On May 22, Jabhat a-Nusra extra judicially executed a young man in the southern Idlib countryside city of Kafr Nubl on charges of insulting the prophet. Three days after the execution, citizens from Kafr Nubl, and neighboring Saraqeb, continue to protest this latest incident in a series of arrests and killings by local armed groups.

“We demand an end to arbitrary arrests, an end to these armed groups interfering in civil affairs, and for these groups to leave the area at once,” Ubaida Al-Omar, a local citizen journalist, tells Syria Direct’s Nisreen A-Nasser.

In the small rebel-held town, power struggles between the armed factions—Jabhat a-Nusra, the Free Syrian Army’s (FSA) Northern Division and Ahrar a-Sham—often spill into the public space.

On Monday, a group of Kafr Nubl women protested Jabhat a-Nusra’s arrest of a local council member through the sharia courts. The women claim that the arrest stems from personal differences rather than legitimate causes, another example of armed rebel groups abusing their power.    

From Kafr Nubl to Idlib city, tensions throughout the province between local residents and armed militias are not new. In Idlib province in particular, citizens express concern via regular protests over Jabhat a-Nusra’s salafi-jihadi ideology and large representation of foreign fighters.

 Sunday’s demonstration in Kafr Nubl criticizing the local Shura Council. Photo courtesy of Ubaida Al-Omar.

“No one can live outside a town’s daily life and then assert the right to make demands,” Major Moussa Khalid of the FSA’s Division 13 in Kafr Nubl tells Syria Direct.

“Demonstrations are the only way for the people to have their voices and their demands heard.”

Ubaida Al-Omar is a citizen journalist in Kafr Nubl:

Q: What are you demanding from the armed groups?

We demand an end to arbitrary arrests, an end to these armed groups interfering in civil affairs and for these groups to leave the area at once.

Q: Will you keep demonstrating until your demands are met?

Yes, we will continue until all of our demands are met. We stand as one in our demands. Today, there was a women’s demonstration, calling for the release of the detainees. The people of Maarat A-Numan [7km southwest] even came to Kafr Nubl to join in protesting against these armed groups.

Q: Are you calling for all armed groups to leave or only specific ones?

With regard to Kafr Nubl, we demand that these armed groups exit the town immediately, especially those that have been involved in the ongoing arbitrary arrests.

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Moussa Khalid is a major in the FSA’s Division 13 in Kafr Nubl:

Q: What are your thoughts on the ongoing protests in Kafr Nubl?

Unfortunately, in light of present circumstances, demonstrations are the only way for the people to have their voices and their demands heard. Division 13, or any armed group for that matter, comes from the people. We serve the people, and as such the protests are not against any one faction.

The FSA does not have a monopoly on the truth, and we do not try to intervene in the internal affairs of these areas. On the contrary, we support civil society and other service organizations without interfering in the people’s affairs. No one can live outside a town’s daily life and then assert the right to make demands. As such, these protests are justified.

With regard to Jabhat a-Nusra or any other armed group that makes an arbitrary arrest without a fair and open trial, this is done purely out of a faction’s self-interest. Any action that a group takes that does not respect human rights is unacceptable regardless of the reason.