AMMAN: Unknown assailants at a “fake checkpoint” assassinated three Ahrar a-Sham commanders and their guards in Homs province on Tuesday, an Al-Jazeera correspondent who saw the aftermath of the attack told Syria Direct Wednesday.
More than 20 assailants set up “a fake checkpoint” near the rebel-controlled city of al-Houla in northwestern Homs to stop Khudar’s caravan, Jalal Abu Salman said. As soon as Ahrar a-Sham’s second-in-command in Homs province, Ammar Khudar, and his men got out of their armored cars, the attackers “suddenly opened fire on them,” Abu Salman said. The Al-Jazeera correspondent arrived at the scene shortly afterward.
In the past two months, unidentified gunmen have assassinated eight other rebel leaders and dignitaries in the northern Homs countryside, including members of the local Sharia courts and commanders of Free Syrian Army factions, reported pro-opposition All4Syria.
Ahrar a-Sham had appointed Ammar Khudar the general “Emir” of the rebel-controlled al-Houla plains, reported pro-opposition Zaman al-Wasl on Wednesday, as well as Ahrar a-Sham’s military and administrative second-in-command in rebel areas in Homs province.
Though the identity of the attackers remains unknown, “they might have belonged to Islamic State (IS) sleeper cells or have been regime forces,” said Salman.
“It is possible the regime could be behind the assassination, but this has yet to be confirmed,” Ahrar a-Sham spokesman Abu Yazid a-Taftanazi told Syria Direct on Wednesday.
Ahrar a-Sham has also used assassination as a means to combat the regime. Less than a week ago, fighters from the group killed a regime colonel, according to a video published on the Islamic Front’s YouTube account, an umbrella group of which Ahrar a-Sham is a member.
Such tactics also include a series of arbitrary arrests of young men in areas of Homs under their control, without informing their families of their whereabouts or the charges against them.
Ahrar a-Sham and Nusra are also reportedly holding around 60 other young men in nearby al-Houla, a citizen journalist told Syria Direct last month.
In Talbisa, 20km south of al-Houla, residents demonstrated last month against the local Sharia Court, controlled by Jabhat a-Nusra and Ahrar a-Sham, to protest these arbitrary arrests.
In an effort to combat the assassinations, the High Sharia Court based in Talbisa issued a decree “forbidding the possession of silenced weapons without a written permit” and instituting steep punishment for those who do, reported the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on Tuesday.