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Barzeh neighborhood: warlords coordinated with Assad, betrayed opposition

Military Reports | 2017-12-06 03:27:05
Barzeh neighborhood: warlords coordinated with Assad, betrayed opposition

By Ethar Abdulhaq

(Zaman  Al Wasl)- All the warlords’ actions in the northern Damascus district of Barzeh pushed people to chant, “O Solver Bashar!”

“Is it possible for the revolution of the Syrian people to retreat as well as to fade?” One person answers this difficult complex question with a simple phrase, “Yes, if there is a lot of malevolence.” But were we really facing so much excessive malevolence that it became a disaster for the revolution and its people? Why did the revolution not shed and dispose of the malevolence early on before it destroyed the body that was full of vitality and dignity and before it attacked a spirit that almost touched the threshold of angels?

Caption “Does the regime and those loyal to it know that one of those they honor today killed the son of a high-ranking air force officer?”

We will answer these large questions, phrased somewhat poetically, practically relying on evidence, testimonies, dates and observations, clear and direct examples. Perhaps the most recent and extreme of them is the complete aversion of two people called Abu Bahr and al-Manshar who began fighting the regime and its injustices but ended up fighting for and defending it.

Who are they?

Since November 20, 2017, following their appearance at a regime ceremony to honor some of those defending the regime, Abu Bahr and al-Manshar have occupied many Syrians, pro and anti-regime alike, who agreed on insulting them. For revolutionaries and regime opponents, the two are traitors who sold Barzeh neighborhood, its people and themselves to the regime. For regime loyalists, they are extra-legal armed fighters who killed, abducted and tortured regime soldiers and many regime supporters. Some estimate that around 800 fighters were killed on the Barzeh front although the neighborhood was one of the first areas to come to a truce with the regime and the fighting stopped fighting there at the end of 2013.

Who are these men whose honoring provoked such a strong response of threats, curses and insults from regime supporters and opponents alike. What is the extent of the crimes they committed, and were they alone in this surreal scene of corruption and treason, or are there others? 

Zaman al-Wasl will try to answer these questions in its investigation, relying on the testimony of sources who lived with Abu Bahr and al-Manshar and others in Barzeh neighborhood in Damascus who were close to them in one form or another.

Caption: “The 1st brigade received 650,000 US Dollars to carry out the Battle of Damascus, but it spearheaded sabotaging the battle.”

Before presenting the testimonies, it is necessary to introduce the two people and the positions they occupied. Abu Bahr is the title of a young man who worked selling diesel fuel before the revolution. Al-Manshar is the movement name for Samir Shahrour, from Barzeh who worked as a mechanic before becoming a fighter.

When the peaceful movement developed into an armed struggle, the two men fought in Barzeh neighborhood against the regime forces. They joined the ranks of the 1st Brigade under the command of Abu Tayeb, a nickname for Walid Rafai from the neighborhood. The brigade and its commanders conducted a truce with the regime and most of its commanders subsequently became war profiteers then warlords, and eventually turned into full collaborators who publicly joined the regime ranks after completing the task of handing over the most vital suburb of Damascus to the regime.

Abu Bahr and al-Manshar’s, and those like them, crimes were not limited to illicit enrichment, trading in the pain of people and gaining large sums of money at the expense of the revolution. Their crimes exceed that as they engaged in acts of liquidation, killing, betrayals, informing on others, trading in drugs, antiquities, weapons (black market trade), before their actions reached the stage of grand treason by calming the Barzeh front and cooling it after it was one of the most active fronts. They then took over protecting the regime in Damascus, disrupting a battle that could have altered the balances in Damascus as a whole given Damascus’ strategic position as Syria’s heard and central axis. 

As collaborators they later handed Barzeh over to the regime, contributing to the displacement of its residents and then finally joining the ranks of the regime mercenaries to later boldly defend this treachery and announce they belong to Syria’s Assad.


Matching Points 

The source presented their testimony to Zaman al-Wasl independently. The testimonies differed strikingly in some details, and aligned in others. 

1. The different sources emphasized that Abu Bahr and al-Manshar started as revolutionaries who carried arms against the regime and they were not initially regime agents as some regime opponents or loyalists want to portray them.

2. The truce that took place in late 2013 was a decisive stage in Abu Bahr and al-Manshar’s careers, and the careers of many of the faction commanders in Barzeh, who put their guns aside and embarked on commercial operations which ultimately necessitated they communicate with the regime and its officers. 

The truce represented a point of divergence for Barzeh which turned those who were fighting the regime into persons leaning towards the regime, to regime accomplices and then defenders due to the alignment of their interests with the regime interests. 

3. Abu Bahr, was known for his cowardice and his fear of participating in the battles, went out in one year during the years of the revolution for 6 months to Ma'raba (a town adjacent to Barzeh known as a Shabiha stronghold). Abu Bahr supposed went to Ma’raba for treatment but no one knows what he did or with whom he communicated during this time. 

4. Most of the faction commanders were occupied with increasing their personal wealth rather than fighting the regime or reducing the suffering of Barzeh’s residents. Anyone who objected or brought up this issue was liquidated without hesitation. Fahed al-Maghribi is one such example as his assassination shows traces that his colleagues in the 1st Brigade were involved in his killing.  

5. The majority remained silent about the excesses, violations and betrayals of faction leaders in Barzeh. They did not move to get rid of these commanders or hold them accountable due to the commanders’ severe intimidation that resembled the regime’s Shabiha’s intimidation methods.

6. All that the faction commanders’ actions in Barzeh aimed at improving was the regime’s image as if it was the task of the corrupt and treacherous leaders to push people to repeat the slogan “The Solver Bashar”.

According to the first witness who stayed in Barzeh until the last days when the neighborhood was handed over to the regime based on the settlement agreement reached in May, Abu Bahr, al-Manshar and others among the revolutionaries were recruited after the first truce in Barzeh. They started engaging with the regime officers on a regular basis on the pretense of opening a road, releasing prisoners or someone kidnapped or to ensure the entry of a shipment of food, etc. 

The source said that Abu Bahr was a thief but al-Manshur fought several battles against the regime and was injured in one eye and in one of his testicles as a result. But all that they gave - if they presented anything fruitful to the revolution- was reduced to nothing the moment they decided to gather money at the expense of the principles for which they carried arms. 

The source explained Abu Bahr started trading in diesel fuel selling it inside Barza or smuggling it into the neighboring besieged al-Ghouta areas. His trade grew, and he started working with assistants and peers generating millions of Dollars. They accumulated massive sums of money some of which found its way to Turkey as investments. 

The source described the faction commanders as merchants of the siege and the real warlords who imposed royalties and exploited the need of residents in al-Ghouta and Barzeh. They conducted large and frequent trade deals with the regime and its officers, as well as stealing the monthly sums donors sent the 1st Brigade an estimated $124,000 per month. This financial support was later cut off, but only after the 1st Brigade commanders became major financiers whereby this sum represented barely two days of profit from their trade activities.

In addition to the monthly support, the factions sometimes received funds to cover exceptional costs. One donor sent $650,000 to the 1st Brigade to carry out and participate in the Battle for Damascus, but the brigade commanders sabotaged the battle and incited the people to stop the fighters crossing from al-Ghouta to storm Damascus on the pretext that these fighters will serve as an excuse for the regime to destroy Barzeh and displace its residents.

The same source confirmed that he witnessed the mobilization and military equipment that passed from al-Ghouta to Barzeh through tunnels at that time (March 2017). He said it appeared that the opposition factions were ready for a huge battle and if it had succeeded, the battle would have changed the balance of power in Damascus and the opposition forces would have taken control of large and vital areas extending from Barzeh to Rukenddin neighborhood and Fares al-Khoury street that connects to the Abbasid Square. 

According to the source, al-Manshar and Abu Bahr played a pivotal role in disrupting the battle for which they had the financial support and they used the money to pay off the other commanders in the 1st brigade. They took over $500,000 of the $650,000 which they received. 

-Turkey Investments Reveal Thefts in Syria- 

Opposition commanders were not less tempted to act corruptly than regime commanders when faced with these large sums of money flowing like a mighty river. Senior officers, such as Brigadier General Qais Farwa, received not only Abu Bahr's affection but also valuable gifts in the form of cars or gold plated mobile phones.

One source said that all the faction commanders were thus involved in corruption and betrayal with the exception of two Fahd al-Maghribi and Abu Hamzeh Sariha. 

Al-Maghribi was assassinated by members of the 1st Brigade because he was not happy with the direction the brigade command was taking. The remaining members of the 1st Brigade Abu al-Tayeb, Abu Walid, Shuja, Abu Amir, Abu Mahjoub, Abu Anas Taha, Abu Mohsen al-Salihani, Faris al-Dimashqi, Abu Mahmoud Sariha, Abu Bahjat al-Ashra, Abu Walim, Abu Salmo al-Salihani, Pharoun (Pharaoh), and others, contributed to destroying the revolution inside al-Barzeh neighborhood, trading in people’s pain, stealing money, pushing the people into submission to finally present the neighborhood to the regime under the guise of protecting it from destruction, and fearing for the lives of the residents family who ended up either displaced or, voluntarily or involuntarily, serving the regime.

Most of the leaders, including Abu Tayeb, al-Manshar, and Abu Bahr did not leave al-Barzeh and go north to leave Syria despite them having enough money to live a luxurious life, but chose to join the regime which placed on the front lines in battle. The source said that these people stained their records by committing many heinous acts including looting, violating the land and people’s honor. One of them is accused of rape and their crimes increased with their entrenchment in al-Barzeh and the severity of the siege on the neighborhood. Their abuses increased residents’ anger against them which may be the reason these men preferred to remain with the regime and not leave Barzeh with the displaced. They may have feared the punishment they might receive from one of their victims. 

Although more than two-thirds of the commanders of the 1st Brigade remained in Syria, and in particular in regime controlled areas, they sent part of their money with their comrades who left Syria. Some of these funds began to appear in Turkey. Abu Mahmoud Sarihat, Abu-Bahjat al-Ashara, and Abu Walim all bought a building in the center of old Istanbul and opened a restaurant in it. Abu Mohsen al-Salihani opened a chicken shop in one of the suburbs of Istanbul where many Syrians reside. 

While Pharon, another commander, who had a currency exchange bureau in Barzeh, and acted as the 1st Brigade’s treasurer, left Syria with the displaced and opened a money transfer office in Istanbul and another office for the export and import of oils.

As for the secret of the regime's disregard for them, even though they killed and abducted regime supports and army members, the source said that the regime knows what Abu Bahr and al-Manshar did, even if they accuse Abu Salmu al-Salihani, who left Syria, of all those crimes. 

However, the regime’s knowledge of what Abu Bahr and al-Manshar did may only be general knowledge of their acts, and the regime may be unfamiliar with the details. One of the most dangerous details is that al-Manshar liquidated an Air Intelligence warrant officer 3rd class who is the son of a senior officer holding the rank of Brigadier (Zaman al-Wasl reserves publishing his name). The warrant officer was detained in Barzeh and the regime may have included him on the lists of missing persons as it is unware of the officer’s fate.

Our first source concludes that Abu Bahr, al-Manshar, Abu al-Tayeb and other commanders were not only willing to indulge in the quagmire of treachery alone but took around 800 people down with them. The 800 are now fighting in several regime militias which the regime uses to swallow Syria, and imprison its people in a new cage of slavery that is much worse than what Syrian people have experienced so far.

Zaman A Wasl
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