Tags / JAN
Deir Ezzor, Syria Photography and Interviews by Nils Metzger
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STORY OVERVIEW: The city of Deir Ezzor in Eastern Syria used to be known throughout the country for its greenery, for its swimmers and for the Euphrates river. Now it is decimated by civil war and ruled by Islamist militias. Jihadi groups, like the infamous Jabhat al-Nusra, dominate the war against the Assad-regime. Here, they are far closer to establishing Islamist rule than anywhere else, and even the regular Free Syrian Army units consider themselves Islamist. In the rare video interviews below, they explain why they welcome foreign fighters in Syria and how they want to establish Islamic rule over Syria. They also discuss suicide bombings, their position towards religious minorities and their relations with al-Qaida in Iraq. CLICK ON INDIVIDUAL THUMBNAILS BELOW FOR FULL SHOT LIST, TRANSCRIPTION AND TRANSLATION.
VIDEO B-ROLL (TRT 15 minutes): Frontline battle footage of Free Syrian Army; a makeshift hospital; street warfare; urban food distribution; destroyed Armenian church; snipers; weaponry, including improvised mortars a and Russian anti-tank rockets; broad destruction of city, checkpoints, civilians.
INTERVIEWS (TRT 19 minutes): Member of the FSA-unit "al-Abbas," "Ahmad" Islamic Welfare and Food Distribution Activist, A civilian, "Abu Hasim," a Jabhat al-Nusra field commander and his spokesperson, "Abu Ishaq."
SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIAL: 1) A collection of still images featuring fighters, weapons and destruction in Deir Ezzor. 2) Video interviews and footage of makeshift Islamic-civillian court and prison close to Aleppo, including a leader of the newly formed "The Committee for the Protection of Virtue and Defense of the Oppressed" discussing Shariah law and his Islamic civilian police force. 3) Raw, HD video of rebel held areas in and around Aleppo, including interviews with a female FSA sniper.
A montage of sample clips from Deir Ezzor, Syria.
00:00 - 00:26
Wide shots of rubble, streets, destroyed buildings, markets
00:27 - 00:45
A guide explains how locals hang blankets to hide themselves from regime snipers.
01:25 - 02:09
A Destroyed Armenian church, home to the only exhibition on the Armenian genocide in the Middle East. It has been hit by mortar shelling, a few FSA fighters now try to protect it from possible looters.
All but one Christian family has fled from Deir Ezzor.
02:09 - 02:32
More decimated streets and markets.
Driving towards the airport frontlines. All planes and helicopters used to bomb the city are based here. For more than a month the Free Syrian Army has been trying to storm the airbase. Civilian buildings alongside the road have been abandoned and mostly destroyed.
Following Free Syrian Army rebels to the frontline. They hide their positions in fields and farm land. Landscape surrounding the airport of Deir Ezzor. A conquered regime position in the background. Free Syrian Army trench and sniper positions. One commander shows an empty AK-47 magazine. His troops are suffering heavily from ammunition shortage.
01:46 - 03:10
Rebels moving towards the airport walls. They shoot an improvised mortar round at enemy positions. In the background an oil well is burning. Most mortar rounds are build in improvised factories in Deir Ezzor.
03:10 - 05:18
Rebels assemble a Russian anti-tank rocket, fire it at government positions, then run for cover.
00:00 - 01:05
Surgeons operate on a severely wounded person.
01:06 - 02:14
B-roll of hospital, patients and supplies.
02:15 - 03:35
Interview Ahmed, a volunteer with al-Rawafed
Ahmed: This money comes from private organisations that help our organisation in a complete and continuous manner, to help this organisation go on with its great and hard work. Like we've said before, our volunteers already work in all areas, in everything, the kitchen, the bakery the food shop to prepare the food. The organisation feeds more than 500 families. It is currently responsible for over 500 families in this city. As much as we can we try to find a protected place for the organisation and the volunteers out of fear for their safety and to enable them to keep preparing food and to distribute it. This is because of the ferocity of the bombardment under which the people of this city have suffered for a long time.
04:45 - 06:05: Interview with resident at al-Rawafed social centre
Resident: For us, the aid we currently receive is absolutely necessary. Every day they distribute bread that is basic food, and then there are additional things. The people cannot work, the shops are closed, the houses destroyed and everyone is out of work . The aid organisations help the citizens that have stayed in the country to live. Staying in our country is better than living refugee camp. This country is our country and will stay our country. The more it is destroyed and the more it decays, the more will we resist the bombardment. We can never abandon this country. I have no intention to go to a refugee camp.
R: The land is inhabited by it's people, we will properly live here again. We are calm and we are not afraid, No one else will live here. We will stay here and live here.
R: We do not care about this any more, the bombardments and the destruction. We are people who believe in God and fear no one but Him, he is the one who cares for us and protects us.
06:05 - 06:20
A child collecting bread
00:00 - 01:28: Wide shots of destroyed city streets and blocks
04:02: An explosion with the sound of an airplane flying overhead as interviewee speaks.
06:57: Fighter fires machine gun from building
01:29 - 02:31
Interview with a fighter from the Al-Abbas Katiba
Fighter: So, first of all, they call me Abu Halab, I am a fighter from the al-Abbas Katiba and I am in charge of this zone of the Hatel quarter, against the regime's army.
F: Of course, we were forced to pick up arms. We are civilians, normal people, no one if front us or behind us. We had to start carrying weapons because of this situation, this ferocious campaign. We are facing an organised army, with tanks, rockets fire, an air force, artillery, all sorts of weapons. We had to pick up arms to counter this attack and the army. This is how it is, and this is the situation we are living in.
F: We are currently staying in this place. We eat and drink and sleep here. In terms of battles, we're constantly watching the army. They've got positions close by. In case we see any movement, so if a tanks moves, or soldiers, we engage them.
02:32 - 04:41
Translator: So you're guarding the place in shifts?
F:Yes, there is always someone on guard. 24 hours a day. But this is urban warfare. Sometimes we have to enter houses and it turns to a house-by-house battle.
F: Concerning the liberation of Syria, there are a few obstacles. The biggest problem is ammunition, we do not have enough. All the ammunition I have I carry. I cannot give it to all the others This is the sound of plane flying above us.
T: A helicopter
F: Yes. Speaking of the helicopters, we do not have anything like that and have nothing to fight them with. We need some rockets to shoot down the planes. To stop the air strikes and to frighten the army we are fighting. Our enemies need to know that we are weakert. We have automatic rifles, RPGs, so we can sort of deal with tanks, but for the air force we need missiles.
F: First I will talk about the situation in general and them speak about Deir El-Zor specifically.
The media in Syria always focusses on one certain place, for example Halab, Sham or Homs. But Deir Ezzor is completely marginalised. Sometimes, and very unregularily it comes up in the news and not always correct and complete. In Deir Ezzor, the media cover maybe 10 to 15 percent of what happens in this zone, but they do not transmit a clear or true picture. I only ask one thing from the media, that they come here and transmit the truth, the images of this situation in its correct form. We do not want the picture to be distorted. We want the truthful image, that of destrcution...
04:42 - 05:28
T: The image of this truth, destruction, injustice
F: Well, you can see with your own eyes where we are now: the destruction, there is nothing left. We are grateful for you. This is the first time that I see journalists coming here to film anything.
F: With regards to living in the country and us as fighters, the country needs security forces to maintain order, the army needs to order it. We want to move on from this phase to the phase of adjusting the country. The country needs jobs, like carpenter or painters and so on, all of them need to participate in this question, and in reforming security. Everyone who has an interest and can help. And God willing we will be able to live in this country, step by step.
05:29 - 09:21: B-roll: Members of "al-Abbas"-Katiba try to conquer a building controlled by the Syrian Army: City Destruction, Action shots, battle scenes, gunfire
Interview with Abu Hasim, a Jabhat al-Nusra field commander (dressed in black), and Abu Ishaq, his spokesperson (blue sweater), conducted at their headquarters in Deir Ezzor. They explain why they welcome foreign fighters in Syria and how they want to establish Islamic rule over Syria. Among other things, they address suicide bombings, their position towards religious minorities and their relations with al-Qaida in Iraq.
01:44 - 01:51
In the phase following Bashar's removal, our first and primary objective is to establish an Islamic nation ruled by the Qur'an.
02:53 - 03:16
With some groups that are fighting the regime, we believe that there are shared interests in terms of overthrowing Bashar. But after Bashar is gone, we have our own aims and plans.
Terrorism is a doctrine for Muslims.
04:25 - 04:32
We do not receive financial support from other countries-- not from Al Qaeda, the Arab League or NATO.
11:55 - 12:08
Until now, Christians have not turned against us. We'll deal with the issue of Christians, Armenians and other minorities after we get rid of Bashar.
00:00 - 00:44
Abu Ishaq: I will speak in terms in accordance with Sharia law, so the term revolutionaries is not acceptable, we are waging Jihad. I see myself as one of the mujahideen, fighters who have gone out to fight in the name of God and establish God's law in this land, and this is a legitimate right that is in our hands. Bush spoke of the war in Iraq as a crusade, citing the Bible. So as Muslims we have the right to follow this religion and to fight against anyone who stands between us and this objective.
00:45 - 02:07
AI: The truth of the matter is that the infidels are the ones who enter our lands so we are not the ones who attack them. At the moment, we see the FSA as a legitimate group that defends the faith and we support them to be victorious. This is how it looks to us. In the future, we may act differently, but at the current time we support the FSA against Bashar and his allies to overthrow them. We show them the meaning of self-sacrifice and Jihad, which is not limited to carrying arms, as the Prophet said: “Fight the inidels with your money, souls and tongues.” So Jihad in our Islamic Sharia has all these forms, fighting with weapons, with the pen, helping the poor, protecting public institutions, all these are forms of Jihad.In the phase following Bashar's removal, our first and primary objective is to establish an Islamic nation ruled by the Qur'an. In terms of the civil state, if this is to be a civil state as to the fact that it's governed by institutions, this is not against the law. But if it is to be a democratic state then of course we say no. But if it is a country of institutions according to God's prescription, then yes.
02:08 - 03:24
AI: This is our aim, an Islamic civil state. Like Abu Satef says, if it is a country against Islamic prescriptions then we don not agree to it, but if we say we create this, this and that institutions then we are OK with it – there are two meanings to the word civil.
AI: This is one of the faulty ideas, that politics and Sharia are far apart. There is a book called “The Book of Sharia Politics”, written by some scholars, and some concepts can confuse people. Politics is a part of religion, and it is not to be separated from religion – otherwise we would become secularists. With some groups that are fighting the regime we believe that there are shared interests in terms of overthrowing Bashar. But after Bashar is gone, we have our own aims and plans. We know that we are in the right.
03:25 - 04:10
AI: Since the time of the Prophet until God takes over his land and who is on it there will be falsehoods. When Muhammad came out with his call, they said he was a poet, a wizard, a liar. This is the way of unjust people, tarnishing the people who are in the right. And terrorism is a doctrine for Muslims.
04:11 - 09:06 [partial translation]
AI: No, these are lies, the Front is a group among many that fight for Syria to topple the dictator and install the law of God. We do not receive financial support from other countries-- not from Al Qaeda, the Arab League or NATO.
AI: First, all our strenght comes from and is the will of God. It is the faith of our fighters, the suicide attacks of our heroes that make us what we are in relation to other groups. But our weapons we have obtained from Bashar's soldiers.
AI: The mass media spread false allegations in order to destroy the truth. How can we compare suicide attacks with bombings by American fighter jets that destroy entire cities? They are just a drop in the ocean. One or two civilians get killed but if we compare this to thousands who get killed by German or US soldiers in Afghanistan then you have to agree this comparison is unjust.
Deir Ezzor is suffering from the absence of foreign media. Especially if you think about that this is the region in Syria with the most oil. But thank God we are advancing every single day and we will pursue this goal until every square meter of Deir Ezzor and Syria is freed.
AI: alhammdulah we have many members ... but I can not tell exactly how many we have. We have no financial support from al-Qaeda or Arab countries or any foreign country. All our weapons were snatched by our heroes from regime soldiers in battles.
AI: What characterizes the Front in combat situations is the courage and the discipline of our fighters. Thank God many fighters arrived who helped in past revolutions in Libya and Iraq. This is what makes us stronger in combat. We have many specialists and missile experts. Also our social work has been well accepted by the Syrian people. We are known for our our services and that we protect their property.
(question: There are many rumors circulating about the al-Midan bombings in January 2012 especially since many civilians have been killed – were these the first attacks by Jabhat al-Nusra?)
AI: There is no proof that our brothers were responsible for this operation. According to my knowledge, the regime planed them in order to destroy the positive image of the fighters. They have not presented us with proof. If al-Nusra were responsible for this attack it would have been one of the very few mistakes. In every military organization orders by the commander have to be followed, this is also true for those by Abu Muhammad al-Golani. This is true for combat units but also for the Emirs who lead entire cities. In the end they all respond to the orders of Sheikh al-Golani.
09:07 - 10:44
Abu Hasim: There are courses and training camps but those are all secret and no one must tell about them. Al-Nusra is always working in secret until it strikes...
We have in many ways a special relationship with the media. Most of our operations are secret and they are superior for being secret. That way no rumors get out – no one manipulates more than the media...
10:45 - 11:07
There are many false rumours about us. Jabhat al-Nusra is in a situation of self-defense. We defend the people of Syria. It is Bashar who murders children and rapes women. We are not responsible for that.
It is America, Walid bin Talal and the Jews who control the media.
11:08 - 12:00
... [missing translation] AH: Our aim is to demonstrate our faith to the almighty God and to end the injustice against muslims. This includes Christians and all other faiths that accept the divine sharia.
11:55 - 12:08
AI: Until now, Christians have not turned against us. We'll deal with the question of Christians, Armenians and other minorities after we get rid of Bashar.