Al Qaida rebels leave mass grave behind as they desert base in Syria

 

McClatchy Foreign Staff

Islamist extremists forced to abandon their base in Syria’s central Hama province left behind a mass grave with a dozen corpses, mostly civilians, including four women, local activists reported Monday.

The discovery at Kafr Zeta was likely to fuel the drive to force foreign fighters from the Islamist State of Iraq and Syria out of the conflict and, most probably, Syria.

On the fifth day of a surprise offensive against ISIS by a wide range of Syrian insurgents, fierce fighting was reported in Raqqa, a provincial capital that is an ISIS stronghold, and in at least two districts of Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city.

ISIS reportedly had abandoned Jarabulus, a major border crossing with Turkey, and its forces were under siege at Tal Abyad, another border point.

The offensive appears to have galvanized many of Syria’s disparate fighting forces into a level of cooperation rarely seen on the ground, and it may have given new life to remnants of the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army, which many wrote off as a spent force a month ago.

Dan Layman, a spokesman for the Syrian Support Group, a Washington-based group that raises money for the rebels, said that rebels formerly identified with the FSA were now fighting in one of two groups, the Syrian Revolutionary Front, with 10,000 to 15,000 fighters, and the Jaysh al Mujahideen, or Mujahideen Army, which has about 12,000 fighters.

A third rebel faction, the Islamic Front, which supports the establishment of a Syria governed by Islamic law, has taken a leading role in the fighting and was believed to be in control of Jarabulus and pressing for control of Tal Abyad.

The Nusra Front, yet another rebel faction, also has taken a role in the fighting against ISIS. Like ISIS, Nusra is an al Qaida affiliate and traces its roots also to al Qaida in Iraq. The U.S. government a year ago designated Nusra a terrorist group, saying it was simply another name for al Qaida in Iraq, which renamed itself ISIS in April. The two groups frequently cooperated with one another in battles against Syrian government forces.

Nusra reportedly collaborated with the other rebel factions to arrange ISIS’ departure from its Kafr Zeta base.

According to Muhannad Jnaid, a rebel captain, ISIS initially had agreed last week to surrender the Kafr Zeta base in a deal brokered by Nusra. But a group of ISIS fighters who had sneaked away from the main group opened fire on the rebels, killing five.

Fighting resumed until Sunday, when the ISIS forces again sent a message through Nusra that they were ready to surrender the base and their weapons, Jnaid told McClatchy. On Sunday night, the ISIS forces departed in the company of Nusra troops; other rebel units occupying the base discovered, however, that not all the ISIS units had left their weapons behind.

“We’ve asked Nusra to bring the rest of the weapons back,” he said.

The rebels found the mass grave when they searched the base. There were at least a dozen corpses, with many residents of other towns. Ahmad Bayoush, an activist, said three of the dead were from his hometown of Kafr Anbil, and the corpses of all three showed signs of torture. He identified one as Mansour Assalloum, a 16-year-old boy; the other two were men.

Activist Basil Darwish said four women were among those buried in the grave, two from the city of Hama and two from the nearby town of Latamneh. He identified one of the victims as Abdulkarim al Qasim, a lawyer from the nearby town of Morek.

Hannah Allam in Washington contributed to this report.

Email: rgutman@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @roygutmanmcc

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
A man talks with a woman after a tree fell on his car at the Narvarte neighborhood after a strong earthquake jolted Mexico City, Friday, April 18, 2014. The powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico but there were no early reports of major damage or casualties.

    Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

    A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

  •  
Civil Protection workers examine damage on a government building in Chilpancingo after a strong earthquake shook Mexico, Friday morning, April 18, 2014. A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico but there were no early reports of major damage or casualties.

    Magnitude-7.2 earthquake shakes Mexican capital

    A powerful magnitude-7.2 earthquake shook central and southern Mexico on Friday, sending panicked people into the streets. Some walls cracked and fell, but there were no reports of major damage or casualties.

  • Blast in busy Cairo square kills 1 police officer

    An explosion rocked a busy square in central Cairo late Friday, killing one police officer and causing panic, Egypt's Interior Ministry and security officials said.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category