May 13, 2014
Jabhat a-Nusra detained Ahmed a-Na’meh—head of the FSA’s military council in Syrian’s southern Daraa province—on May 3 in the city of Daraa, under orders from the a-Nusra-affiliated Shariah Court.
A-Nusra released video footage on May 6th of the Colonel’s confession concerning his role in undermining rebel efforts to repel a regime attack on the strategic town of Khirbet al-Ghazalah. A-Na’meh confessed that he refused to cooperate with a-Nusra on orders from the Jordanian government and other foreign powers. The veracity of these statements has not been confirmed. Prior to his confession, a-Na’meh had often been accused of working for Jordanian, Saudi, Israeli, and American intelligence.
A-Na’meh’s detention may hint at an evolving balance of power among the rebels operating along the Syrian-Jordanian border. The rebels in the south have typically been thought of as more moderate—in mid-February, opposition news outlets announced the creation of the “Southern Front,” a coalition of 49 rebel factions committed to a Syria free of Assad, as well as “sectarianism and extremism.”
Syrian rebels claim to destroy a regime checkpoint in Daraa on Monday. Photo courtesy of Twitter user @eldorar1.
But over the past few months, Islamic groups, most notably a-Nusra, have made inroads into the region and taken control of territory near the Jordanian border. A-Na’meh’s arrest and confession can be viewed within this push-and-pull between moderate and hard-line Islamist rebels in the south: the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’ Rami Abdel Rahman told the AFP that a-Na’meh was likely arrested because of a video, recorded the week of April 28th, in which al-Nimah stated “Who is going to rule Syria? Not the extremists…it will be the FSA.”
Still, for now, it is Jabhat a-Nusra that rules the more than half of Daraa, primarily rural areas, that rebels control. “Even FSA leadership admits that any battle a-Nusra doesn’t participate in is a lost battle,” says Basil al-Karaki, an independent citizen journalist based in eastern Daraa province.
Karaki tells Mohammad al-Haj Ali that while a-Na’meh has supporters in Daraa, ultimately, “no one is above the law, and anyone who breaks it will be held accountable by the Sharia Court, which is recognized by most of Houran.”
Q: How was Colonel Ahmed a-Na’meh arrested? And who was responsible for his arrest?
Around six months ago, the Sharia Court issued a summons for Ahmed a-Na’meh to appear for an investigation surrounding several charges. At that time, a-Na’meh was in Jordan. When the court learned that he had returned to Syria, it sent a convoy after him and arrested him and his comrades in the city of Daraa. The Court’s brigades were responsible for his arrest, most notably a-Nusra, seeing as it is the largest brigade that participates in the court.
Q: How true are the colonel’s confessions as they appear in the video?
Ninety percent of what the colonel says is true. But the bruises visible on his face made matters much more complicated, and made his confessions harder to accept. Members of the FSA command consider a-Na’meh their symbolic leader, as he is the head of the FSA’s Military Council in Daraa. Accordingly, they issued statements condemning a-Nusra’s interrogation style.
But the FSA is ignoring the fact that the Shariah Court in Houran arrested a-Na’meh, not al-Nusra on its own. And there are a number of armed brigades that participate in this court, among them Ahrar a-Sham, Harakat al-Muthni al-Islamiya and several FSA brigades.
Q: How do the people of Daraa province see a-Na’meh’s arrest?
Most of Daraa’s citizens have complained about a-Na’meh’s behavior in the past. But the bruises visible on his face in the video made people sympathize with him, seeing as he is the symbol of the Military Council in Daraa.
Still, no one is above the law, and anyone who breaks it will be held accountable by the independent Shariah Court, which is recognized by most of Houran.
Q: Where is Jabhat a-Nusra located in Daraa Province? What sort of work do they do there?
A-Nusra is present everywhere in Daraa, and has bases in most villages in the Houran. It is a central player in any battle in the area—even FSA leadership admits that any battle a-Nusra doesn’t participate in is a lost battle. Why? Because of their bravery, the fact that they love death more than life, and their devotion to their work. They don’t know how to retreat.
A-Nusra has undertaken a number of operations in the area, including the liberation of [the regime military base at] Tel al-Jabiya. As for their supply of weapons, some are acquired as war spoils. With respect to material support, no one knows. A-Nusra follows al-Qaeda, and their support comes from there. Most of a-Nusra’s fighters are Syrian, in addition to some Saudis and Jordanians.
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