438_1414953695433287_469579184_n (1)
Manhal Ahmad Muhammad, a Desert Falcons fighter killed in the ongoing battle to retake Kasab.

1975146_1414955128766477_1474560749_n (1)
Albir Sama’an al-Umuri, a Desert Falcons fighter killed on 2 April 2014 in the Kasab area.

Brigadier General Harun, a Desert Falcons officer killed on 24 June 2013 in al-Quaryatayn, Homs province. Note that this locality is in the desert area of Homs governorate near Sadad, corroborating El-Nashra’s report on the Desert Falcons’ areas of operation.

‘The men of al-Assad: Desert Organization.’


Maher Habib As’ad: another Desert Falcons fighter killed in the battle for Kasab. 

The post The Desert Falcons: An Elite Pro-Assad Force appeared first on Syria Comment.

A New Generation of Arab Innovation

I have managed what seemed nearly impossible to me these days and written a positive story from the middle east. In The Chronicle of Higher Education, I take a look at Arab researchers who -- quite against the odds -- have made discoveries or managed to bring inventive products to the market. The article is behind a pay wall but here is a bit of the section on American University in Cairo chemist Hassan Azzazy, who has developed a better test for Hepatitis C (one that is based on verifiable science, unlike some other recently announced inventions). 

The new test, which relies on gold nanoparticles that change color on contact with the virus, could be on the market in a year. It should cost about $8, a tenth of the cost of the two-step test currently available.

Establishing a start-up company to commercialize his breakthrough has been "a big, long journey," says Mr. Azzazy. He had to persuade his university’s administration to create the infrastructure to support his project. It took the American University in Cairo nearly two years to figure out the legal and logistical framework to create the spinoff, something no one at the university—and, its administration says, no one anywhere else in Egypt—had done before.

In 2013, Mr. Azzazy finally incorporated his company, D-Kimia, and raised about $500,000 from private investors. D-Kimia now is developing tests for other diseases, including tuberculosis and bladder cancer.

The American University in Cairo’s technology-transfer office, which was created in 2010, requests 50 percent of royalties on any product developed by professors and has filed eight patents based on Mr. Azzazy’s work; D-Kimia is developing three of them, he says.

Aside from improving Egyptians’ health, Mr. Azzazy views job creation as the other main purpose of his research. He gets visibly agitated at the thought of all the students who emerge from universities in Egypt every year with a diploma and no job prospects. 

"As an educator, I owe it to my students to empower them to earn a living," he says.  

From Minya

Imma Vitelli went to Minya and -- unable to speak to the judge who recently handed out a death sentence to 528 men in the murder of one police officer -- tracked down the young public prosecutor who put together the case. He showed her cell phone footage he had used as evidence and told her: "All 528 [accused] worked together to carry out this act of terrorism, responding to the call of Brotherhood leaders." (In Italian). 


A date in the Hadramawt

Here is a fascinating video on various types of dates and their use in the Hadramawt.

The Limits of Muslim Liberalism

Interesting article in the Los Angeles Review of Books on the limitations and blind spots of so-called liberal Islam and proponents such as Tariq Ramadan. 

Liberal Islam, steeped in orthodoxy, rationalism, and arrogated notions of representation, has lost its vitality and ability to engage constructively with such radical departures. Its modalities are much the same as those of traditional forms of religious authority, engaged as they are in perpetuating threats of “deviance.” Like traditional scholarship, liberal Islam is still struggling to respond cogently to the increasingly voluntarist impulse in the Muslim world and the challenge laid down by the jihadi manipulation of it. The gatekeepers of knowledge have simply shifted from an ulema class to one of professional religious entrepreneurs, who then define the boundaries of Islam for public consumption. Their predilection for invoking classical jurisprudence and the “Golden Age” of Islamic history also suppresses, implicitly, voices of dissent. Under a veneer of intellectual freedom, substantive debate on contentious issues — such as blasphemy, apostasy, gender, sexuality, the penal code, and the right to criticize or exit — is often postponed or elided. Ramadan’s call for a moratorium on stoning is often invoked to signal his supposed duplicity in this regard, but it is more a reflection of the narrow parameters within which his reformist project is located. The intellectual space liberal Islam opens up is, in fact, quite slim: there are still only a small number of influential Muslim reformists, and they compete to say similar things, most often in the service of the state.


In Translation: Letter to Sisi

The talented team at the professional translation service Industry Arabic brings you this installment in our regular In Translation series.

Letter to Sisi: Why do they object to your candidacy?

Moataz Bellah Abdel-Fattah, al-Watan, March 28, 2014

A statesman is like someone driving a very large vehicle with many mirrors and gauges; he has to pay attention to all of them at once and to pick up on warning signs in time. All of this he must handle with the requisite wisdom.

Presidential candidate Abdel Fattah al-Sisi began his electoral campaign Wednesday and many – I believe the majority – celebrated his announcement of candidacy. However, it is a poor political and strategic calculation on the part of candidate Sisi and his team to not pay attention to those rejecting his candidacy, some of whom have said outright: “He’s entered the trap” and “He’ll drink from the same cup.”

The efficiency of Sisi’s campaign will come from its ability to deal with the objections raised against him by his opponents. He and his campaign must answer these questions and prove the soundness of his position.

For example, when I asked what the main reasons advanced by some of those rejecting Sisi’s candidacy are, I got the following responses:

1. He’s a billionaire who has not and will not feel the pain of the vast majority of the people suffering every day. This is evidenced by his statement that people should “tighten their belt and go to work”, which indicates a mindset far from that of the people and their reality.

 2. All of his experience is with the military. He hasn’t worked in any other fields -- political, social, or economic. This is no time for experiments and learning on the job in a country whose economy is on its last legs and whose infrastructure is collapsing.

3. He’s not an independent decision-maker. Just as Morsi was a deputy of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi will represent and take orders from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Thus SCAF will be the true ruler, and all state institutions will exist merely for appearance’s sake and as a cover for oppressive military rule.

4. He’s connected to the interests of Mubarak’s corrupt regime and the National Democratic Party (NDP). He appointed [Prime Minister Ibrahim] Mehleb, a member of the NDP’s Policy Committee and assistant to Gamal Mubarak, to be Egypt’s prime minister—after two revolutions. This is the biggest catastrophe of all, and shows the orientations and intentions of Sisi as well of those close to him once he takes power.

5. It’s not possible to guarantee fair and impartial elections, because SCAF supports him and is nominating him out of a true eagerness for power, and at the same time it is the only one protecting the ballot boxes at night after the observers and judges leave.

6. The absence of equal opportunity and fair competition. One candidate has all the state’s bodies and intelligence agencies on his side. The state media is fully under their service, polishing his image and supporting him hypocritically, broadcasting lies about his competitors, spreading delusions, and exaggerating his popularity such that it surpasses that of the prophets and messengers.

7. His entire history is one of assisting Mubarak and keeping quiet about corruption. By virtue of his position as a director of Mubarak’s intelligence services* and as direct assistant to Mubarak, he witnessed, participated in, or supported much of Mubarak's own corruption and collaborated with him. Then under Tantawi he was directly responsible for the virginity tests scandal and for killing and shooting at the eyes of protestors in Mohamed Mahmoud and other confrontations. He was a member of SCAF when it handed the country over to the Muslim Brotherhood, and he didn’t refuse or resign. Instead, Morsi appointed him minister of defense in appreciation of his efforts to crush the January revolution and the revolutionaries, which was in their mutual interest. All this with a direct recommendation from Tantawi, leader of the counter-revolution!

8. He is not an independent decision maker when it comes to national issues. Most of the training, study, and intelligence experience he received before being appointed a director of intelligence was in the United States and England.

9. More than half the population hates him and regards him as an enemy. More than six million elected Morsi, and four million elected Aboul Fotouh. Most revolutionaries, five million of whom voted for Hamdeen Sabahi, view him as an enemy of the revolution and a continuation of the comic theatre of military rule over 22 million. A state can’t be built cooperatively with a public who knows that their ruler will be chosen by deception, forgery, and force.

10. Continued rule of civil institutions by military men. Most of the state’s problems come down to the fact that the head of the largest institutions and authorities in Egypt are generals who don’t know and are not proficient or qualified in the field to which they are appointed. Thus, corruption and cronyism continue and the person who is trusted and loyal to the regime is preferred over the person with experience. This is the basis of corruption in Egypt.

11. He won’t empower his opposition and dreams of democracy and a ‘state of institutions’ will be lost, and with them all the goals of the revolution. From now on, anyone who joins a protest to demand anything will be called a terrorist and arrested or sentenced to death. The accusations are ready-made, the ruling will be issued in days, and the trials will be in military courts – even if you just happened to be walking near a demonstration. Under him, all opposition will be classified as ‘traitors’ and ‘agents’ who want to wipe out and destroy the army. There will be no one to protect the people from his tyranny, since the army will be completely with him in his tyranny and injustice.

12. All of this will have a very dangerous effect on the army’s attention to its main duty, which is protecting the country from foreign threats. The bloodshed will start to build a wall and lead to enmity and reprisals between the army and the people. This will completely ruin the idea of electing Sisi for the sake of stability, because having the military in power is a great danger to Egypt and its stability.

13. Sisi is one of the main sources of the rigid divisions in Egypt and it is self-deceptive to think that he could be a source of unity or that he will be able to lead everyone all together in a nation-building project. A large percentage of Egyptians (especially the youth segment set on change) thinks that he won’t fulfill their aspirations and in fact see him as a symbol of something they want to get rid of (military rule) in order to get on with building a modern civil state. What is certain is that he will win the elections in light of a wide boycott by this segment and by every party opposed to the road map, which is no small percentage of the people. 14. The many wrongs that have occurred and which many people believe he bears responsibility for. True, the media doesn’t show this picture and instead shows us something false, but the content of this picture has settled in the consciousness of a large number of people, including the relatives, neighbors, and friends of innocent individuals who have been killed and wounded. Same with the detainees, etc.

Here the comments from Facebook friends end. These comments are repeated by them in their private gatherings. I know that many are imprecise and can be refuted, but my goal in this article is not to answer on behalf of the presidential candidate. Rather it is to let him and his campaign know that Egypt is like a worn out rubber raft, suffering from age and exposure, making anyone in it a knife or sharp object capable of puncturing a hole. The message has been received. It’s up to you to act.
And may God protect us.

* Sisi was Director of Military Intelligence in the last years of the Mubarak regime and until August 2012, when President Mohammed Morsi named him Minister of Defense.


‘Less Violent’ Does Not Have to Mean ‘Apathetic’

Digg This  Reddit This  Stumble Now!  Buzz This  Share on Facebook  Bookmark this on Delicious  Share on LinkedIn  Bookmark this on Technorati  Post on Twitter  Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)  

Here is another of my recent Huffington Post articles.

It is my opinion that, on balance, the world is better off with Americans who are less prone to go to war than not. There is simply too much American firepower that can be unleashed that causes unpredictable amounts of damage never anticipated by military planners, and certainly not imagined by thoughtless armchair warriors and lobbyists.

We human beings are not just an amalgam of instincts for fight or flight. We have evolved astonishingly impressive systems of local and global governance, which become more sophisticated and elaborate with every passing year. We are using our powers of reasoning and planning to make a less-violent planet in which human beings are living longer than ever before in history, a sign of our success at the rational and compassionate embrace of human life from infancy to old age.


‘Less Violent’ Does Not Have to Mean ‘Apathetic’



Sanaa vs. Dodge city

So if you were to pick the ten most dangerous cities in the world, what city in the Middle East do you think would be near the top of the list? Mogadishu, by the way, is number 7 and Peshawar, Pakistan is number two. So would you believe that number 3 is Sanaa? Sanaa more dangerous than Kabul, Aleppo or Baghdad? This is what an Internet top-ten list says, although I seriously doubt the person or machine compiling the list has ever been to Sanaa. And dangerous for whom exactly? Here is what the blurb says:

A politically instable country, Yemen has its share of problems. That being said, the capital city, Sana’a, is one of the most dangerous places in the entire world. Despite the best efforts of US allies, the city remains a high risk destination. Those who do make it there enjoy visiting the Old City, a section of Sana’a full of beautifully designed buildings from a more peaceful time.

Indeed Yemen is unstable, but there are relatively few deaths reported there and life goes on pretty much as usual for most Yemenis living there. I know that there is instability in Yemen but the word “instable” for me conjurs up Dodge City and the OK corral. Sanaa may have its security problems, but I will take it to the destruction going on in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan any day.

“Who Was Hilal al-Assad?” By Mohammad D.

Hilal al-Assad

Who Was Hilal al-Assad? 
By Mohammad D.
For Syria Comment, April 5 2014

By the time Hilal al-Assad reached Zahi Azraq Military Hospital in Latakia on Sunday March 23,2014, he was already dead. Latakians were already in a state of turmoil and anxiety. Grad missiles had been raining down on the city for a week. That night, at 8 pm, two missiles hit the city-center. The first struck al-Sheikhdaher, a bustling area in the old city and the second slammed into the old post office, less than a hundred yards from an entrance to the Sea Port.  Many were killed and injured in this attack. News that Hilal al-Assad had been signed into the Military Hospital spread like wildfire. Everyone knew within hours. The streets of the city emptied.

Death notice for Halal al-Assad

Death notice for Halal al-Assad

Hilal al-Assad was the commander of al-Difa’ al-Watani in the Coastal Region and a cousin of President Bashar al-Assad.  A  single bullet hit him in the chest. He was in al-Mushrefeh near Kassab north of the city of Latakia, according to parents of an Alawi soldier fighting with him.  This fighter was on his way with his other brother to help lift the siege of pro-Assad groups surrounded in Kassab.  The younger brother of this fighter, was surrounded with his unit in Kassab.  A range of anti-Assad militias, many composed of foreigners, launched a surprise attack called al-Anfal that was followed by a second offensive named Umahat al-Mu’minin.  The attacks were launched near the Turkish border into an area that was poorly defended, by all accounts.  The surprise attack was a total success. Rebel militias conquered Kassab, an Armenian town best known for its beauty, green hills and for being a summer resort. It is also linked to a custom crossing with Turkey and a small village on the Mediterranean called al-Samra.  Today, fighting is raging throughout the region and both sides are calling up reinforcements.  The pro-Assad forces have been able to retake one highpoint, tower 45, but with no major regains since.Hilal al-Assad is the first Assad family member to be killed since Asef Shawkat was killed in a bomb attack on July/18/2012 while attending a high level meeting in Damascus. Syrian official TV announced Hilal’s death, and declared him a martyr, but no public death announcement, known as Na’wa, was printed.  This is unusual. Numerous Facebook pages were created to celebrate and memorialize him and video messages were posted on the al-Difa’ al-Watani web outlets. For them, Hillal al-Assad death in battle is seen as a great honor. But his death also reminded everyone in Latakia that death and danger was at their door, closer than anyone had thought.

Hilal’s full military funeral procession was held on Monday.  His body left the hospital to the music of a marching band and into an army white ambulance.  He was buried in the Alawite Mountains east of Latakia.  Hilal left behind a wife, two sons and three daughters.  Not that much is known about him. Most reports about him are not accurate. The reaction of his infamous, “trouble maker” son Sulayman, who is only seventeen years old, only deepened the fears of Latakians.

Who is Hilal al-Assad.

Hilal al-Assad was born in al-Qardaha in 1967.  His father Anwar was the son of Hafez al-Assad’s older brother Ibrahim (some people say that Ibrahim is a half brother from Ali Sulayman’s first wife Sa’ada. He was married to Umm Anwar).  Ibrahim died many years ago and not much is known or written about him, but his wife, Hilal’s grandmother, Umm Anwar was a very strong woman.  She became a household name as a business woman who took advantage of the rising power of her family. As Hafez al-Assad’s power grew so did her’s along with that of her family.  Her son Anwar was not an educated man. Indeed he was reputed to be slow. What is more, he suffered from Albinism.  So, when Hafez al-Assad became a minister of defense in the 1960′s, Anwar became a janitor in a school in al-Qardaha. When Hafez al-Assad became a president in 1971, Anwar became an employee in the Registery (al-Nufus) in al-Qardaha. He remained a resident of Qardaha until his death.

His son Hilal went to elementary, secondary and high school in Qardaha.  He was young when his relatives started consolidating power in Damascus. His relatives in al-Qardaha started a lucrative business in smuggling. From his high school days, Hilal joined local smugglers who brought goods from Lebanon to Syria. Hilal was one of the Original Shabiha; the first wave of smugglers (See my earlier article: “The Original Shabiha“.  He was a few years younger than the most famous: Fawwaz al-Assad.

But, Hilal was different from Fawwaz, who was bombastic and enjoyed making a spectacle of himself. Hilal did not search out the limelight. He preferred to remain in the shadows, driving his big Mercedes between Lebanon and various Syrian cities.  Many say that his grandmother, Umm Anwar, controlled the smuggling ring that Hilal ran with.  In his early days, Hilal hung out in two places: one was an Armenian photography shop and the other was with a Christian barber friend. His car seemed always to be double-parked outside these two haunts. It caused perpetual traffic jams. He rarely hung out with other goons, unlike Fawwaz, who was a goon magnet.

Hilal amassed a fortune from smuggling. But, once Syrian markets were opened in the 1990s, smuggling dried up. Hilal, like Fawwaz and the other original shabiha, who benefited from the trade restrictions of the 1980′s, had to find a new occupation. Some say that Hilal joined the military academy for a bit before enrolling in Latakia’s Tishreen University, where he studied business. Ultimately, he acquired a degree, but I have been told by a friend of his:

He never attended a class and only showed up at the university to sit for exams.  The only challenging part of his formal education was to struggle not to make mistakes copying the answers that he had passed to him.”

Hilal was able to secure a good plum position in one of the most lucrative state industries. In 1998, he was appointed head of Branch 202 in the Mu’assasat al-Iskan al-Askari.  This meant that Hilal run the Latakia branch of a  construction company owned and financed by the defense ministry. It was responsible for housing projects, building dams, and sometimes built roads. al-Iskan al-Askari was established during the rule of Hafez al-Assad and was first headed by Khalil al-Bahlul, who turned it into a construction giant in the Syrian building sector.

Hilal did not have a good reputation at work.  He is accused of holding back the salaries of the employees for months, making a profit on putting it in the newly formed private banks in the area and abroad.  When workers complained about their late wages, they had to face Military Intelligence, which Hilal would summon to deal with them.  At this era, Hilal would still stay out of the limelight for most of the time.  He would spend most of his night playing cards with the same group: a famous Alawite heart doctor and two rich Sunnis: a man from al-Jud family and another from al-Zein family.  Hilal also loved horses.  He collected them and kept them in the stables of the Sports Complex. Some say that these stables were used as Hilal’s private prison.  These allegations are yet to be confirmed, as well many tashbeeh stories about him.

When the Syrian uprising began, the government formed al-Difa’ al-Watani (National Defence Forces) in 2012.  Its head was stationed in Damascus: General Ghassan Nassour.  Hilal al-Assad was put in charge of al-Difa’ al-Watani in Latakia and its countryside.  The first major military action this militia saw was during the famous attack of August 4th 2013, when Sunni groups attacked 11 Alawite villages.  The attack ended, but the military scrimmages continued, especially now with this Anfal attack in the Kassab region. When Hilal died, al-Difa’ al-Watani had grown from being composed of only a few local “popular committees” (Lijan Sha’biyah) into a small-sized army, complet with a few tanks and many pieces of heavy artillery.

Hilal’s Personal Family:

Unknown to many: Hilal married a Sunni.  His wife, Fatima Massoud, is said to be from the Idlib region.  Others say that her father is from Tripoli, Lebanon.  With Fatima, Hilal has two boys, 17 and 9 and three daughters, the oldest is married to a Sunni from Aleppo.  Hilal’s oldest daughter has a baby girl with her husband.

Sulayman is the notorious 17 years old son of Hilal.  He is a trouble maker and stories about him fill the internet.  Some of these stories are true, while others are exaggerations by known anti-Assad agitators, who expound on the bad behavior of members of al-Assad clan.  He is almost always seen with his armed bodyguards, even on the beach, where his favorite pastime was to make hairpin turns with his all-terrain vehicle so that sand would spray those trying to relax at the shore.  Reports of him shooting at people are many, but cannot be confirmed. Sulayman poses frequently with tanks belonging to the al-Difa’ al-Watani. He posts these on his Facebook page.  His reactions after the death of his father added to the troubles of the city.  It increased the level of fear amongst all.  Reports said that Sulayman went on a rampage twice, the first was the day when his father died.  The second was few days later, when he went with some armed men to al-Slaybeh, a traditional Sunni neighborhood in the old city, and destroyed some of the furniture of al-Tabusheh famous cafe as well as that of a few other stores in the neighborhood.  He ran away when the Mukhabarat showed up.  This attack only deepened the sectarian divisions in the city.

Hilal al-Assad also had two brothers: Harun, the head of the Municipality in al-Qardaha, and Ha’el, an officer in the Republican Guards.

The post “Who Was Hilal al-Assad?” By Mohammad D. appeared first on Syria Comment.


The Latakia Front: An Interview on the Rebel Side

By Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi.

The interview I have translated below comes from Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, a division of the Moroccan muhajireen group Harakat Sham al-Islam, which has played an important role in the ongoing rebel offensive on Latakia and whose founder and leader- Abu Ahmad al-Muhajir/Maghrebi [aka Ibrahim bin Shakaran, the ex-Gitmo detainee and 1990s Afghan jihad veteran] was recently killed.

In the infighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and ash-Sham [ISIS] and other factions, Harakat Sham al-Islam officially- as an “independent” group- took an anti-fitna stance, but as one Syrian contact of mine in the group told me, the organization is closer to Jabhat al-Nusra than ISIS, even as all three share the same ideological program of establishing a Khilafa [Caliphate] over the entire world.

1174823_599281336776958_1764911629_n (1)
Logo of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam division of Harakat Sham al-Islam

Ibrahim bin Shakaran’s dead body.

10150549_695727297132361_749920238_n (1)
Izz ad-Din al-Qassam division of Harakat Sham al-Islam on the Mediterranean coastline in Latakia. Photo from 26 March.

Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 22.03.17
The Muqawama Suriya on the rural peripheries of Kasab. Video footage put out on 6 April.

Rebels in Kasab organize evacuation of remaining Armenians to Turkey. Photo via “Islamic Kasab”: a rebel activist group in the town that first claimed rebel recapture today of Burj 45.

As of now, the situation remains such that rebels still control the Armenian town of Kasab as regime forces continue to fight on the peripheries of Kasab, while some rebel activists in Kasab just a few hours ago claimed the recapture of Burj [tower] 45, which was a few days ago retaken by regime forces. Meanwhile, rebels have launched rocket and mortar strikes on Latakia city.

“Many followers are asking about Burj 45. What is the situation there?

- Up to now, the battlelines are witnessing clashes between the mujahideen and Assad’s gangs. We fight them and they us.

Why are martyrs upon martyrs falling every day?

- This is in the hands of God- these battles and wars. Gunfire flies on every side. So it is inevitable that a number of casualties are reaped from us and from them. And we are but the slain of Jannah and they the slain of Hellfire.

Why and how was the amir of Harakat Sham al-Islam martyred?

- The heroic, brave mujahid sheikh Ahmad al-Maghrebi was martyred in the battle for the tower, and all attested to his courage and bravery. For alone he was carrying out the assault and firing with his bullets on all the apostates and reaping a number of dead from them. The sheikh was martyred just as we reckon him with God by the bullets of a criminal sniper after the Sheikh had massacred and wounded them.

Was Harakat Sham al-Islam leading the battle?

- Ahrar ash-Sham held the leadership of the Burj, under their commander, then he was gravely wounded, then leadership was handed over to the Maghrebi commander, so he and his soldiers took up positions on the Burj and fought heroically, with the support of Jabhat al-Nusra and Ansar ash-Sham.

Whom have the mujahideen faced in Burj 45?

- The mujahideen have faced all the National Defense Force, the Assad army, the militias of Hizb ash-Shaytan, the [Abu] Fadl al-Abbas battalions, and Iranian special forces, but also Chechen soldiers*: your brothers saw them on the Burj. Many of the dogs were masquerading in Afghan clothing and were calling out to brothers: ‘Brother, advance, we are brothers’. God fought them.

What has the battle atmosphere been like?

- The battle has been ferocious and difficult by all standards, for your brothers have faced states and professional soldiers and it’s not only Bashar’s soldiery.

Have other factions besides Sham al-Islam participated in the battle?

- Yes, all from Jabhat al-Nusra, Ansar ash-Sham and Sham al-Islam have participated, then supporting factions came eventually.

Have some factions really withdrawn and engaged in betrayal?

- The withdrawals may be betrayal or tactics, and we only think well of our brothers, for the battle was difficult, the bombing very very strong and the land expansive, but it happened that some ‘Iranians’ engaged in infiltration.

Did the sniper fire or the ‘Sahwa forces of ash-Sham’ kill Abu Ahmad al-Maghrebi?

- Abu Ahmad was killed by malicious Iranian sniper-fire, and there was no treachery or betrayal. Whoever says otherwise so his reckoning is with God.

How many of Bashar’s soldiers have been killed? How many from the mujahideen?

- Many of the brothers especially the ansar** for they have told of their pure blood seeing ash-Sham; in the same way we have cherished the muhajireen for many of them especially from Sham al-Islam and Nusra have been martyred. As for Bashar’s dogs, Iran’s and Chechnya’s militias, many of them have been killed, thanks to God.”

Your brother: Abu Zakariya al-Ansari, participating in the Anfal battle.


*- Presumably the mujahid means mercenaries sent by the Russian government to aid the Assad regime. Note also he has forgotten the role of the Muqawama Suriya. While I have yet to see evidence of Iraqi Shi’a or Hezbollah militia participation here, it should be noted that the Muqawama Suriya has met with members of Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas.

Ali Kayali, leader of the Muqawama Suriya, with Liwa Abu Fadl al-Abbas commanders in Latakia. Photo from January.

**- In the context of jihadi discourse, the reference to ‘ansar’ in these battles normally means native fighters. Thus, Harakat Sham al-Islam is primarily Moroccan muhajireen and was founded by such people but has a small native Syrian component that use ‘Ansari’ in their noms de guerre. This Latakia offensive, like the one last summer, is being spearheaded by foreign fighters. This applies to Ansar ash-Sham too, with their Chechen commander in this battle one Abu Musa ash-Shishani. In the video linked to, he denounces Ali Kayali as a “dog” and accuses him of killing Muslim innocents.


The post The Latakia Front: An Interview on the Rebel Side appeared first on Syria Comment.

Postcards from old Aden #11

There are many postcards on the Internet from old Aden under British control. This continues the series with views of the camel caravans that came to Aden.

to be continued… for #10, click here.