Leading Daraa jurist shot dead in mysterious circumstances

AMMAN: The opposition Court of Justice in Daraa province (Dar al-Adl fi Houran), which adjudicates on civil and military disputes between civilians and rebel brigades, suffered a major blow Tuesday with the assassination of its top jurist.

Sheikh Osama al-Yatim was traveling by car with two of his brothers and two other companions in the western Daraa countryside when all of them were shot to death in unclear circumstances, Ahmed a-Daraawi, the alias of a citizen journalist who has a close relationship with the Court of Justice, told Syria Direct Wednesday.

The judge and everyone else in the car were killed on a stretch of road between a checkpoint controlled by Jabhat a-Nusra and one controlled by the ideologically similar Harakat a-Muthanna al-Islamiyya, a local journalist who requested anonymity told Syria Direct Wednesday.

Al-Yatim's assassination did not come as a surprise to those closely following events in Daraa.

 Dar al-Adl prisoners participate in a recent Quran recitation competition. Photo courtesy of Dar al-Adl fi Houran.

“There are many who are inimical towards the Court of Justice and the sheikh personally,” Muawia a-Zuabi, head of the pro-opposition Yaqin News Network in Daraa told Syria Direct Wednesday, without elaborating further. 

“What makes Tuesday's case particularly cruel was that the assassination occurred in the middle of the day with guns in a location close to security checkpoints manned by opposition brigades,” said a-Zuabi.

Some pro-opposition outlets reported that al-Yatim was killed in east Daraa two days after sentencing a resident to death there. The accused was found guilty of shooting and killing the leader of rebel brigade Liwa Mohamed Bin Abdullah, and was executed earlier this week.

A-Daraawi and another local citizen journalist who spoke to Syria Direct Wednesday say that Al-Yatim's assassination took place in the province's west, and that ulterior motives are behind certain pro-opposition channels reporting that he was killed in the east.

“The media claiming that the assassination took place in the east is a new plan by the assassins to hide the nature of the crime and make it look like a revenge operation” for the resident's execution, said a-Daraawi.

Three months ago, al-Yatim's deputy was assassinated by an unknown party. Al-Yatim himself had previously escaped an assassination attempt in July, when he discovered explosives attached to his car before getting in.

The Court of Justice was established in December 2014, and set up its headquarters at the Daraa Central Prison, which rebels captured that same year. The court was originally called the United Judicial Sharia Body. Jabhat a-Nusra and Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiyya's courts then unified with the former to become the Court of Justice.

This past April, the FSA-led Southern Front issued an announcement disavowing military cooperation with Jabhat a-Nusra and other extremist groups. Nusra and Harakat a-Muthanna al-Islamiyya responded by pulling out of the Court of Justice.

The Court of Justice adjudicates in civil and criminal affairs, including land disputes, inheritance, fraud, murder and theft, said a-Daraawi. It uses the Unified Arab Law, a mix of civil code and Islamic Sharia law, according to the organization's Facebook page.

The court also mediates disputes between rebel brigades, and in a recent example was able to compel Harakat al-Muthanna al-Islamiyya to return 10 four-wheel drive vehicles equipped with heavy machine guns to the Shabab a-Sunna brigade.

Theoretically independent of rebel influence, the Court of Justice maintains a small military force to enforce edicts, said a-Daraawi. When the implementation of a ruling requires a larger force, the Southern Front provides the court with manpower by way of member brigade Jaish al-Yarmouk.

When asked if the court had ever issued a sentence against an individual or brigade participating in the Southern Front, a-Daraawi responded, “you want more details, but we can't give you more than we already have.”

Yaman Yosif

Yaman is from Daraa. He studied English Literature until 2010 and taught English in the war college in Homs unitel the revolution began in Syria. He came to Jordan in 2012 and worked in translation at the Philadelphia Center in Amman. He escorted foreign journalists to Syria refugee camps inside Jordan and served as an interpreter.

Dan Wilkofsky

Dan Wilkofsky was a 2013-2014 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) in Amman, Jordan, where he worked with Talal Abu Ghazaleh Translation and the Ministry of Social Development. He has a BA in Classics (Latin) and Middle East Studies from Brown University.