Car bomb hits International Rescue Committee office in northern Idlib as wave of mysterious attacks grows

A car bomb ripped through an International Rescue Committee office in the Idlib town of a-Dana on Thursday morning, killing four and wounding at least 10 others within a wave of similar bombings and attacks across the rebel-held province over the past week.  

A car parked 20 meters from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) building in downtown a-Dana exploded just before 8am, local civil defense officials told Syria Direct, killing a security guard and three civilians, including a woman and child.

“This terrible incident is a stark reminder of the great risk taken by IRC staff and other aid workers to help the Syrian people,” IRC Middle East Director Mark Schnellbaecher said in a press release about the bombing. “Aid workers are not, and must never be, a target.”

The IRC office targeted on Thursday distributes funds and animal feed to a number of the estimated 60,000 internally displaced civilians who have settled in a-Dana since the beginning of the war.

A-Dana and the surrounding area currently rests under the control of Hay'at Tahrir a-Sham (HTS), a rebel coalition led by a former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

No party claimed responsibility for the IRC bombing by time of publication on Thursday.

Civil Defense personnel survey the site of a car bombing in a-Dana on Thursday. Photo courtesy of Civil Defense Idlib.

Just hours after the a-Dana explosion, another bomb detonated on a vehicle carrying members of the rebel group Failaq a-Sham approximately 20 kilometers south on the Maarat Misrin road, killing several fighters.

Thursday’s attacks come amidst a larger breakdown in security across the province of Idlib over the past week, as a wave of mysterious assassinations has targeted military figures, activists, and civil society workers.

Dozens of similar incidents have been reported since the violence began on April 26, just hours after a ceasefire deal was signed between the two largest rebel factions operating in the area: HTS and Jabhat Tahrir Souria (JTS). Since the agreement was signed, more than 35 people have been killed in unclaimed shootings and car bombings.

Targets have included leading figures from JTS, HTS, and Free Syrian Army-affiliated militias, a-Dana ‘Free Police’ chief Ahmad al-Jarow, salafist preacher Abdullah al-Muhaysini, scores of civilians and as of today, employees of an international aid group.

While similar tactics have been used in a number of the attacks, there is no conclusive evidence linking any of them, though speculation persists among political observers and factions operating in the area.

Accusations and blame over the spate of unclaimed attacks in Idlib have flown in all directions in recent days, in part due to the expansive and seemingly arbitrary nature of the targets chosen. Some pin the blame on sleeper cells operating on behalf of the Assad government, trying to scupper the recent intra-rebel ceasefire. Others suggest that IS may be coordinating the attacks, or that the killings are inside jobs intended to eliminate leadership figures within the ranks of armed groups.

Ahmad Deeb, Interior Minister for the reportedly HTS-backed Syrian Salvation Government (SSG) that currently administers most of Idlib province, says they have taken limited steps to improve security in light of the recent attacks.

The SSG is working with armed groups in the area to limit the violence, he told Syria Direct, adding that HTS is “one of the [factions they] cooperate with most often currently.”

The governing body also instituted nightly patrols around hospitals and encouraged civilians to exercise special vigilance, Deeb added.

Muhammad Adeeb, a media official with JTS, the primary rival of HTS, reserved his judgements about who has behind the attacks. He believes the recent shootings and car bombings are not connected to the latest ceasefire, but instead result from a general lack of central authority in the chaotic rebel-held north.

“The primary reason [for the shootings] is the massive lack of security in Idlib, which contributes to the assassinations,” Adeeb told Syria Direct. “Maybe this is internal ‘house-cleaning’... or maybe it it is cells connected to the regime or IS.”

“There are a lot of possibilities,” he added. “We cannot accuse a particular side.”

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. Follow Waleed on Twitter: @walid_ALnofal.

Alaa Nassar

Alaa was forced to flee Damascus with her family because of the pressure from the Syrian regime in 2013. She was a student of Arabic Language & Literature at the University of Damascus. She came to Syria Direct because she hopes to find a new direction in her life and to show the world what is happening in her country.

Barrett Limoges

Barrett Limoges is an investigative journalist who has reported from across the MENA region, his work appearing previously in Al Jazeera, Middle East Eye, PBS Newshour, Al-Monitor, Huffington Post and other publications. He studied journalism at the University of King's College and is currently pursuing a MA in Political Science at the American University of Beirut. Follow Barrett on Twitter: @barrett_limoges.