February 23, 2015

Jabhat a-Nusra stormed the village of Maarat Hurma in the southern Idlib countryside February 14, one day after residents organized an anti-Nusra protest holding aloft signs reading “Syria is free, get out of here Nusra,” reported pro-regime DP-News.

Among other targets inside Maarat Hurma, Nusra attacked the village police station, killing the head of police who was a former SRF member, reported pro-opposition al-Awsat news.

The attack on Maarat Hurma appears to be more than just a heavy-handed reaction to civil disobedience, as the village is a Harakat Hazm headquarters and home to several anti-Nusra FSA brigades including Alwiyat al-Ansar and Fursan al-Haq [for a similar incident, see Nusra's recent attack on al-Liwa a-Sadis here].

Not all FSA brigades in the town are against Nusra, says Raed al-Idlibi, an anti-Nusra activist who documents the group’s abuses and is one of the organizers of protests against the Al-Qaeda affiliate.

Some are working with Nusra, and are “left alone” to steal and do as they please in the town, al-Idlibi tells Syria Direct's Muatasem Jamal.

Nusra’s heavy-handed rule and its corrupt FSA allies have pushed residents to protest against Nusra rule. They will not stop until Nusra is out, al-Idlibi says.

“We heard that they will issue harsh rulings against those who organize the demonstrations and those who participate, but we're not scared,” he says. “We will continue to demonstrate against them.”

Q: How is daily life in Maarat Hurma? How does Jabhat a-Nusra treat residents in the area?

A short time ago life became tense in Maarat Hurma between residents and Jabhat a-Nusra, because the latter worsened its treatment of residents in general, and particularly those who are loyal to some FSA battalions like Alwiya Fursan al-Haq—which is anti-Nusra—and supporters of Harakat Hazm.

As for how Nusra treats residents—very badly. It's especially bad at the checkpoints when they suspect that someone is working with the regime, or is a member of an FSA battalion that they think is cooperating with the regime against them.

IdlibNusra2345Maarat Hurma residents protest against Nusra. Photo courtesy of @syria7ra.

Q: Why did the locals in Maarat Hurma protest against Nusra?

There are a number of reasons, such as what I mentioned previously. But the main reason is a sort of discrimination in Nusra's treatment of residents.

Nusra storms the village and arrests supporters of the honorable FSA battalions on the charge that they're thieves, or apostates, or that they work with the West or the Alawite regime. They leave alone supporters of FSA battalions that are allied with them, who are, in reality, the thieves of the village and who undertake bad acts against residents, like stealing. There is a consensus among the majority of people that this is the case.

Q: Are these protests organized or spontaneous? If organized, who is planning them?

The protests are organized. A group of local activists and I plan them. The protests enjoy large participation from residents opposed to Nusra, and are protected by FSA fighters, particularly Harakat Hazm. God willing these protests will continue, if not daily then weekly.

Q: There are reports of clashes between Nusra and FSA battalions. What caused these clashes?

The main reason was that a protest against Nusra occurred on Friday, which was led by a man called Mustafa Raziq, head of Maarat Hurma's police station. He was wanted by Nusra because he previously belonged to the Syrian Revolutionaries' Front.

The next day, Nusra fighters raided the police station to arrest him, and clashes broke out between them and the head of the station and several of his fighters from Harakat Hazm, backed by local supporters. One Nusra fighter was killed, four locals wounded as well as the head of the station. Nusra arrested him after he gave himself up, but he died in their care because they didn't take him to the hospital. A number of fighters from the police station died as well.

Q: What do you think these clashes will lead to?

I expect that Nusra has begun to kill people in the town unjustly and without convincing reasons, especially people who are beloved by locals because of their good reputations.

The coming days will witness stronger protests against Nusra, and we will organize ourselves better to stand off against them.

Q: How did Nusra respond to the demonstrations in general, did their treatment of locals improve afterwards?

Quite the opposite. They considered that the demonstrations were a rebellious act against them and against their Islamic rulings, considered apostasy towards God's law. We heard that they will issue harsh rulings against those who organize the demonstrations and those who participate, but we're not scared. We will continue to demonstrate against them.

Q: What exactly do the residents of Maarat Hurma want from these protests?

We want Jabhat a-Nusra to leave, entirely, from the village and from the area in general, as well as the brigades loyal to Nusra. We've grown tired of their false and unjust laws that they claim seek their guidance from God's law. We want the return of the rule of the honorable FSA, because they don't storm our houses, nor rob us, nor act brutally against us in the name of religion.

Q: We heard that Jabhat a-Nusra executed two women for adultery a while ago—has Jabhat a-Nusra implemented hudud punishments in Maarat Hurma?

 Until now, Jabhat a-Nusra has not implemented any had of the known hudud punishments. First they should implement their hudud on some of the allied FSA brigades who steal and commit acts of aggression.

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