When he was asked about the case in August 2014, Zahran Alloush barely even denied his group’s responsibility for the kidnapping of Samira Al-Khalil, Razan Zaitouneh, Wael Hammadeh and Nazem Hammadi. Rather than a direct and straight forward denial he preferred to give the kind of answer Bashar al-Assad would have given. Why should special importance be attributed to the case he asked, while in his words, there were many “women of the Muslim community” in Assad’s prisons who had not received the same attention? In the style of the Assad regime, Jaysh al-Islam’s leader was attempting to dodge the subject he had been asked about and downplay the importance of the question. He did this by implying that the case of the Douma four and the cases of women who the regime has kidnapped and detained are opposing issues. In effect, he had said that Razan, Samira, Wael and Nazem’s case would, without doubt, draw attention away from people who have been detained or kidnapped by the regime, ISIS, him and the like; that the special attention afforded to this case was the reason only limited attention had been given to the cases of other detained women; and that ceasing to pay attention to the case of the four activists would immediately be reflected by an increase in attention paid to the “women of the Muslim community” who the regime has detained and tortured.
However, the insolence in the man’s evasive conduct really stands out when one recalls that the Violations Documentation Center, which was founded primarily by Razan, recorded detentions, kidnappings and killings carried out by the regime. This means that Razan’s kidnapping dealt a heavy blow to the documentation of those crimes, which affect Syrian men and women in general as well as the “women of the Muslim community.” It is the kidnapping of Razan, Samira, Wael and Nazem, that has lessened the attention being given to the cases of other detainees and abductees. Moreover, their kidnapping was a great service to the regime.
Indeed, the case of Samira, Razan, Wael and Nazem has received special attention. This is due to the combined effect of several factors. First of all, the four happen to have close friends who are able to keep interest in the case alive and ongoing. This in turn, is connected to the fact that they are highly-esteemed individuals who have long opposed the regime. Their record during the revolution, and before it, is without blemish, and not one of them has profited personally in any way from their struggle for justice. Then there is the fact that the four were kidnapped in a ‘liberated area’, and not in one of the areas held by the regime, where many people have been kidnapped. Neither were they kidnapped in one of the areas held by ISIS, where many people have also been kidnapped. They were taken from an area controlled by Zahran Alloush and his formation. Therefore, Alloush and his formation are in a position of exclusive political responsibility for the crime, as they are the primary de facto authority in the area in question. Their political responsibility is further affirmed by the fact that months have passed and no investigation in to the crime has been carried out. Eight months after the kidnapping, when Zahran engaged in his verbal one-upmanship about the “women of the Muslim community”, he spoke of a committee that was investigating the matter. To this very day, after the passage of another eight months, nothing has been learnt about the “key piece of evidence” he referred to in the interview. It is my belief that when he spoke about the “committee” and the “key piece of evidence” he was using the type of evasive tactics most commonly associated with the regime and those who graduate from its school.
However, the reason Zahran remains the prime and only suspect is that we know one of his men wrote a note threatening to kill Razan. This man, whose name is Hussein Al-Shazli, admitted to being responsible for writing the death-threat before a local judicial body in Douma. We know than Zahran visited Al-Shazli in his jail cell, and requested to speak with him in private. When his request was refused he became furious and threatened to free his man, and that is exactly what happened shortly afterwards: Zahran arranged for Al-Shazli to be broken out of the place where he was being held. Al-Shazli also admitted that it was Samir Al-Kaakeh, the number two man in Jaysh al-Islam after Zahran, who ordered him to write the threat. Al-Kaakeh, who is most commonly known by his alias, Abu Abdurrahman Al-Kaakeh, is the Vice-president of Jaysh al-Islam’s Shura Council in Douma.
In keeping with Assad regime thuggery’s worst traditions of hatefully affronting justice and entrenching to the rule of force, after being broken out of jail Al-Shazli was seen in public on the streets of Douma. He also played a large role in Zahran’s war against Jaysh al-Ummah, which appears to have been motivated in part by the case of the four abductees.
It is not true that Jaysh al-Islam’s only forces are those stationed on battlefronts where regime-rebel fighting takes place, as Jaysh al-Islam’s spokesperson told me in a Skype call a few days after the four were kidnapped, and as Zahran himself said in a television interview with Khaled Abu Salah. It is well known that Zahran and his group operate the Al-Tawbah Prison in Douma, and in keeping with Assad regime tradition once again, they also have secret detention centers at various locations in Douma and Ghouta.
It was members of Jaysh al-Islam who opened fire in the air in front of the Violations Documentation Center, which Razan used to run in Douma, as she confirmed at the time, and as everyone familiar with the situation in the town agrees.
Before the kidnapping, some of Zahran’s relatives, like his nephew Mohammed Alloush, and pro-Jaysh al-Islam journalists had launched a smear campaign against Razan. “What is that woman doing in Douma?” some of them asked in an intimidating tone, as if Douma was the group’s personal property!
When Zahran was confronted with the fact that several of his men had opened computers belonging to the four after the kidnapping, all he could find to say was: “perhaps some kind of mistake happened.”
While all these pieces of evidence point to Jaysh al-Islam, there is not one piece of evidence indicating the responsibility of any other actor.
Is it really possible that Zahran and his group carried out all those acts of thuggery and Zaarana* (orZahrana), and then someone else kidnapped the four activists?
Based on my personal knowledge of the situation in Douma, I am certain that Zahran and his group are the guilty party. The man has ultra-authoritarian ambitions and he is extremely arrogant. On top of this, he has a severely limited knowledge of the country’s makeup, history, and society, and of the concepts of the state, politics, justice and responsibility. He has never been known for openness to opposing views, possessing the traits of a good man or dealing impartially with adversaries.
These considerations suggest that Zahran is the prime and only suspect. Furthermore, it is Zahran himself who must provide all the evidence related to the fate of the four and guarantee their release. Only one thing is incumbent upon the man: rather than continuing his lies and evasive behavior, he must release the four immediately, nothing other than that and nothing less.
*The Arabic word Zaarana can be roughly translated to English as ‘troublemaking’. Zahrana is a pun on the word using Alloush’s first name.
Translated from Arabic into English by Ullin Hope