5 Apr 2013

Clashes between Jabhat al-Nusra and local militias in Deir Ezzor underline significant trend (Part I)

On Friday March 29, clashes took place between local militias and jihadists fighting with Jabhat al-Nusra in Al-Tibni township in Deir Ezzor. Three foreign foreigners were reportedly killed, one identified as Qaswara from Saudi Arabia and two from Tunisia. Residents from the area I spoke to say the village (Masreb) residents are regime loyalists. During the battles with Jabhat al-Nusra fighters, the regime's forces provided air cover for the village fighters, according to residents.

This is how the person who uploaded this video tells the story (rough translation) -- I also spoke to people from the area:

"Yesterday, an envoy from Masreb village came to the headquarters of Jabhat al Nusra in Al-Tibni township and filed a complaint about thieves and opportunists in their village and asked [Jabhat al-Nusra] to punish them because “it’s your responsibility”. It's worth mentioning that there had been some dispute between the people of Masreb and Jabhat al-Nusra because JAN had killed a man from their village in Raqqa. But the issue was supposedly solved.

Note: the villagers from Masreb had hijached an oil tanker that belongs to the man who filed the complaint. A few fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra then went to the village to solve the issue but they withdrew after they had a minor dispute with the villagers, who outnumbered Jabhat al-Nusra fighters. A few days later, people from Masreb village apparently invited Jabhat al-Nusra for dinner to settle the issue:

"Some men from Jabhat al-Nusra then went to the village to solve the issue. When they arrived, some people from the village attacked them and killed two men from Jabhat al-Nusra: Qaswara, the military leader of JAN in Al-Tibni, from Saudi Arabia; Abu Sami, a judge in Al-Tibni, from Tunisia.
"Jabhat al-Nusra then gathered its forces and headed to the village. It asked the villagers to hand over the killers and “we will leave in peace”. The villagers declined.

Fierce clashes began. Two other fighters from Jabhat al-Nusra were killed: Abu Al Muthana from Tunisia and Abdullah Hussain Al Mikhlif from nearby Shuhail town.

The villagers back out after threats from jiadists

More people from Shuhail town were killed. Jabhat al-Nusra then issued threats of major attacks on Masreb village, and specifically against Assaf clan (from Bu Saraya tribe). According to one source, people from Shuhail and Jabhat al-Nusra told Masreb villagers that "they would hope for death and won't find it". The people of Masreb have since backed out and issued a video apologising to Jabhat al-Nusra, saying the killers were "outcasts" and "their blood is dispensable [mahdoor]" (a tribal term that means anyone who finds them can kill them). The apology videos here:

Conflict between tribal and Islamic norms

Jabhat al-Nusra fighters are still trying to get the villagers to hand over the killers to face 'qasas' justice according to Islamic rules. The clan leaders in Masreb, on the other hand, issued another video saying they cannot hand over the killers because that would go against tribal traditions (video here). In the first apology video, the village notables warn that any attacks on the village might "scare off women and children", and in the second apology video, the notables get "Islam Battalion" to read the statement that includes emphasis on Islamic teachings and quotes from the Quran -- clear attempts to discourage Jabhat al-Nusra from attacking them.

One of the videos uploaded above includes a message saying that the issue is now left for Al-Fateh Al-Joulani, the leader of Jabhat al-Nusrah, to solve.
The episode underlines two issues involving Jihadi fighters in the province, and elsewhere: the first is that Jabhat al-Nusra fighters tend to exercise restraint when it comes to disagreements with the communities where they operate, a clear distinction from fighters in the Free Syrian Army or other groups, as part of the jihadists' strategy to win hearts and minds; it also underlines the fact that local communities are increasingly relying on jihadists to help them to maintain law and order. This is clear through several examples in which local leaders or residents appeal to jhadists for help, a result of the jihadists' discipline and conduct in the region and again in several areas across the country.

In the next post, I will provide an example of how another dispute in Deir Ezzor was solved by the Islamic Council. (click to read)


  1. Is it not true that a significant chunk of the population of Deirezzor was heavily invested with the Baath Party ? Especially among the poorer agricultural clans. The same with opther tribal-agricultural governoerates like Raqqa, Daraa and Hassakah. THe Baath Party abd Baathist ideology was quite popular.

  2. Of course they were popular back in the day the hizb al Ba'ath gave out wonderful subsidies to the shaykhs & tribes. The whole reason the rebellion gathered so much steam initially was that the foolish Sunni farmers upset because of the government austerity plans imposed by "neoliberal reformers". If the subsidies would have remained in place and you keep the ishtarikiyah socialist plans in place the so called revolution would have been mostly nipped.

    Ibn al Shaddai

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