Western-Backed Rebels Killed By Islamic State Terrorist Attack And Russian Air Campaign

October 6, 2016

The previous post in our Putin in Syria column can be found here.


Islamic State Takes Credit For Bombing At Syria/Turkey Border Crossing: 30+ Killed

The Local Coordination Committees of Syria (LCC) reports that at least 30 people have been killed in a terrorist attack on the Atmeh (Atma/Atama) border crossing in northwestern Syria. The extremist group Islamic State has claimed credit for the attack.

The LCC reports:

30 people were martyred and 40 others wounded today due to an explosion that targeted Atama Crossing on the Turkish borders and Daesh announce responsibility. 

LCC correspondent in Idlib reported that a bomb set in a suitcase exploded today’s morning at Atama Crossing during the shift of duty of the border guards. The explosion left 30 dead and 40 variously injured. 

He added that the identified martyrs were: the Higher Judiciary Council President in Aleppo, Khalid Sayid, and General Attorney, Mouhamad Faraj, in addition to the field Commander, Hisham Khalifa. He stressed that most of the martyrs were fighters of Faylaq Sham, who were shifting duty when the explosion took place.

Daesh, however, claimed responsibility for the explosion. Moreover, Aamaq News Agency of Daesh said that a car bomb explosion targeted the opposition fighters at Atama Crossing in the suburbs of Idlib. 

Daesh also claimed responsibility for a suicidal bombing that targeted a vehicle of the revolutionists at the same crossing mid August, the last, and claimed the lives of dozens and injured others

Amaq, ISIS’s news agency, claimed that 50 fighters from the Free Syrian Army were killed in the attack. Other reports put the death toll anywhere between 20 and 30. 

Other figures are much higher: 

Reuters reports that most of the dead are members of a rebel group that is directly backed by the Turkish military:

The witness said most of the rebels were from the Failaq al-Sham group, which has been fighting alongside other Turkish-backed factions in Ankara’s offensive, dubbed “Euphrates Shield”.

That operation, taking place along the border northeast of Aleppo, has also targeted Kurdish militants.

The rebels use the Atmeh crossing to move between Idlib province, through Turkey, to the areas where anti-Islamic State operations are taking place, the Observatory said.

Residents told Reuters they also use it to evacuate wounded fighters.

Among the dead from the Atmeh blast were the head of the top civil judicial body in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Sheikh Khaled al-Sayyed, and a judge who worked with him, a witness and a rebel official said.

Al-Jazeera provides more details about the border crossing:

According Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from Turkey’s Gaziantep on the border with Syria: “Atmeh is a border crossing that [Syrian] rebels use to move from one area of northern Syria to another; because, as of late, the [Syrian] government cuts through their territory and they’ve been isolated in different pockets.”

“We understand that they were waiting to cross the border [when the explosion happened]. There are conflicting reports as to what caused the explosion, but ISIL has claimed responsibility for it,” she added. “So the rebels are coming under pressure, not just from the government, but from ISIL as well.”

Turkish-backed forces are closing in on the town of Dabiq, a small town held by ISIS that holds great symbolic importance. Dabiq, which is also the name of ISIS’s propaganda magazine, is prophesied to be the location of the battle that sets off the apocalypse. Clearly, however, ISIS is not just waging this fight on the battlefield.

The bomb seems to have killed at least one prominent rebel leader, the local commander from Ahrar al-Sham, a group which is in coalition with the Al-Qaeda-linked Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (formerly Jabhat al-Nusra). There are already rumors of rising tensions between Ahrar al-Sham and the moderate rebels in the area, and this incident may exacerbate that tension:

Meanwhile, Russia and Syria continue to ruthlessly bomb both Syrian civilians and anti-Assad rebel groups. According to the LCC, at least 81 people were killed across the country on Wednesday October 5, including at least 15 children:

48 martyrs were reported in #Aleppo , most of them passed away in the airstrikes on the regions of #Thalthana and #Shamco in Rif Muhandisin, in addition to #Batbo and #Anadan . 16 in #Damascus_and_its_Suburbs , most of them passed away in bombarding #Douma city. 6 in #Deir_Ezzour , most of them passed away in a landmine explosion on the road of #Bab city in Aleppo. 6 in #Daraa . 2 in #Idlib . 2 in #Homs . 1 in #Raqqa .

The LCC has not yet released its official death count for today, but reports that at least 28 people have been killed by regime barrel bombs in the Damascus area.

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) is an activist network that has coordinated protests and opposition media activity since the start of the Syrian uprising. They maintain that they use stringent verification processes to accurately cover the news in Syria. The LCC also cooperates with the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria (VDC). Foreign field journalists have, from time to time, verified the LCC’s methods, and its work has been cited by the United Nations.

The LCC’s casualty figures are typically a mix of civilians and rebel fighters. They typically do not include deaths from inside territory controlled by the Syrian regime, as the LCC is hunted by the Syrian government and so cannot operate within those areas.

The work of the Local Coordination Committees has been studied extensively, including by The Interpreter’s managing editor, James Miller, who has published some of those findings in the Columbia Journalism Review.

James Miller