Why were the Turks kidnapped in Lebanon & who are the Liwaa Asifat al-Shamal who are holding the Shiites in Syria.

Joshua Landis blog – Posted by Syria Video on Sunday, August 11th, 2013

Aron Lund writes: – Liwa Asifat al-Shamal, or the Northern Storm Brigade, is the main group, or one of the main groups, in Aazaz, north of Aleppo and very close to the Turkish border. They’re a mid-sized faction in the northern countryside – not tremendously important to the revolution in general, but a major force in their core area around Aazaz, which is strategically important for rebel logistics.

Their original leadership was involved with border smuggling before the revolution (the late Ammar Dadikhi, “Abu Ibrahim”), but they took up arms pretty early on. They also seem to be quite seriously involved with fighting in the north, as evidenced by the role they played in the Mennagh siege, and they have relations with the SMC and other legit opposition bodies. So despite some shady business, it’s clearly not a “fake” rebel outfit.

Their main importance comes from controlling the Bab al-Salama crossing into Turkey ever since it was captured in 2012. I assume they’ve used that to wield power over (and perhaps extract money, guns, ammo, aid from) foreign sponsors and other battalions using the crossing. At any rate, they grew into a force to be reckoned with after seizing the border post. They’ve also set up a media center there, and help provide security and services for a lot of international visitors who come from Turkey. There’s been some good articles and tv features by people meeting/embedding with their forces, and they got quite a lot of  attention when John McCain dipped in through Bab al-Salama, if you recall that.

Recently they’ve lost some influence, after Liwa al-Tawhid (a much bigger SMC faction which is also from the northern countryside, but quite busy with the war in Aleppo City) forced them to re-negotiate their division of labor, presumably after applying some sort of pressure. According to the new rules, Asifat al-Shamal will have to share control over Bab al-Salama 50-50 with Tawhid. The terms of the deal mean that they have joint control over border facilities & inspections, as well as the responsibility to run checkpoints along the road down towards Aleppo –  and, although it doesn’t say so, they will presumably split any benefits arising from this. The deal also stipulated that Asifat al-Shamal will have to submit to the Aleppo Sharia Commission (a non-SMC judiciary and proto-government in northern Syria, which Tawhid backs along with more radical Islamist factions) in all legal matters/disputes. They hadn’t done that before. Whether the deal has been successfully applied on the ground yet, or at all, I don’t know.

Asifat al-Shamal is also the group that kidnapped a group of Lebanese Shia, who tried to pass through Bab al-Salama in summer 2012, saying they were pilgrims. They’re still holding them. Originally Dadikhi insisted that the Shia were secret agents of Hezbollah, IRGC or some other hostile organziation, but they later seemed to drop that line, since no one believed it. Nowadays they simply say they want female and other prisoners freed in return for releasing the hostages. In practice I assume they’re just after money at this stage, or if it’s a prestige thing, or simply a way to get press attention. Or maybe they really think they’re Hezbollah. I don’t know. Turkey has allegedly been involved in negotiations.


This is a few days old, but here’s a very interesting pro-government view from the Nubl & Zahra Shia community, of what happened at Mennagh airport at the time of capture:https://www.facebook.com/zhraa.nubbol.n.n/posts/566600950053289.From this description, it seems like a pretty desperate breakout. The SAA forces left 15 men in a “martyrdom” force behind to cover the retreat – all were killed or captured. The others then split into groups and fled towards the few remaining pockets of government control around Mennagh. One group made it to the Shia town of Nubl, but apparently only thanks to air cover from the government, while another fled towards the Kurdish villages of Afrin, where they were granted asylum by the Kurdish YPG forces.

That last part is interesting. The YPG has let it be known that they “captured” a group of fleeing SAA soldiers from Mennagh, and confiscated all their guns and tanks. But this version, which appears to be written by someone in direct contact with the defenders of the airport, says the Kurds saved them, provided hospital care to the wounded, and even ambushed and annihilated a rebel unit that was tailing them (Jabhat al-Nosra by their account, but they call everyone Jabhat al-Nosra). That’s more or less consistent with how the YPG presents its politics: they will provide humanitarian assistance to everyone in need, and are open to negotiated passage, but try to enter Kurdish areas without permission and you’re dead.

But – the Nubl/Zahra pro-gov version also talks about YPG-SAA coordination before the fall of the base, and speaks warmly of the Kurds as their comrades in arms. This  suggests a level of cooperation between the SAA and YPG which undermines YPG attempts to portray themselves as essentially neutral between the Arab sides.

That said, it concerns a very particular region, Afrin, where both Kurdish and Shia villages have been under Arab (particularly Islamist) rebel pressure. So although the situation might seem similar in other places, I’m not sure you can necessarily extrapolate this to other areas.

(Also, here’s the Islamic State communiqué on the capture of Mennagh, if you haven’t seen it: http://jihadology.net/2013/08/07/new-statement-from-the-islamic-state-of-iraq-and-al-sham-on-the-battle-of-the-last-ten-days-liberating-the-mannagh-airbase-in-the-state-of-aleppo

AN Writes:

There was news that an agreement was reached with Liwa Asifat al-Shamal to where a certain number of female detainees would be released from government prisons in exchange for 2 of the 9 hostages before Eid, but negotiations failed. On Friday, first day of Eid for Shiaa muslims, a Shiaa group calling itself “the visitors of the Imam Al Mortada” kidnapped two Turkish pilots in Beirut because they believe that Turkey has the power to release the hostages and is involved in the kidnapping. After the kidnapping, news came out that earlier this month, Turkey had informed that UN that it will pulling part of its UNIFIL contingency out of Lebanon and limiting its participation to Turkish marine forces. Turkish government asked its citizens in Lebanon to leave the country following the kidnapping.