Anatomy of a Massacre: Part I: The March, Continued

Mapping the Execution of Syrian Army POWs at Tabqa Airbase

 

Part I: The March, Continued

 

The Northwest Line, Sites 1 and 2, the Downed Tower Meeting, March North, the Gathering Silos

 

 

 

 (Continued from Part I: The March)

 

2. The Northwest Line:

“Strike Fear,” Strip, March, and Three-Unit Tower Clusters

Locations: The Northwest Line, 35°41'5.36"N, 38°20'59.19"E; Site 1, 35°39'31 N, 38°19'14 E

 

“Strike Fear”

 

August 27, 12:00-1:00 pm: The fate of the 160 Syrian army soldiers captured by the Islamic State near Al-’Ajrawi farm at Site 1 on August 26 and August 27 is documented in a three-minute, twenty-six second video entitled “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.”* This essential primary source, released on YouTube on August 28 as part of an Islamic State video series called “Strike Fear in Those Who are Behind Them,” is henceforth referred to as “Strike Fear.”

The video title references Surat Al-Anfal [verse 57], a 75-verse Quranic chapter that describes the acceptable conduct of war. The Islamic State video statement on the defeat of the 93rd Brigade in early August of 2014, entitled “The Battle to Liberate the 93rd Brigade: A-Raqqa Province,” begins with a recitation of Surat Al-Anfal:

 

[An Islamic State fighter recites part of Surat Al-Anfal:]

 

 

[Approximate translation:]

 

"O you who believe, when you meet those who disbelieve in battle, do not turn your backs to them [in flight]. 

And whoever turns his back to them on such a day, unless swerving [as a strategy] for war or joining [another] company, has certainly returned with anger [upon him] from Allah, and his refuge is Hell - and wretched is the destination.

 

The “Strike Fear” video may be the most complete record of the events of August 27. Although presented as a single, chronologically sequenced recording, “Strike Fear” is a compilation of footage. Islamic State video editor(s) combine multiple recordings, made by different cameramen documenting each phase of the coordinated operation to strip, march, and kill approximately 160 Syrian army prisoners of war.

“Strike Fear” opens with a Syrian army soldier undressing at a small desert settlement, upon the order of Islamic State fighters. In total, “Strike Fear” records at least three prisoner groups, each marching from unique locations at the same time and in the same direction. All three prisoner groups coalesce into a single, organized march north to a prisoner collection site, where they are packed in trucks for transport to killing grounds east of A-Raqqa city.

Most dialogue in “Strike Fear” is drowned out in a relentless nashid, a jihadi a cappella battle hymn. Many scenes are also intentionally blurred, presumably to censor the partial nudity of captured Syrian army soldiers. Despite this intentional audio-visual marring, “Strike Fear” records a number of natural and man-made features. Each clue, from the number of crossarms on electricity transmission towers to the position of the sun, assists Open Syria in geo-locating many of the events of August 27.

The first clue, identified and described in Section 2, is a unique transmission tower line recorded during prisoner march scenes, appearing shortly after prisoners strip to their undergarments. A tower line of the same construction and configuration exists nowhere else within 50km of Tabqa airbase.

Open Syria triangulates each clue to map the locations and chronology of the initial strip and march of the estimated 160 Syrian army soldiers captured by the Islamic State on August 27. We start by examining “Strike Fear,” scene by scene, while searching commercial satellite imagery for matching transmission towers outside Tabqa airbase, near Al-’Ajrawi farm and Sites 1 and 2 (see Section 3-3.2).

 

Strip and March

August 27, 12:00-1:00 pm: In “Strike Fear” at :12, we see a Syrian army soldier removing his shirt. Another half-naked soldier looks on. This incident marks approximately where and when the forced strip and march of at least one prisoner group began, likely at Site 1. This is the only contingent of regime prisoners filmed at their likely capture site.

 

A Syrian army soldier strips at an isolated desert settlement, possibly Site 1, ~9 and ~24km southwest of Al-’Ajrawi farm and Tabqa airbase, respectively. Source: The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :12.

 

12:00-1:00 pm: In “Strike Fear” at :19, stripped men run north from a distinct constellation of squat, walled buildings upon the command of an Islamic State fighter. Given the position of walled homes on the horizon, Open Syria concludes that this is the same prisoner group recorded in “Strike Fear” at :12. These men are the first of three prisoner groups filmed in “Strike Fear.”

 

The “Strike Fear” editor(s) deliberately blur half-naked prisoners, perhaps out of modesty. Notice a wide view of the walled compound visible in “Strike Fear” at :12. Without current satellite imagery, Open Syria is unable to verify whether this structure is located at Site 1. However, no other known settlement southwest of Tabqa airbase better fits the following three factors: (1) the likely site of post-Al-’Ajrawi farm clashes; (2) the known location of the Northwest Line; (3) the expected settlement position south and southwest of the Gathering Silos (see Section 6) and Al-’Ajrawi farm, respectively. Source: The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :19.

 

Where, and in what direction, do these men march? Open Syria turns to satellite imagery of transmission towers recorded moments after “Strike Fear” :19 to determine the approximate location and direction of stripped, marching prisoners.

 

In “Strike Fear” at :31 and :37, we see three-crossarm transmission towers in empty desert.

 

Unique transmission towers recorded in “Strike Fear” at :31 lend a rare clue to the approximate location and direction of the stripped prisoner march. Since all nearby three-crossarm towers point two arms right, northward, Open Syria concludes these men march north or northwest. Source: The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :31.

 

Comparing the above two frames, Open Syria finds prisoners recorded in “Strike Fear” at :37 do not belong to the prisoner group recorded at :31. Three frame differences include: (1) At :37, towers do not proceed in staggered clusters; (2) we see many prisoners; and (3) we do not observer an Islamic State technical. Each observation indicates a march starting point and prisoner group distinct from :31. Source: The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :37.

 

Three-Unit Tower Clusters: Mapping the Northwest Line and Stripped Prisoner March

 

Mapping the Northwest Line

 

Open Syria finds the unique tower line recorded in “Strike Fear” at :31 and :37 in satellite imagery at 35°41'5.36"N, 38°20'59.19"E. This point lies approximately 4km northwest of Site 1, roughly 5km southwest of Al-’Ajrawi farm, and about 20km southwest of Tabqa airbase. From 35°41'5.36"N, 38°20'59.19"E, the identified three-crossarm tower line proceeds 28km northwest in three-unit clusters to 35°47'25.48"N, 38° 4'38.71"E.

A transmission tower line of identical construction and cluster configuration is not found within 50km of Tabqa airbase. This rare man-made feature, our only guide in empty desert, will be referred to henceforth as the Northwest Line.

 

“Strike Fear” :31 and :37 are recorded somewhere along the Northwest Line, perhaps near Site 1, on August 27 at 12:00-1:00 pm. Source: Author. Google Earth. Bing Maps. The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :31.

 

Mapping the Stripped Prisoner March

 

Similar to the Two-Tower Cluster Line, the unique make of three-crossarm transmission towers, without exception pointing two crossarms right, northward, tells us barefoot prisoners crossed the Northwest Line walking north.

The shadow of a 3-D model geo-located to a point along the Northwest Line in Google SketchUp indicates that the prisoner march began between 12:00-1:00 pm.

 

Stripped prisoners, recorded in “Strike Fear” at :19, are forced to run northwest under relentless desert heat on August 27 at 12:00-1:00 pm, possibly from Site 1. Source: The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :19.

 

The geo-located 3-D model’s shadow puts the prisoner march start time, as recorded in “Strike Fear” at :19, at 12:00-1:00 pm on August 27. The modeled prisoner faces approximately northwest. Open Syria thus determines the time and direction of stripped, running captives in “Strike Fear” at :19. Source: Google SketchUp. The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :19.

 

A band of prisoners at “Strike Fear” :31, the second recorded group, marches north on August 27 at 12:00-1:00 pm. As the Northwest Line crossing point at “Strike Fear” :31 differs from “Strike Fear” :37, these men may have been captured at another village, other than Site 1, south of the Northwest Line. Source: The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :19.

 

“Strike Fear” :31 likely occurred at 12:00-1:00 pm, at approximately the same time as :19. The photographed Islamic State technical faces approximately east. Source: Google SketchUp. The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :31.

 

If homes visible on the horizon at “Strike Fear” :37 are the same as those recorded at the initial strip and march at :12 and :19, then men at :12, :19, and :37 belong to the same prisoner group, the first of three recorded in “Strike Fear.” Also, the shadow plot of the modeled Islamic State captor confirms the march north from Site 1 began shortly before 12:00-1:00 pm. Source: The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :37.

 

Similar to “Strike Fear” :19 and :31, :37 likely occurred 12:00-1:00 pm. The above model of the Islamic State captor faces northeast, while the running prisoners move northwest. Source: Google SketchUp. The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :37.

 

Prisoner groups cross the Northwest Line at unique points at approximately the same time, heading north or northwest, a conclusion derived from scenes in “Strike Fear” at :31 and :37.

 

It therefore appears that Islamic State forces coordinated to drive different prisoner groups north from multiple sites near Al-’Ajrawi farm, south of the Northwest Line.

 

In addition to Site 1, there must be a second site where one or more groups of Syrian army soldiers comprising the estimated 160 victims of the Tabqa airbase massacre began marching at 12:00-1:00 pm on August 27.

 

 

3-3.2: Sites 1 and 2

Locations: Site 1, 35°39'31 N, 38°19'14 E; Site 2, 35°41'52.10"N, 38°14'58.00"E

 

August 27, 12:00-1:00 pm: Since two groups of prisoners recorded at “Strike Fear” :31 and :37 began marching north either at or close to three-crossarm, three-unit tower clusters, they may have been captured just south of the Northwest Line.

 

The first group of prisoners may have marched from what Open Syria identifies as Site 1, located about 4km southeast of the Northwest Line. They would have run northwest to cross the line of three-crossarm, three-unit tower clusters. The shadows of the prisoners seen in “Strike Fear” at :37 indicate the men are indeed running northwest, matching the location of Site 1 relative to the Northwest Line.

 

“Strike Fear” :31, however, was recorded at a different location along the Northwest Line than “Strike Fear” :37. Consider the distinct, staggered configuration of transmission towers within the three-unit cluster, the smaller number of marching prisoners, and what appears to be a different group of Islamic State fighters driving a brown technical.

 

Since the prisoners recorded in “Strike Fear” at :31 also march north at about 12:00-1:00 pm in the same direction and at the same time as prisoners running in “Strike Fear” :37, we consider Site 2, a small settlement visible in satellite imagery at 35°41'52.10"N, 38°14'58.00"E. At Site 2, the Islamic State may have captured one band or more of the approximately 160 Syrian army soldiers stripped and marched barefoot across the desert on August 27 at 12:00-1:00 pm.

 

Site 2 lies approximately 350m from the Northwest Line and about 14km west of Al-’Ajrawi farm. Without current satellite imagery, however, Open Syria cannot precisely identify buildings recorded at the march’s onset in “Strike Fear” at :12 and :19. Nevertheless, no area settlements aside from Sites 1 and 2 better fit the facts about the stripped prisoner marches.

 

Site 2 homes lie ~350m from the Northwest Line. Although a visibily walled compound appears similar to the structure at “Strike Fear” :12, :19, and :37, Open Syria cannot confirm a precise match. Source: Author. Mapbox.

 

3.2.1. Escape to Site 2

Syrian army soldiers fleeing the siege of Al-’Ajrawi farm may have split into groups, perhaps to better evade pursuing Islamic State forces. On August 25, at approximately midnight, one or more groups fled Al-’Ajrawi farm to Site 1. Others escaped to Site 2.

By the morning of August 27, the Islamic State captured Syrian army soldiers fighting or hiding at Sites 1 and 2. Then, at 12:00-1:00 pm, Islamic State fighters coordinated to strip and march prisoners taken at both sites to the Gathering Silos (see Section 6), about 10km north.

 

 

4. The Downed Tower Meeting:

A Fallen Tower, the March North, Crossings 1 and 2

Locations: The Northwest Line, 35°41'5.36"N, 38°20'59.19"E; the Downed Tower Meeting, 35°41'29.06"N, 38°18'42.93"E; the March North, 38°19'10.60"E, 38°19'10.60"E

 

A Fallen Tower and the March North

 

Having followed the first and second prisoner groups recorded in “Strike Fear” at :31 and :37 across the Northwest Line, what looks like a third prisoner group appears at :50. This group appears different from groups 1 and 2. While each hurriedly crosses the Northwest Line at “Strike Fear” :31 and :37, the third prisoner group at :50 pauses along the line before a downed transmission tower, visible at no other point in “Strike Fear.” This scene, showing the third group of prisoners in “Strike Fear,” is hereafter referred to as the Downed Tower Meeting.

 

Open Syria believes that all three prisoner groups met after 1:00 pm to form a double-file, organized march north (see Section 5) from the Downed Tower Meeting. Three observations support this theory.

 

First, “Strike Fear” and a separate Islamic State photograph of the same location record two towers standing alongside a fallen tower, visible at the Downed Tower Meeting. The Downed Tower Meeting therefore occurred at a three-unit tower cluster along the Northwest Line, with one tower fallen, east of an undamaged three-unit tower cluster visible on the horizon in “Strike Fear” at :52.

 

Second, the stripped prisoner column recorded in “Strike Fear” at 1:20-2:08 marches north from a distinct two- and three-unit cluster formation due south, on the horizon. Since satellite imagery of the Northwest Line reveals that two-unit tower clusters never follow three-unit clusters, the prisoners probably marched north from a damaged three-unit tower cluster, with only two towers standing, as recorded at the Downed Tower Meeting.

 

Third, prisoner groups one and two both cross the Northwest Line at about the same time as the Downed Tower meeting, running north. They likely ran to meet the stripped column recorded in “Strike Fear” at 1:20-2:08, marching north from the Downed Tower Meeting.

 

Open Syria now returns to examine “Strike Fear” footage of the Downed Tower Meeting and the subsequent march north of the stripped prisoner column (see Section 5).

 

August 27, 12:00-1:00 pm: In “Strike Fear” at :50, stripped captives kneel before a fallen transmission tower. Islamic State fighters smile and snap photos.

 

In “Strike Fear” at :50, prisoners kneel before a downed transmission tower, alongside two standing towers. Since a three-unit tower cluster lies on the horizon, this scene occurred somewhere along the Northwest Line, at a downed transmission tower in a three-unit cluster. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :50.

 

The Downed Tower Meeting occurred on the Northwest Line, possibly near 35°41'29.06"N, 38°18'42.93"E, approximately 4 and 6km northeast and northwest from Sites 1 and 2, respectively. The hypothesized location of the Downed Tower Meeting lies about 8km south of the Gathering Silos (see Section 6), at a staggered three-unit tower formation matching the tower positions recorded in Islamic State video and photo media documenting the event.

 

In “Strike Fear” at :52, we see a tower lattice at the edge of the frame beside a fallen unit.

 

The camera pans left, recording a second tower. We now search for a third tower to confirm we are at another three-unit cluster along the Northwest Line. Source: The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :52.

 

Searching Islamic State photographs released separately from “Strike Fear,” Open Syria discovers a shot of the same scene, revealing a third tower. Given the direction of tower crossarms, two pointing north, the prisoners face approximately west. The Downed Tower Meeting therefore occurs east of the three-unit tower cluster visible on the horizon at “Strike Fear” :52.

 

Another angle of the same scene reveals a third tower. The Downed Tower Meeting occurred on the Northwest Line, at a three-unit tower cluster, with one tower fallen. Source: The Islamic State.

 

The third group of captives must have stopped at a three-unit tower cluster, one tower fallen, along the Northwest Line. This matches a distinct three- and two-unit tower formation recorded on the southern horizon in “Strike Fear” at 2:08, from which stripped prisoners appear to march. Open Syria proposes the Downed Tower Meeting, along the Northwest Line, as the beginning of the northbound march.

 

12:30-1:30 pm, August 27: Moving briefly ahead to “Strike Fear” 2:08, a distinct three- and two-unit cluster succession is visible long on the horizon. Since area satellite imagery reveals two units never follow three on the Northwest Line, the two-unit tower cluster visible here matches the damaged tower cluster at the Downed Tower Meeting, where the third tower lies fallen. By measuring shadows, this scene occurs at 12:30-1:30 pm. Source: The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. 2:08.

 

Measuring a shadow cast by an unforgiving sun now behind marching captives, “Strike Fear” 2:08 was probably recorded at 12:30-1:30 pm. As the prisoner column walks about 4-8km north of a two- and three-unit cluster formation visible on the southern horizon, the Downed Tower Meeting probably occurred thirty minutes to one hour prior, at 12:00-1:00.

 

Given the shadow measure of an Islamic State fighter, geo-located ~4km north of the proposed coordinates of the Downed Tower Meeting, the northbound march recorded at “Strike Fear” 2:08 likely occurred at 12:30-1:30 pm on August 27. Since it takes between thirty minutes to one hour to walk between 4 and 8km, the Downed Tower Meeting probably took place at 12:00-1:00 pm.

 

Open Syria proposes a candidate location for the Downed Tower Meeting: A three-unit tower cluster at 35°41'29.06"N, 38°18'42.93"E, 8km south of the Gathering Silos (see Section 6). The tower cluster at this location approximately matches the (1) staggered unit positions; (2) elevation profile; and (3) southern position of the damaged two-unit tower cluster, the third tower fallen, recorded at the Downed Tower Meeting and subsequently visible on the southern horizon as the double-file prisoner column marches north.

 

4.1-4.2:  Crossings 1 and 2

Locations: The Northwest Line, 35°41'5.36"N, 38°20'59.19"E; the Downed Tower Meeting, 35°41'29.06"N, 38°18'42.93"E; the Gathering Silos, 35°45'45"N, 38°19'40"E; the March North, 38°19'10.60"E, 38°19'10.60"E

 

Crossings 1 and 2

How is the third group of prisoners at the Downed Tower Meeting connected to the two groups of prisoners marching at “Strike Fear” :31 and :37?

The prisoners recorded at the Downed Tower Meeting, the last of three prisoner groups visible in “Strike Fear,” likely began the 8km march north to the Gathering Silos (see Section 6). Prisoner groups one and two joined group three after 12:30-1:00 pm, forming a single, organized march north recorded in “Strike Fear” at 1:20-2:08 (see Section 5).

The Downed Tower Meeting and subsequent march north occur at approximately the same time the two prisoner groups cross the Northwest Line in “Strike Fear” at :31 and :37, on August 27, at 12:00-1:00 pm. Men at each scene cross the Northwest Line at unique points, all walking or running north.

Considering this observation, Open Syria hypothesizes prisoners at “Strike Fear” :31 and :37 were running to join the northbound march recorded in “Strike Fear” at 1:20-2:08, by then already underway. We therefore see coordinated, purposeful movement: Islamic State fighters work together to uniformly strip and march at least three groups of Syrian army soldiers captured at Sites 1 and 2 north across the Northwest Line, coalescing into a single, northbound march totaling 160 men by 1:00 pm.

In “Strike Fear” at :31, we see prisoners cross a staggered, three-unit tower cluster, walking northward, their hands above their heads. We find one such formation at 35°41'23.68"N, 38°19'4.06"E, roughly 4km northwest of Site 1, and about 500m east of the proposed location of the Downed Tower Meeting. This site will be referred to as Crossing 1.

 

“Strike Fear” :31, or Crossing 1, may have been recorded near a staggered, three-unit cluster along the Northwest Line at 35°41'23.68"N, 38°19'4.06"E, ~4km northwest of Site 1, and ~500m east of the proposed location of the Downed Tower Meeting. Source: Author. Bing Maps. The Islamic State. “The Islamic State Drives Nusairi Herds to Their Doom_Strike Fear in Those Who are Behind Them.” August 2014. :31.

 

In “Strike Fear” at :37, we see men running north over the Northwest Line from a compound only a stone’s throw southeast. We call this scene the Crossing 2. The structure and position of walled homes at Site 2, about 400m from the Northwest Line, present an approximate match.

The men recorded running and rolling appear to move northwest, rather than northeast, the direction they would expectedly head to join the prisoner column marching north from the Downed Tower Meeting, about 5.5km northeast of Site 2. As such, Crossing 2 may have taken place closer to Site 1, approximately 8km southwest of Site 2.

 

Although the location of homes at Site 2 relative to the Northwest Line matches “Strike Fear” :37, or Crossing 2, the recorded prisoner column marches northwest. A northwest march direction is unexpected, should the prisoners be running to join the column marching north from the Downed Tower Meeting, ~5.5km northeast of Site 2. Therefore, Crossing 2 may have occurred closer to Site 1, ~8km southwest of Site 2. Considering this discrepancy, Open Syria does not provide coordinates. Source: Author. Bing Maps. The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :37.

 

 

5-5.1. The March North:

The March North and the March Path

Locations: The Northwest Line, 35°41'5.36"N, 38°20'59.19"E; the Downed Tower Meeting, 35°41'29.06"N, 38°18'42.93"E; the Gathering Silos, 35°45'45"N, 38°19'40"E

The third prisoner group in “Strike Fear,” recorded at :50, sets north from the Downed Tower Meeting and is later joined by the first and second prisoner groups recorded crossing the Northwest Line in “Strike Fear” at :31 and :37. In “Strike Fear” at 1:20-2:08, Islamic State captors film all the Syrian army soldiers captured between August 26 and the morning of August 27. They begin to march north to the Gathering Silos (see Section 6).

 

 

5. The March North:

Sheep and Enemies of God

August 27, 12:30-2:00 pm: In “Strike Fear” at 1:20-2:08, disparate prisoner groups captured at different battle sites now appear to have coalesced into a single organized march. As noted in Section 4, the time is somewhere between 12:30 and 1:30 pm; the sun is high and behind captives marching north from the Downed Tower Meeting. This sequence of events is heretofore referred to as the March North. It was perhaps filmed 4km north of the Downed Tower Meeting, near 38°19'10.60"E, 38°19'10.60"E.

 

"Strike Fear” 1:20-2:08, or the March North, records Syrian army soldiers captured at different battle sites marching together unclothed in a single, organized prisoner column. Open Syria is now more certain of their planned direction and route, moving approximately 8km north to the Gathering Silos (see Section 6). Source: The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. 1:20.

 

SunCalc, an application that shows sun movement and sunlight phases during the day at a given location, puts the position of the sun on August 27 at 12:30-1:00 pm behind prisoners marching north, as recorded in “Strike Fear” at 1:20-2:08. Source: SunCalc.

 

As noted in Section 4, prisoners march north from a two-unit tower cluster, likely recorded at the Downed Tower Meeting, just visible on the southern horizon. Source: “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. 2:08.

 

As hypothesized, prisoners recorded crossing the Northwest Line in “Strike Fear” at Crossings 1 and 2 were probably ordered by Islamic State fighters to run to meet these barefoot, stripped men marching north from the Downed Tower Meeting. At or after 12:30-1:30 pm, all three prisoner groups probably met, forming a single, organized prisoner column, marching north to the Gathering Silos (see Section 6).

 

Multiple recordings and photographs document Syrian army soldiers marching north across the open desert, stripped to their undergarments. These images circulated worldwide on August 28, angering ‘Alawite supporters of the Assad regime in particular. Although most dialogue in “Strike Fear” is inaudible, other recordings of the March North reveal how Islamic State captives treated captive Syrian army soldiers.

 

Uploaded to YouTube by Syriafight.com one video entitled “Urgent: Syrian soldiers captured by the Islamic State (IS) –massacre will take place,” provides another perspective of the March North. The cameraman points his camera east, recording an estimated160 Syrian army soldiers, filming north to south, and then south to north. Several Islamic State fighters either walk or drive alongside the marching prisoners, snapping pictures, laughing and jeering. Islamic State fighters beat captured Syrian army soldiers with their rifles and make sounds used by shepherds to herd sheep.

 

[Approximate Translation:]

 

Islamic State fighters:

 

“The Islamic State–?”

 

Syrian army soldiers:

 

“Is here to stay!”

 

Islamic State fighters:

 

Move it! Thirrrrrrrr–yah yah yah yah! (Laughs.) Thirrrrrrrr–yah yah yah yah! (Laughs.)

 

Islamic State fighters:

 

The Islamic State–?”  

 

Syrian army soldiers:

 

“Is here to stay!”

 

Islamic State fighter:

 

“These are the enemies of Allah …”

 

5.1. March Path: North to the Gathering Silos

 

North to the Gathering Silos

 

By about 2:00 pm, the column of Syrian army soldiers arrives tired, beaten and barefoot to a place Open Syria identifies as the Gathering Silos (see Section 6). They have just completed the roughly 8km March North that began at the Downed Tower Meeting.

 

 

6. The Gathering Silos:

Initial Clues, a Precise Match, and Other Collection Sites

Location: the Gathering Silos, 35°45'45"N, 38°19'40"E

 

The marching prisoners arrive at an unknown, walled facility containing a tall, white, windowless building. Just outside, the prisoners are gathered in trucks for transport.

 

Initial Clues

 

August 27, 2:00 pm: At “Strike Fear” 2:10-2:18, we see a distinct white building surrounded by a clay-colored wall enclosing the site perimeter. Prisoners are loaded like livestock in a white truck, previously visible in “Strike Fear” at :57.

 

This imposing structure is a grain elevator and silos at 35°45'45"N, 38°19'40"E, henceforth referred to as the Gathering Silos. Source: The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. 2:10-2:18.

 

Source: Author. The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. :57, 2:10-2:15.

 

The distinct building recorded at “Strike Fear” 2:18 resembles a grain elevator and adjoining silos. A Google Image search for “grain silos” retrieves a similar photograph.

 

Google Images turns up a photograph of a building similar to the Gathering Silos facility. Searching Wikimapia for area silos, a precise match comes up at 35°45'45"N, 38°19'40"E. Source: Author. “Some silos are ready…and others are empty.” Tashreen News. 2013. The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. 2:10-2:18.

 

Wikimapia places “Silos” at 35°45'45"N, 38°19'40"E. The discovered facility, henceforth referred to as the Gathering Silos, lies about 10.5km northwest of Al-’Ajrawi farm, 11.5km north of Site 1, and 10km northeast of Site 2.

 

The Gathering Silos facility is a precise match to “Strike Fear” 2:10-2:18.

 

The Gathering Silos, at 35°45'45"N, 38°19'40"E. Source: Bing Maps.

 

 

The Gathering Silos facility exactly matches the building in “Strike Fear” at 2:10-2:18. Source: Author. Bing Maps. The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. 2:10-2:18.

 

Since we know the location and orientation of the white truck at the Gathering Silos, the shadow of the vehicle indicates prisoners were loaded into trucks at approximately 2:00 pm.

 

ImageJ, an image-analysis tool, places the orientation of the prisoner transport vehicle at about 30° relative to the front gate of the Gathering Silos. Source: ImageJ. The Islamic State. “The lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.” August 2014. 2:10-2:18.

 

Based on shadows measures, “Strike Fear” 2:10-2:18 occurred at ~2:00 pm. Working backwards, this means prisoners began the ~8km march to the Gathering Silos from the Downed Tower Meeting along the Northwest Line at ~1:00 pm. This matches what we know about the operational timeframe required to strip and march north Syrian army soldiers captured near Sites 1 and 2 across the Northwest Line. Source: Google SketchUp.

 

Other Collection Sites

 

Islamic State media also suggests some prisoners were directly transported across the desert, rather than stopping at the Gathering Silos. Prisoners were therefore loaded in trucks for transport to the execution site at more than one location.

 

Another Islamic State photograph suggests some Syrian army prisoners were peeled off the prisoner column for direct transport to the killing grounds rather than stopping at the Gathering Silos. Although we cannot definitively say where this photograph was taken, the approximate length and direction of prisoner shadows, and the brown and green Islamic State technical, match media documenting the March North. Source: The Islamic State.

 

The direction and length of the prisoner shadows in the photograph above and the unique paint of the Islamic State technical match “Strike Fear” 2:08, and “Urgent: Syrian army soldiers captured by the Islamic State (IS) –massacre will take place” :10 and :12, respectively. Both observations suggest the above event occurred during the March North.

 

Part II documents the next phase of the prisoners’ journey, to an embankment east of A-Raqqa city, where they are shot to death by nearly a dozen Islamic State fighters.

 

 Notes

 

* “Asud al-Dawla al-Islamiya yuqowidun qate’an al-Nusairia ila hatufihim_fa sharridu bihim min khalfihim.” Approximate translation: “Lions of the Islamic State drive Nusairi herds to their doom_Strike fear in those who are behind them.”  Open Syria refers to this video as “Strike Fear.” In Section 2, we analyze this video to uncover how, when, and where the Islamic State massacred an estimated 160 Syrian army soldiers. Although “Strike Fear” has been removed from most hosting sites, Open Syria obtained a copy for analysis.

 

All translations are the author’s own. On the origin and modern usage of the term “Nusairi,” see Van Dam, Nikolaos. The Struggle for Power in Syria. New York: I.B. Taurus, 2011.

 

The Qur'an: English Meanings. Jeddah: Al-Muntada Al-Islami, 2004, p. 161.

 

Joseph Adams

Joseph was a 2013-2014 Boren Fellow in Arabic based in Amman, Jordan and is the founder of Open Syria. He holds BA and MS degrees in political science from UCLA and MIT, and is an MA degree candidate in Arabic at Middlebury College.