Syrian rebels use caged civilians, fighters to deter airstrikes

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Jaysh al Islam is parading captured civilians and fighters around the eastern Al Ghouta region on the outskirts of Damascus. This screen shot is from a video posted by the Sham News Network.

An insurgent group fighting the Assad regime is reportedly parading civilians around in cages in an attempt to ward off airstrikes in the suburbs of Damascus. The Sham News Network has posted a video, just over four minutes long, showing captured civilians and fighters caged in the back of trucks. At least one of the cages is filled with women, who are being used as a human shield against Syrian and Russian airstrikes.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reports that Jaysh al Islam (“Army of Islam”) is responsible. Jaysh al Islam has “spread cages over several areas and squares in the Eastern Ghouta putting inside them regime forces’ officers, soldiers and their families.” The eastern Al Ghouta is an area on the outskirts of Damascus where Jaysh al Islam is one of the strongest groups fighting the Assad regime.

The insurgent organization attempts to justify the move by arguing it is necessary to “lessen the air and missile bombardment carried out against the cities and towns of the Eastern Ghouta,” according to SOHR. Apparently, militias that support Assad did the same “weeks ago” in an attempt to stop “rebel and Islamist factions from targeting” two predominately Shiite “towns in the countryside of Idlib” in northern Syria.

This is not the first time Jaysh al Islam’s extremist acts have drawn attention. Earlier this year, the group released a gory video showing the mass execution of Islamic State fighters. Jaysh al Islam has long opposed Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s so-called “caliphate,” but in the video it resorted to the same type of propaganda the Islamic State regularly employs. In a role reversal, Jaysh al Islam’s executioners were dressed in the same orange jumpsuits that the Islamic State makes its victims wear.

Jaysh al Islam, which is led by Zahran Alloush, is reportedly backed by Saudi Arabia. Although it isn’t one of al Qaeda’s official or unofficial groups in Syria, Jaysh al Islam has cooperated with Al Nusrah Front (an al Qaeda branch), Ahrar al Sham (which has its own ties to al Qaeda) and other al Qaeda-linked groups. For instance, Jaysh al Islam was part of the “Battle of Victory” coalition that overran the city of Jisr Al Shughur in the Idlib province in April.

However, Jaysh al Islam’s interests have conflicted with Al Nusrah and its allies at times. In October, Al Nusrah Front, Ahrar al Sham and Ajnad al Sham announced that they had established the Jund al Malahim (“Soldiers of the Epics”) joint operations room in Al Ghouta. The alliance excluded Jaysh al Islam despite the fact that Alloush’s men constitute one of the largest forces, if not the largest, in the area. Jund al Malahim’s exclusion of Jaysh al Islam indicates that Al Nusrah’s agenda doesn’t always align with Alloush’s. Indeed, the two have been odds on occasion in the past. Regardless, Jaysh al Islam’s extremism is readily apparent.

The image below is another screen shot from the video posted by the Sham News Network. In shows women in one of Jaysh al Islam’s cages:

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Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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  • Green says:

    Why are there no LWJ reports on Assad regime airstrikes in Syria?

  • Arjuna says:

    War is hell. No such thing as a kinder, gfentler jihadi.
    Isn’t this the same suburb Bashar Assad gassed to get rid of rebels (in the process gassing his own people)? It must be very strategic. Operations room?? Sounds like these insane Islamist rebs think like gringos. I wonder why that could be…

  • Green says:

    I see virtually no reports detailing regime crimes in Syria. This is odd considering the regime has killed far more Syrians than the various extremist groups combined. Regime has also used chemicals. If this conflict is to be reported on, it make sense to report on regime actions in Syria. Extremists became a reality in Syria when Assad starting attacking protesters

  • Buzz says:

    Well,at least the women are wearing their hijabs! !! Have to keep perspective as to what this is all about, the 400 lb.gorilla that no one wants to speak of,islam and muhammad….!!!! and oh,I almost forgot,the entities that are funding them,saudi arabia and pakistan…..l

  • A. N. says:

    Good thing these are just the moderate rebels!

  • Birbal Dhar says:

    According to the translation of the video by YouTube user pleasedontstalkme, this is what the video content says:

    “The first prisoner interviewed was in the Syrian army. He was just condemning the recent airstrikes in the city they’re in, and mentioned a few things about his family being back in Damascus and wanting to go back. He delivers a message to Al-Assad, saying something along the lines of “Please stop bombing innocent civilians. If you want to fight people, fight the soldiers in the trenches.” I was surprised they didn’t immediately shoot him for saying that, but I suppose that would be bad PR.

    The women were not in the army, no, their crime is that they are Alawites (Assad’s sect) and likely are/were Assad supporters. They were saying they have been in captivity in this city for three years, and they were describing that right now they were being divided and put into cages spread out throughout the city. They too were asked to deliver a message to Al-Assad, and they just asked him to stop bombing the city.

    The young girl at 3:31 who interrupts the older woman says “And in the end, the FSA decided that when their people die, we die too – we of the Alawite sect.”

    The kid at 4:02 sums it up pretty bluntly – “These are your women and our women. If you want to kill my mom, you have to kill them too.”

    Arabic is not my first language – neither is English – so if any Arabic speaker thinks I got something wrong, please correct me.”

  • tuffsnotenuff says:

    Sourcing for this claim ?????

    “Apparently, militias that support Assad did the same ‘weeks ago’ in an attempt to stop ‘rebel and Islamist factions from targeting’ two predominately Shiite ‘towns in the countryside of Idlib’ in northern Syria. ”

    That is on a level with the no-source claim that the anti-Islamist, anti-Sharia forces in Syria generate 80% of civilian casualties. Considering that the vast majority of urban fighting has pitted ISIS foreigners against local Sunni militias, that seems unlikely to say the least.

    Which group lives in the 7th century?

  • Arjuna says:

    Both sides (regime and rebels) are using “chemicals”, chlorine and mustard, only the regime has deployed Sarin so far. Not sure where you get your info, but Google Ghouta or barrel bombs for a description of a total war tactics by the regime. Tons of reports.
    Assad is fighting for his life. Trust me, he does not want to kill more Syrians than he has to in order to stop the uprising.
    Extremists became extreme when they got whipped up ideologically by Gulf Arabs, armed and trained by the Americans, and led into battle by terrorists.

  • Dennis says:

    Over the past three years or so, all the combatants involved in this mess, have used every type of torture and psychological warfare conceivable. No one remains innocent. Whatever one group does to hurt the other, the others do worse. I almost doubt there is any way to intervene on anyone’s side without being on the” evil” side. The only innocents are the young.

  • TRM says:

    Using human shields!?!? Who do they think they are–Hamas or ISIS?!?

  • kimball says:

    Buzz, you forgot Quatar and UAE! Pakis are sponsored of them + Saudi and for unfathomable reasons also USA all the way since 1950.

  • Arjuna says:

    Assad is fighting for his regime’s survival. He is on defense. Rebels hide amongst civilians in the areas they capture. Urban warfare at its finest.
    Extremists also became a reality when Gulf Arabs and America helped fuel the Civil War, rather than helping tamp it down. Assad gave up his chem weapons. That was a hard concession. Can’t reward good behavior w bombs like was done w Gaddafi.

  • Green says:

    Except this is a war between Sunni and Shiite jihadis, not extremist and secular as you seem to imply.

    Iran is a Shiite Islamic theocracy that currently is in Syria. Assad and the SAA are just extensions of Iran.

    It is deceptive to assume one is secular when there are none.


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