Unclaimed Daraa suicide bombing undermines efforts to combat lawlessness

A suicide bombing struck a meeting of high-ranking opposition civilian, judicial and military authorities in Daraa province Thursday afternoon, killing a dozen people, including a Syrian Interim Government minister.

The bombing hit an opposition police station in the rebel-held north Daraa town of Inkhil as the meeting was in progress.

As of late Thursday, local activists and the Civil Defense are reporting 13 people killed in the blast, including Yaqoub al-Ammar, the former head of the Daraa provincial council and the current Minister of Local Administration with the opposition’s self-designated interim government. The Inkhil chief of police and the head of the town’s rebel military council also died in the blast.

Conflicting reports emerged on Thursday about the specifics of the attack: Either a teenager wearing an explosive vest or a suicide car bomb. Syria Direct could not confirm the source of the explosion.  

“The bomb destroyed the building and killed those inside,” said Abdelrahman al-Hourani, the Daraa correspondent for Syria Direct’s partner site the Syrian Voice, who was on the scene and narrowly escaped Thursday’s attack.

“I had an interview with the chief of police, but they told me he was busy and pushed back the appointment,” said al-Hourani. “Three minutes after I left, the explosion happened.” 

The opposition officials were gathered in Inkhil on Thursday, al-Hourani said, to mark the opening of a new security center in the town and a ceremony to be held later in the day honoring high-achieving high school students.

 The aftermath of Thursday’s reported suicide bombing in Inkhil. Photo courtesy of Abdelrahman al-Hourani.

As of publication, no group claimed responsibility for the attack. Early suspicion fell on Jaish Khaled bin al-Waleed (JKW), an Islamic State affiliate that holds territory in southwestern Daraa province. JKW is accused of a series of assassinations and bombings in Daraa province.

A suicide attack by JKW in early July, also in Inkhil, targeted FSA leadership and killed eight people during a meeting.

In Thursday’s attack, 30 people were reported injured, including Sheikh Osmat al-Absi, who heads the Court of Justice in Daraa (Dar al-Adl fi al-Houran). The Court is a judicial body covering opposition-held territories in the south Syrian province.

Hours before the suicide attack, al-Absi told Syria Direct’s Waleed Khaled a-Noufal that the court was about to take action to combat the ongoing murders, kidnappings, bombings, shootings and attacks on civilian institutions in Daraa province.

“Any attack on the Court or any institution will be dealt with.”

Q: Recently, there have been a number of attacks on civilian institutions, including the Court and its judges. Have those responsible been caught and held accountable?

We haven’t been able to make arrests regarding the attacks on civilian institutions, including the Court of Justice, but we have put pressure on these groups to apologize. That is because we lack an implementation force to bring in the entire faction.

At the beginning of next week, there will be a meeting and the Court of Justice will issue an announcement regarding attacks like these and the matter of judicial immunity. The factions will issue pledges, and any attack on the Court or any institution will be dealt with.

We timed the announcement so it is at a time without any attack on the Court so that it will not be interpreted as targeting any faction.

Q: What are the reasons for the current lawlessness in Daraa?

In revolutions and wars, lawlessness dominates everything, due to the absence of authority and state institutions.

We currently have an increase in the chaos in Daraa because the fronts [with the regime] are stagnant, so the gunmen and rebels are preoccupied with themselves rather than fighting with the enemy.

There is a lack of deterrent punishments. Without consequences, behavior worsens. The court has recently adopted a series of punishments that we hope will help lower the level of crime and chaos.

 Civil Defense personnel at the site of Thursday’s suicide attack. Photo courtesy of Daraa Civil Defense.

Q: What about the rebels in Daraa province? Have they had a hand in the rising chaos?

Some factions have taken part in the lawlessness and caused it. As Umar bin al-Khattab [Ed.: a companion of the Prophet Muhammad and the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate] said: “These hands were created for action, so if they do not act for a good purpose, they will act for a bad one.” This, in addition to the proliferation of weapons, most of which belong to rebel groups.

Other factions have gone out and settled security issues, broken up fights and brought in wanted people like thieves, kidnappers and others.

Q: Do you have any power over rebel groups? Can the Court implement its decisions?

Our power over the factions is moral and judicial authority, which relies on these groups abiding by the Court of Justice’s decisions and the rulings of sharia law.

Q: What steps have you taken to limit lawlessness in Daraa?

We have taken a number of measures through laws and circulars that we have sent to the factions regarding altercations [among rebel groups or between rebels and civilians] and the use of heavy weaponry in those fights. But the factions have played a negative role, not implementing most of these decisions.

Waleed Khaled a-Noufal

Waleed a-Noufal was born in Ankhel in northern Daraa province. He attended high school in Ankhel but could not continue his study because of security reasons. Waleed worked as an activist in his local city council and the Umayya Media Center. In 2013, he moved to Jordan and finished his high school degree. Waleed wants to bring about a solution to the current crisis through his reporting.

Maria Nelson

Maria Nelson was a 2014-2015 fellow at the Center for Arabic Study Abroad program (CASA I) in Amman, Jordan. She holds a BA in Near Eastern Studies from Princeton University, with a certificate in Arabic Language and Culture.