January 8, 2014
Rebel group Jaish al-Islam (JAI) initiated a swift and successful campaign this past Sunday to wipe out rival Jaish al-Umma (JAU) in Douma through a series of attacks on JAU headquarters and widespread arrests of Umma’s leadership and rank-and-file.
The majority of the fighting in the rebel-controlled Damascus suburb was over within hours. JAI detained JAU leader Ahmed Taha, at least four other commanders and up to 300 fighters after a battle inside Douma that left behind an unknown number of dead.
The campaign aimed to rid Douma, located in East Ghouta, of Umma’s thuggery, JAI spokesman Ghazwan al-Hakeem tells Syria Direct’s Ammar Hamou.
“It became necessary to take out the corrupt, the drug dealers and bandits so that we could remain moderate,” al-Hakeem said.
Our reporting indicates that JAU had in fact developed a reputation for racketeering and shaking down Doumans since its formation last September.
In an interview with Syria Direct, Jaish al-Umma spokesman Mohammed Abu Udei denies that JAI’s campaign had anything to do with corruption within Umma’s ranks, insisting it was carried out “on account of personal and power disputes—purely.”
Abu Udei says that JAU would have handed over corrupt fighters to the Judiciary Council in East Ghouta if it had received proof of their wrongdoings.
“We said over and over that whomever commits a crime in Jaish al-Umma will be handed over to the judiciary.”
Both interviews, translated by Syria Direct’s Dan Wilkofsky, are below.
Ghazwan al-Hakeem, spokesman for Jaish al-Islam
Q: Is there a judicial memorandum that approved Jaish al-Islam carrying out this operation?
There are judicial orders out for the arrests of a number of Jaish al-Umma leaders, and JAU took its time handing these men over to the judiciary. Therefore Jaish al-Islam took it upon itself to bring them to the judiciary.
Douma city on Thursday. Photo courtesy of @baraa2abd.
Q: According to media activists and citizens, this operation comes in light of [criminal] violations committed by Jaish al-Umma leaders. Do you have proof of that if the judiciary takes up the issue?
We have proof, lots of documents. They will be shown to the judiciary.
Q: The Jaish al-Umma Facebook page spread the news of the arrest of Ahmed Taha, head of Jaish al-Umma. Do you have news about him?
What’s certain is that he was injured, and then arrested. We don’t know whether he died or not.
Q: The demise of Jaish al-Umma—will that speed up the operation to break the siege on Ghouta or progress towards Damascus?
Eliminating Jaish al-Umma is a very important step in correcting the course of the revolution in East Ghouta.
After taking out the ultra-extremists (IS), it was necessary to take out the corrupt, the drug dealers and bandits so that we could remain moderate.
Q: What do the rest of the rebel brigades in Ghouta think of the operation against Jaish al-Umma? Did anyone else participate?
According to what I saw, every brigade and all the people were happy with the campaign and regarded it as a good omen.
Most of the brigades participated in the operation, I don’t know why they denied their participation. Maybe it’s because they are afraid of future revenge operations.
Q: Why did Jaish al-Islam unilaterally take out Jaish al-Umma without involving other rebel brigades?
Jaish al-Islam didn’t [eliminate Jaish al-Umma] alone. For example, Jaish al-Islam has no presence in Harasta, and there Liwa Fajr al-Umma cooperated with Feilaq a-Rahman and Jabhat a-Nusra to take out Jaish al-Umma.
Mohammed Abu Udei, spokesman for Jaish al-Umma
Q: What happened to Abu Subhi/Ahmed Taha, the leader of Jaish al-Umma, and what happened to the Jaish al-Umma soldiers who turned themselves in?
The news about the fate of Ahmed Taha/Abu Subhi is unclear, it ranges between captured or martyred.
As for our soldiers, they did not hand themselves in but were captured.
Q: Do you think that the operation intended to eliminate corruption, or did it have political ends?
My honorable brother, what corruption are you talking about? The campaign was undertaken on account of personal and power disputes—purely.
Q: A number of Douma residents (who aren’t from Jaish al-Islam) are talking about the violations committed by soldiers from Jaish al-Umma—what’s your opinion on that?
We said over and over that whoever commits a crime in Jaish al-Umma will be handed over to the judiciary.
Q: Do you think that the judiciary’s lack of participation in the operation is an indication that it doesn’t approve?
I talked personally with the Sheikh Abu Suleiman Tufur [a judge in the East Ghouta Judiciary Council], he confirmed to me that the judiciary never issued a decision supporting this barbaric campaign.
Q: But according to a source in the judiciary, there are members of Jaish al-Umma wanted by the judiciary who were never handed over?
We couldn’t hand over a field commander for investigation in light of the regime’s campaigns on Ghouta.
We said, come and give us proof and we’ll hand over anyone involved [in criminal acts], we’re subject to the law not above it.
Q: Jaish al-Islam announced it had defeated Jaish al-Umma…is it possible to eliminate an army [jaish] in one day?
Your question contains the answer, my honorable brother. Jaish al-Umma has a presence across Syria and not just in East Ghouta.
Secondly, Jaish al-Umma is not a person that you can eliminate, it’s an idea.
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