The Carpet Bombing of Damascene Jobar

For the past week, Damascene Jobar has been bombarded so relentlessly that some are calling the strikes “unprecedented” [in Jobar that is], a term that has become extremely rare amidst the genocide and total destruction unleashed by Assad on the country for the past three and a half years. Rockets have been raining upon Jobar and war planes have been carpet bombing this suburb of Damascus, as shown in following footage:






Assad TV shamelessly presents this carpet bombing of Jobar as a victory:

The McCain-ISIS Conspiracy

[Obscure blogs and their new "discoveries" about old pictures]

In their efforts to expose cabals and plots around the world, conspiracy theorists often have one major obstacle to overcome: falsehood. On the other hand, conspiracy thinkers are just as often quick to consume and disseminate the fantasy tales thrown at them. Lack of rational thought, ignorance of facts and an inclination to speculate are a few reasons for this. Cooking up conspiracy theories may therefore not be a very hard job, but it’s still a job. A too high level of ridiculousness could translate into a major fail.

Team Assad, consisting of different official and officious media outlets as well as cultist supporters around the world, has become a major player on the international stage of conspiracy theories. Bashar’s cronies have deliberately spread false information and all sorts of fantasies in order to safeguard their positions for the purpose of power and wealth. Their propaganda has booked major local successes at gun point and found allies who would contribute and disseminate shared ideas to an international audience. These include propaganda outlets of allied regimes (Russia and Iran), as well as sympathisers and apologists around the world (politicians, journalists and activists), not to mention the thriving conspiracy industry.

One of team Assad’s major achievements in this regard has been overcoming the many great blunders it made. Take for example the Jazeera-Barca-Weather conspiracy. It was so ridiculous, it looked like a spoof. It wasn’t, but if a tree falls… The same goes for numerous other related antics, such as the “Doha Studios” conspiracy and the “Parks & Recreation” conspiracy. Just going through the archives [in English] of the official state-media outlet SANA would bring up countless of absurd and ridiculous stories and fabrications. Indeed, team Assad is more in league with the likes of team Kim rather than those who do his job for him on an international stage. Take for example the “Nato Data” fabrication or the conspiracies surrounding the chemical massacre in Ghouta, where the Russians had to step in to correct the oft repeated self-contradicting mantra of “nothing happened but the terrorists did it.”

Yet once in a while, it does go terribly wrong. Conspiracy theorists get ahead of themselves and come up with things that team Assad might just as well have produced. A few months ago this was the case with the McCain-ISIS conspiracy. The mother of all conspiracy theories about the Syrian revolution is that it was planned, organised and executed by “the West”. As such conspiracies care little to differentiate between this or that group and their role within [or in this case against] the revolution, the McCain-ISIS conspiracy fits right into this broader notion.

The story goes as follows: Last year, U.S. senator John McCain met with ISIS leaders – including the by now self-declared “Caliph” Baghdadi – and plotted their rise in Syria and Iraq. The evidence for this conspiracy would be several pictures of this meeting. A number obscure outlets parroting one another spread this story, and it took some time but team Assad eventually picked it up as well and published the following on SANA:

New evidence confirms relation between terrorist leader al-Baghdadi and Washington

…In the past few days, a photo went viral on social networks, showing al-Baghdadi with U.S. Senator John McCain near the Syrian–Turkish borders. According to some political analysts and experts on terrorism, this photo is plain evidence of the U.S. role in creating this terrorist and the organization he leads, noting that McCain visited a number of terrorist organizations in Syria and Iraq during the past three years, providing them with different types of support. ..

So, who are these “political analysts and experts on terrorism“?

Nice: ISIS Posts Photo of Their Members Chilling With Sen. John McCain
Right Wing News

ISIS brags about links to US Senator John McCain
Conservative News

Busted: Jihad John McCain Met With “ISIS” Head Caliph Ibrahim Back in 2013
American Everyman

ISIS Terrorists Post a Selfie with John McCain
Tea Party News Network

Here’s A Picture Of John McCain Hanging Out With ISIS Freedom Fighters In 2013

Now The End Begins

[Video] John McCain’s Whoops Moment: Photographed Chilling With ISIS
Mad World News

Exposed! ISIS Roared To Power Months After Secret Meeting With John McCain (Photos!)
Before It’s News

Photos of Senator McCain “chillin’” with ISIS Leaders in Syria Before Their Rampage Through Iraq
The Minority Report

The Whistle Blowers

ISIS Post PR Photos They Took With John McCain
Counter Current News

[Baghdadi's colourful wife? She looks like she's ready to tweet ISIS propaganda. "Mad World News" was the only one catching this picture, yet no questions were asked. Very suspicious, were it not that ignorance reigns and rationality is nowhere to be found in "Mad World", The editing in these pictures stems from the controversy upon their actual release in 2013. That's why not one but two men are encircled.]

A good conspiracy theorist would build his theory around notions that are hard to verify or disprove, and focus his efforts on exploiting the lack of rationality of his audience by way of logical fallacies. The amateur on the other hand, would rather opt for the much easier distortion or fabrication of facts. He can get a long way due to the ignorance on the part of his audience, but it only takes one poor chap to stumble upon actual facts and disprove the entire conspiracy. In this case, we’re dealing with amateurs. So much so, that even Front Page Mag refutes them. There is however a decent and more serious article by Inquisitr debunking the story as well. Another one is found on AZ Central.

A few days ago I stumbled upon one of the writers and “fact checkers” for Counter Current News, the last one on the above list. I’ve had seen the article in question when it came out and recognized the pictures from 2013 [when they were actually released]. So I asked him if he fact-checked this one as well and he replied that it not only was “100% legit”, but that ISIS had “even” bragged about it and added that Khalid al-Hamad “the cannibal Jihadist” [Abu Saqqar], famous for “eating a human heart of a Shi`i man he killed”, was in the pictures too. Why settle for the ignorance at hand when you can add more of it?

It may all seem innocent and “truth-seeking” in the conspiracy world, but in reality there lies a great tragedy behind the story of these pictures. They are of a meeting between U.S. senator John McCain, activists, and leaders of the Free Syrian Army that took place in May 2013. Note that “Whistle Blowers” claims it’s from Iraq in 2006! Among the attendees were the SMC’s Chief of Staff at the time, Gen. Salim Idris. More importantly, the meeting was hosted by Asifat al-Shamal [Northern Storm Brigade]. There was no secret about this meeting after it took place, as it was organized by the Syrian Task Force lead by Mouaz Moustafa, who is in the pictures [on the right with the Palestinian scarf] and found himself compelled to respond to accusations about ISIS.

Counter Current also claims to “remember” that meeting between John McCain, “factions of rebels” and Idris, described as ‘the head of the Free Syria “moderates”’. It then claims that Idris was “booted out for being too moderate.” No mention of who replaced him, namely Col. Abdelillah al-Bashir. I suppose he’s less “moderate” than Idris. If not, then that must have been why he was sacked too. The sacking was actually done by the NC, the most “moderate” of the lot. In reality, none of the schisms between the NC and the FSA or within each of them have anything to do with moderation or extremism, but rather with incompetence, ineffectiveness, personal interests and the interests of countries that back different factions. This is a popular revolution, overall leadership and outside meddling aren’t its strengths.

So where does Counter Current get such an absurd idea? Quite simply, it considers ISIS to be “a subset of rebels” and since it has been asserted that this is the group McCain had been meeting with, it’s assumed that Idris – apparently the only non-ISIS member in the meeting – was not up to their extremist standards and had to go. Such “facts” are impossible to check and consider 100% or otherwise legit, since they are simply conclusions or rather speculations drawn from premises. If the premises are false, not only is the conclusion false, there is no reason for any speculations to begin with.

So, what proves this premise to be true? One of the men in the pictures would be Baghdadi. Why? He supposedly looks like him, don’t all Arabs look alike? In the comments to the “American Everyman” entry, the clueless are actually comparing noses. Since June, we do know what Baghdadi really looks like, and the meeting was only a year before; did he age that badly? He didn’t, but the old picture of Baghdadi that is being used here and there to draw the compare is very old indeed. Someone must have missed the entire “Caliphate” episode or otherwise not have a clue.

[Logo of Asifat al-Shamal - Northern Storm Brigade]

We also know who the “Baghdadi” in the pictures with McCain actually is: an activist known as Abu Yusef. We knew this already in 2013 because this isn’t the first time these pictures have sparked a controversy. Back then, Abu Yusef, Muhammad Nour [also marked in the pictures, the second encircled man] along with the former leader of Asifat al-Shamal were accused by Irish members of team Assad of being involved in the kidnapping of Lebanese pilgrims, something they parroted from Hezbollah’s Al Jadeed TV. Once again, it’s bad news when other propagandists have a completely different story. The actual story of Asifat al-Shamal which includes the meeting with McCain and the controversy that was sparked are excellently covered in the following article:

The Northern Storm Brigade: It’s History, Current Status, and Why It Matters
By Chris Looney, March 18, 2014

[Ahmed Hayyad a.k.a. Abu Yusef, the activist falsely accused of being Baghdadi. Thanks to Yalla Souriya for pointing to this tweet with his pictures]

This brings us to the most relevant faction in that meeting for our purposes: Asifat al-Shamal. Despite being the host, it remained unnamed by Counter Current. It wouldn’t matter much because whoever they are, “ISIS Post PR Photos They Took With John McCain”. They even bragged about it, as the “fact checker” claims. First, these pictures were released at the time of the meeting in 2013 by none other than the organizers and they made it even on CNN and discussed by the person who released them, Mouaz Moustafa:

Of course, ISIS can’t release something they don’t have and they never did. Counter Current doesn’t offer even a mere hint to the evidence that ISIS had made claim to these pictures later on. But what if they did? If ISIS claims something, it must be true? They had something else to say in response to those pictures by September 2013 when it launched the attack on them.

We Fought FSA Because It Conspired With John McCain Against Us

“On Wednesday, we purified the land from what is called Liwa Asifat al Shamal, which God wanted to expose them in front of everyone. These are some examples of their treason before and now:

1. They secured the departure of the Assad army and its tanks that were shelling civilians in Menagh military airbase (which fell after the ISIS sent suicide bombers to kill its defenders on August 5).
2. They called for rule other than what God has prescribed, through democracy, on their official websites.
3. They received Senator John McCain in ‘the hangar’ and they agreed with him to fight the Islamists.
4. They fought fiercely against Muslims to defend the German spy (presumably a German doctor who helped in medical aid) on Wednesday whose camera had images of the ISIS headquarters, their houses and their women
5. One of the prisoners from Asifat Al Ashamal revealed that the group worked with BlackWater, the anti-Islamic company.
6. A few spies were captured from Asifat al Shamal and we had evidence they worked with the American intelligence and this is documented in a video that we will release online soon.
7. They stole and robbed without distributing the goods on Muslims. They humiliated people although the goods belong to the people.
8. They suffocated people on Salama crossing by taking their money, harassing women and humiliating men.”

Based on all that, our jihadi brothers fought them and expelled this criminal gang from Azaz because whoever aligns himself with the Americans will be with them.”


More of such statements followed, and this is the tragic part: As discussed regarding the Rise of ISIS in Aleppo, Asifat al-Shamal had been among the first FSA Brigades to have fought ISIS. One of the main excuses that ISIS used to attack them in their home town of Azaz was the meeting with McCain. ISIS declared them to be disbelievers and apostates [partially] on this basis and the group was nearly destroyed until the massive united offensive against ISIS commenced on the 3rd of January, 2014. This takfir against Asifat al-Shamal on the basis of these very pictures with McCain had also been addressed by Jabhat al-Ulema Halab – Aleppo’s largest scholarly body of the revolution – among a long list of transgressions on the part of ISIS back in November 2013:

قاموا بتكفير لواء عاصفة الشمال بناء على صورة مع جون مكين، ولم يأتوا بأي دليل يثبت حصول خيانة داخل اللقاء، وهذه شبهة لا تجيز القتال وسفك دماء المسلمين، فقد اجتمع صلى الله عليه وسلم بعدد من الكفار والتقى بهم. وهذا ظاهر في بياناتهم الصوتية والمكتوبة.

Translation: “They excommunicated Asifat al-Shamal on the basis of pictures with John McCain, even though they provided no evidence that treason took place at this meeting, and suspicions are not an excuse to fight and shed the blood of Muslims. The Prophet [peace and blessings be upon him] met with a number of disbelievers. And this [excommunication] is apparent from their [ISIS'] audio recordings and written statements.”

Baghdadi actually calls the FSA “McCain’s gangs” yet he was somehow in that meeting? He’s probably faking it, yet the claim that he was in the meeting is supposedly true? There was no such claim to begin with, the mere thought is beyond ridiculous. I suppose some irrational illiterate finding a fan boy tweeting pictures to “prove the disbelief” of the FSA, might “think” it must mean ISIS claims their leader is sitting there with McCain. At least such stupidity would be better than plain lying.

Mouaz Mustafa mentioned how ISIS considers him an apostate and killed two of his staff members merely for working with him, and how some of the men in the picture had been killed by ISIS as well. Mouaz is a Palestinian activist, the people Counter News with all their posts about Israel purport to care so much about. Yet Mouaz, Abu Yusef, Muhammad Nour and everyone else in these pictures are falsely accused of being ISIS.

Mouaz’ actually responded to these false accusations by Counter Current . Unfortunately, the writer at “The Beirut Report” who published the response and posted the Counter Current article still considers it all somehow a conspiracy by the “US and its allies”. Who needs “facts” when they’re debunked so easily. But with blunders like these, having an opinion is the last thing to worry about.

Say what you want of McCain, but his integrity and intelligence exceeds that of conspiracy theorists and propagandists by far. He has been one of the most vocal supporters of free Syrians in the U.S. and the most outspoken against both Assad and ISIS, but unfortunately little materialized even after that meeting. He did what he could, which is not much since he’s not the one who was elected in 2008 and running his second term. This points to the core notion of the McCain-ISIS conspiracy, namely that McCain would be able to conspire anything to begin with let alone organize a force that would take over a third of Syria and a third of Iraq in a year’s time.

["Because ISIS loves this flag"]

The “fact checker” at Counter Current throws in another name: Abu Saqqar. He’s supposedly also in one of those pictures, though it would have remained a mystery forever if “Conservative News” hadn’t pointed out who he’s supposed to be: the guy on the left in the picture at the top of this entry, holding a weapon and standing next to McCain and in front of “Baghdadi”. All Arabs must be looking alike again.

There are actually clear pictures of him, but “Conservative News” must not have a clue. Abu Saqqar is obviously not there, and why would he be? After all, Gen. Idris had been pressured to look for him after what happened in Qusayr. Besides, he was still in Qusayr as this meeting took place. But apparently, Abu Saqqar was somehow part of ISIS as well. Everyone who acts insane must be, never mind that he was actually one of the first civilians to join Farouq in Homs of all places.

So much misinformation and distortion begs the question: what’s up with Counter Current? Is it simply the same as all other obscure blogs in the list? Little else is found about Syria on the website other than these two pieces:

ISIS Caught On Video Burning the Palestinian Flag
This is Syria Today… Here’s What We Can Do About It.

Counter Current is seeing ISIS everywhere. If only they could understand what they are writing about. First, this is not ISIS, but a Syrian brigade, and that’s not the flag of ISIS. One could also recognize the slogan they chant, even if not speaking the language, as it’s a slogan shared by many revolutionaries except for ISIS for reasons most likely not obvious to the author.

Moreover, whoever understands what they’re saying will find that they are speaking of taking down the Baath flag, you know, of the “Ba`athist Assad regime and dynasty” that the author says to hate and reject. Indeed, it’s not merely a “Pan-Arab flag” shared by Palestinians, but the flag of the Baath party. Is that why some people think Bashar loves the Palestinians? It’s surely not because of Yarmouk, which the famous picture used in the second article is from.

The video is from 2013 [or older], but only picked up by Counter Current after Gaza came in the news more recently. They seem to have a talent for discovering old footage and use it for today’s trends in topics. The second article seems much more earnest and serious in scope. Hopefully the rest of the website tends more into that direction, though the piece on McCain alone is reason enough to throw the entire thing into the can.

It would do Counter Current good to get writers who know something about Syria, ISIS and other subjects to write about them and a fact checker who actually does his job. Hire a comedian if you must, Jon Stewart has some fans over there. I’m sure he wouldn’t fall for it the second time around. It was pretty sad that he had to rely on FOX News of all things, but at least he didn’t imagine Abu Saqqar was there even though he was all over the news a couple of weeks before. Speaking of “ze Jews”, Assad’s cronies also found it necessary to add something:

ISIS is run by Simon Elliot, a Mossad Agent

One would think the first one is a joke, almost forgetting that Shabbiha have no sense of humour. Then again, the man behind “Syrian Perspective” belongs in a mental asylum. As for the second blog, good to know that not only Simon is running ISIS, but that his brother Shmuel is running Turkey too. Jews, Jews, Jews, from 9-11 to Mumbai to Norway, according to the “Syrian Free Press.” So many Jews, only one schmuck: Bashar, the son of a goose. Congratulations to team Assad, as always an excellent job outdoing the competition in the end.

The Rise of ISIS in Aleppo

[Protests in front of ISIS HQ in Aleppo city, 14 November 2013]

When ISIS [DAESH] appeared in Syria in April 2013, it sought to distract the revolution from the obvious implications of its name: a claim to statehood. This was not a mere aspiration, ISI had already considered itself a state for years in Iraq and simply expanded into Syria by annexing its Syrian franchise, Jabhat al-Nusra. Although ISI had no square mile of Iraqi territory in Iraq left as a result of the Awakening, this was bound to become very different for ISIS in Syria and subsequently about to change upon its return in Iraq as well.

By the time Baghdadi, today’s self-proclaimed “Caliph”, had one-sidedly declared the merger with Nusra, the latter had already created quite a significant position for itself in the north and east of Syria since its mysterious appearance in December 2011. Despite being rejected by Nusra’s leader Jolani, who then declared his allegiance to Al Qaeda’s leader Zawahiri, the overwhelming majority of Nusra’s foreign fighters and members of smaller foreigner-based groups declared their allegiance to Baghdadi. Consequentially, they handed over their bases, checkpoints and areas of control to ISIS’ leadership and the many newcomers from Iraq that accompanied it. This instantly gave ISIS a strong presence in Syria, and Baghdadi’s envisioned statehood was about to become a reality.

[ISIS building in Menbij, Aleppo province.]

One of the first things ISIS would do was to make its presence extravagantly visible. Buildings were painted black, flags hanged everywhere, while walls and stands would bear slogans and symbols ISIS associated with. It was a bizarre appearance for a supposedly “Jihadist” group, which would only increase as the “state” expanded its power. One would expect it to be more concerned with the front lines, if unaware that statehood was the real objective. The state was already there in Baghdadi’s mind, everyone else merely needed to be convinced of it and so much priority was given to establishing the symbols of the state throughout society.

The next step was to reach out to the population, mingle with them and seek to indoctrinate them. ISIS instantly inherited support from parts of the population that had been supportive of Nusra before. Nusra had been relying on its smartly engineered reputation as a formidable fighting force combined with proving certain services and not in the least a superficial understanding of religious piety among those who would come to support it. As ISIS wasn’t interested in battles, it had to rely on engaging the population to new extents. Many leaflets and booklets were distributed, newspapers were established, ISIS preachers would speak in Mosques, religious lessons would be organised and gatherings held.

[Tunisian ISIS member "Abu Waqqas", the host of Aleppo's "family fun time" events.]

In Aleppo city, this outreach was reaching ridiculous levels with the “family fun time” events revolving around children’s entertainment. At these events candy and toys were given out, ice-cream eating contests, tug of war and musical chairs games were held, not to mention stand up comedy. That ISIS was not merely seeking to persuade parents or even raise a new generation of sympathisers would unfold in due time, for a child army was in the making that we sadly see the results of today.

[ISIS' growing child army in al-Bab, Aleppo province.]

How could a terrorist group, whose suicide bombs and assassinations had been terrorizing Iraqi society for years, have suddenly turned into some sort of theatre group touring Aleppo? In Iraq the massacres never stopped, and its destruction of the revolution inside the liberated parts of Syria had commenced as early as June 2013. In most places, ISIS didn’t get beyond painting buildings before the horror show began. This would happen in Aleppo as well, right alongside those “family fun time” events. Nevertheless, some of the people, among them those with great responsibilities, would be deceived for a long time to come.

As ISIS would also seek to provide a sense of stability and uniformity, aid and services along with a lack of crime in areas of their presence would contribute to an often positive atmosphere experienced by the population despite the aversion Aleppine society had towards religious extremism. The deception would go so far even that demonstrations would be organized in which the organizers would hold up Free Syrian flags alongside of ISIS flags, and cheer for the Free Syrian Army alongside of ISIS. This would be the same FSA whose leadership and brigades were excommunicated, threatened with annihilation and chased out of one town after another outside of the city, and the same flag that would be burned in the name of destroying idols.

ISIS was set on presenting itself in the best possible and non-threatening way to the outside world for as long as necessary. On the inside, however, it was building an army to defend its state. After its establishment, ISIS remained the fastest growing group by far, not in the least because the increasing number of foreign “fighters” coming in would overwhelmingly join Baghdadi’s state rather than Al Qaeda’s Nusra. At the same time, a stagnation in defections from Assad’s army – partly caused by the way both Nusra and ISIS treated anyone that was considered a subject of the regime – along with other factors had severely limited the growth of the revolution and even caused significant losses.

[ISIS presence in Syria, from Al-Qaeda Shows Its True Colors in Syria, 1 August 2013]

By June 2013, ISIS was already a force to be reckoned with. In its pursuit for actual statehood, ISIS sought to identify the weakest spots among what it perceived to be the greatest ideological opponents inside liberated areas. Soft targets were activists posed the greatest threat to its ideology, and foreign journalists and aid workers who were seen as spies. These were generally all unarmed civilians and either defenceless or protected by local brigades they worked with. A number of such small, localized brigades who were part of the FSA found themselves targeted as well, alongside the Supreme Military Council – the FSA’s official leadership – as a whole.

ISIS quickly understood that this was a revolution of a thousand revolutions. It wasn’t merely fractured, it was heavily disunited except on one thing: overthrowing Assad. How, when and why it got to that single point of agreement differed from place to place, the result of which was a thousand groups of different sorts which were often irrelevant beyond the villages, towns, cities or provinces they operated in. They were everything ISIS was not, and soon enough it would become clear that some of these brigades, already heavily preoccupied with the front lines, checkpoints, patrols, business or just hanging around, would be no match for ISIS on a mission. Furthermore, they had nobody to back them up other than the dysfunctional SMC or stronger local allies who weren’t eager to open a second front at all.

Nusra had already been getting away with a lot for more than a year since the appearance of ISIS; even though more than a few would oppose the group, the last thing everyone wanted was a new conflict. The National Coalition would rather criticize the U.S. for putting Nusra on the list of terrorist organisations. Moreover, it would turn out that the reason for this listing, besides its terrorist activities in Syria, was it being part of ISI, then considered to be the Iraqi franchise of Al-Qaeda. April 2013 not only proved them right, Syrians suddenly found themselves having two deal with two Al Qaeda’s. The attitude of denial and helplessness, among certain elements of the revolution going as far as to result in collaboration, would sufficiently prevail for a long time after the establishment of ISIS. This unwillingly become a major factor in facilitating the unimaginable rise of a “state” that would come to occupy more than a third of the liberated territories and would give Assad the opportunity for victories inconceivable before.

[Martyred FSA leader Abu Basir, Kamal Hammami]

ISIS successfully played into this and quickly felt confident enough to implement a new policy: in areas that ISIS saw a chance to remain virtually unopposed, activists were being kidnapped, FSA leaders [particularly those of the SMC] were being assassinated and local brigades were coming under attack. One of the first high profile victims was Abu Basir [Kamal Hammami], leader of the FSA’s Izz bin Abdul Salam Brigades in the Latakia countryside. Abu Basir was murdered as early as July 2013 at an ISIS checkpoint by a local leader of ISIS, “Abu Ayman al-`Iraqi”, after the latter accused him of apostasy. This was accompanied by the threat to kill everyone in the SMC: ISIS had effectively declared war on the FSA.

Not long before, a local FSA commander, Fadi al-Qish, was murdered in Dana in the Idlib countryside. More than a dozen of such murders, often of SMC members, would take place in the following months. Lt. Col. Ahmad Saoud and Brig. Ahmad Berri would be kidnapped in Idlib, the latter who would be decapitated by the end of December. Lt. Mohammad Qadi and Maj. Ahmad Jahhar had been murdered long before that, as had negotiator Shaykh Jalal Bayerli in Latakia and several others, leading up to the explosion of aggression in December 2013.

By then, the Bab al-Hawa border crossing with Turkey had come under attack, liberated Haram in Idlib province was captured, Hanano Brigade leader Mohammad Istanboli was kidnapped, FSA commander Ali Obeid of Atareb was kidnapped and killed, ٍShada TV in Aleppo was raided due to its hosting of Shaykh Adnan al-Arour show, Sarmada in Idlib province was stormed and the SMC HQ raided. These were from the onset not isolated incidents, such was the policy of ISIS based on ideological grounds and opportunity. Eventually these hostilities came to involve the entire revolution and before the end of the year, ISIS would effectively declare total war upon Syrian society.

[The entrance to ISIS' "Emirate of Jarablus"]

After no more than two months of ISIS’ appearance in Syria, the first town of Aleppo’s countryside to fully experience the consequences of this opportunist policy would be Jarablus. Here it was the local Martyr Yusuf al-Jader [Abu Furat] Brigade that dominated and which ISIS considered too weak to stand its ground. An attack ensued in which Abu Furat’s son and other members of his family were captured. Having defeated the only competition around, Jarablus became an official an Emirate by July 2013 and one of the first actual manifestations of statehood became a fact.

[ISIS HQ in the "Emirate of Jarablus"]

This started to happen in many parts of Aleppo’s countryside and others areas that had been liberated by the revolutionaries. Soon enough, Menbij, al-Bab, Azaz and other places in the east and north of Aleppo province would fall under the complete control of ISIS. It also occurred in Idlib province and even more so in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor provinces. The great price was Raqqa city, which had fallen as early as October 2013 and became the capital of their “state”. Some of these places were the epitome of successful civil post-Assad governance. They had been liberated for a long time and had functioning administrations which gave the people a hopeful future despite the bombardments and terrorism unleashed upon them by the Assad regime. Suddenly, all of this would vanish in a matter of weeks and replaced by the ISIS horror show.

[ISIS HQ in occupied Raqqa city]

Local brigades were all but obliterated: Farouq, Shuhada Badr, Asifat al-Shamal, Nasr, Ahfad al-Rasul, the Turkmen Brigades, Omana al-Raqqa, the 13th Division and others. Thousands of FSA fighters, would find themselves either destroyed as units or chased out of areas they had liberated from Assad. On their own, they were no match for massive invasions of madmen who were armed to the teeth. As a result, ISIS managed to take full control and began terrorizing the population with their barbarism and destroying religious heritage. Over a dozen shrines of saints would be destroyed under their rule in Syria in 2013, far beyond anything we’ve seen in the two years of revolution before their appearance. Society was transformed into a dark place where fear reigned and opposition of any sort was hunted down and wiped out. This proved to be the quickest way for Baghdadi to build his “state”.

["The Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, Wilaya of Aleppo, Emirate of Jarablus"]

However, a different story emerged wherever ISIS found itself to be an inferior force. The liberated half of Aleppo city was one of such places. Here, it wasn’t possible to go around killing people randomly and picking fights with local forces standing in the way. In the summer of 2012, the city was liberated primarily by Liwa al-Tawhid, with the support of newly formed local brigades. Together with the city’s FSA SMC-aligned military council this wasn’t something ISIS would be up against.

So instead, ISIS would expand upon its initial PR campaign and take a very different approach towards the competition. In Aleppo, ISIS would actually reach out to local forces, aid them in certain battles against the regime and cooperate with their courts, the very same courts they would vehemently reject in areas of conflict in much of countryside. ISIS continued to have its own court, but would not seek to interfere with others.

[ISIS court in Ma`dan, Raqqa province.]

Nusra, despite having lost a large part of its power to ISIS and perceiving it as an usurper, and despite being perceived as an ungrateful and stubborn child by ISIS in return, naturally remained its closest and longest standing ally. Ahrar, being the closest group to Nusra and “FSA-free” came in second. But in Aleppo, Liwa al-Tawhid and even the military council maintained relations with ISIS. Col. Agedi, the head of Aleppo’s military council, a [by then distanced] member of the SMC, a moderate person and someone who promised in front of the world to keep any aid and weapons out of the hands of extremists, had shockingly enough been deceived by ISIS to great extents.

After ISIS dealt the final blow by suicide bombing the Minnigh military airport leading to its fall in August 2013, after it had been besieged for months, Agedi praised ISIS for its efforts and victoriously posed with its local leader. Agedi also didn’t fail to remind later on that he had no problems whatsoever with the group, even though he warned that everyone else had. In addition, he had been a supporter of the unholy offensive lead by ISIS against the Kurds, although it was initiated before that by Nusra and supported by Ahrar and eventually Liwa al-Tawhid and several FSA brigades.

[Agedi together with the local leader of ISIS after capturing the Minnigh military airport]

Perhaps all of this shouldn’t have been so shocking. Agedi was not an extremist in disguise who conspired with ISIS; instead, he consistently maintained relations with absolutely everyone who opposed the regime. His was a purely military objective, and whatever it politically took to get there was apparently considered acceptable. This has proven to be a disastrous policy. Before ISIS, Agedi had been very apologetic of the more popular Nusra as well.

The terrorist attack that was condemned by the U.N. and got them on the list of terrorist organisations concerned only military targets according to him. Reliable witnesses, footage and common sense tells us otherwise. The Kurdish people also came under attack by Nusra early on, and it led the FSA’s Kurdish Meshaal Timo Brigade to confront it. As the conflict grew and ISIS began taking the lead, the FSA’s Kurdish Front officially left the FSA and allied with the YPG to defend their people.

Agedi was one of those who considered the YPG identical to the PKK and more importantly, guilty of collaboration with Assad. This perceived collaboration would prove to be the excuse for opening a second front, something everyone had sought to prevent in regards to Nusra even though there were more than mere suspicions in play. Collaboration with Assad would also become a major factor in the war with ISIS that was about to come despite Agedi’s efforts to avoid it. The Kurds, men and women, would prove to be among the most formidable fighters against ISIS. Today, Col. Agedi works together with the YPG against ISIS.

[ISIS court in Menbij, Aleppo province.]

Other such unholy distractions from the purpose of the revolution were the incursions into Alawite and Christian minority areas, the former of which would at times involve ISIS whose sole mission was to subdue and massacre. Unfortunately, some of these offensives [not any massacres or other efforts by extremists] were at their core supported by the National Coalition as well as Gen. Salim Idris who, unlike Agedi, had been vehement opponents of ISIS. In Aleppo, rumours had it that Liwa al-Tawhid’s leader, the martyred Abdul Qader Saleh [also an SMC member], was more sceptical and in conflict with Agedi over this matter. However, as the second man in the military council and Tawhid’s history with Ahrar and Nusra, the greatest potential obstacles for ISIS in Aleppo weren’t there for months on end.

But even in Aleppo, ISIS’ essential policy towards the revolution had not changed. However, there was less opportunity which made extent of this policy depend on how much the dominant forces would allow through their courts and military presence. Despite the lack of serious hostilities, this would naturally be much more limited than in areas where ISIS was in charge. ISIS would still seek out armed confrontations, but only with those groups which courts and brigades had no interest in protecting, and which were unpopular with the people. This way, ISIS managed to take on brigades like Ghuraba al-Sham inside the city and execute their leadership, headed by Hasan al-Jazra, in Atareb in the countryside as late as December 2013. In addition, ISIS had sought to take advantage of chaotic situations in which other forces were failing to maintain control. One main example of this was the “Garage” border crossing in the Busran al-Qasr neighbourhood during the siege of the regime-held part of the city.

[The martyred activist Abu Maryam al-Halabi, Ibrahim Wael]

ISIS was also still able to kidnap activists and other defenceless civilians such as Abu Maryam [Wael Ibrahim] who was “arrested” as early as August 2013. He was one of Aleppo’s most famous activists as he organised demonstrations throughout the city from his home in the Bustan al-Qasr neighbourhood. He was also the older brother of Aboudeh, Aleppo’s famed young voice of freedom who lead countless of demonstrations. Col. Agedi had been visiting their demonstrations, but apparently stood powerless when ISIS took him away. Abu Maryam had in fact been “arrested” and beaten by Nusra [on their own accord] before without repercussions, so there was a history;  they obviously wouldn’t shed a tear if ISIS kidnapped him, and nothing much happened on the part of other groups either when they did. By April 2014, the family was told by ISIS that Abu Maryam had been executed [presumably in Raqqa].

Liwa al-Tawhid had been fearful, little had been heard from its leader and the episode in Azaz in the countryside early on in September 2013 must have been a major blow. Having been an SMC aligned brigade which had good relations with brigades that were being attacked by ISIS, they tried to reconcile between ISIS and Asifat al-Shamal. The former was seeking to take over the latter’s home town of Azaz in Aleppo’s countryside. After constantly breaking agreements, Tawhid eventually found itself under attack as well and the town was lost to ISIS. The excuse for the offensive was a meeting between Asifat, together with Gen Salim Idris – the FSA’s Chief of Staff and head of the SMC – and U.S. senator John McCain. This was sufficient reason for ISIS to conclude that they were apostates who sought to create another Awakening in collaboration with the Americans, as had happened before in Iraq.

Soon enough however, those closest to ISIS – namely Ahrar al-Sham and Jabhat al-Nusra – would experience a similar treatment, in that order. ISIS would begin to attack brigades that were allied with Ahrar al-Sham, thereby forcing them to become involved in negotiations. As a rule, ISIS would constantly break agreements to end conflicts, lie about what had been taking place, and refuse to settle the disputes in court. Never admitting to anything, ISIS would increasingly attack anyone who stood in the way of establishing the “state” and move on to the next town.

[The martyred Abu Rayyan, dr. Husayn Sulayman]

For Ahrar al-Sham, the last straw was the imprisonment, torture, murder and mutilation to unbelievably gruesome extents of their negotiator and medic Abu Rayyan [Husayn Sulayman] in Maskana, Aleppo province, in December 2013, after ISIS had captured the liberated town from local revolutionary forces. By then, Ahrar al-Sham had already joined Liwa al-Tawhid and several others major groups in forming the “Islamic Front”. This was something planned for a long time and pursued by Abdul Qader Saleh, Liwa al-Tawhi’d leader in particular. He would be martyred right before the declaration of its establishment as he and his team were betrayed and hit by one of Assad’s air strikes at a secret location in the city in November.

ISIS considered the Islamic Front to be a Saudi apostate project and a conspiracy against them. To ISIS, the main culprit [after Abdul Qader Saleh] was Zahran Alloush of Jaysh al-Islam, indeed closely aligned to Saudi Arabia who would become the most outspoken and aggressive enemy of ISIS within the Islamic Front. However, his presence was limited to the south while it was the aforementioned groups along with Suqour al-Sham, also part of the Islamic Front, who dominated the north. Especially Ahrar al-Sham needed convincing, and ISIS left no stone unturned to achieve exactly that; it finally succeeded with the murder of Abu Rayyan. After all the rhetoric and lies were dispelled, ISIS finally admitted that he was killed for apostasy and made no secret any longer of its position towards the Islamic Front.

Already back in November, Mohammad Fares, one of Ahrar’s fighters, had been beheaded by ISIS. He was being treated in a hospital after having been wounded in battle. As he saw two suspicious looking men roaming around, thinking they were Assad’s Shabbiha, he began crying out “Oh Husayn” hoping they would think he’s one of theirs and leave him alone. Close enough, they were Dawaesh [members of ISIS] instead. Thinking he was a Shiite, they took him with them, beheaded him, and posed with his head in front of a crowd and cameras.

Before that, there was the murder of Abu Ubayda al-Binshi who was with a Malaysian aid envoy that came under attack and was killed after trying to escape. The Dawaesh in question mistook the Malaysian flag for an American one, so the story goes. Despite of these gruesome crimes, Ahrar al-Sham would seek to avoid any conflict with ISIS which began to change when the latter declared them, as a part of the Islamic Front, an enemy that was worse and more deserving of total war than Assad.

[A brave woman protesting in front of ISIS hedquaters in occupied Menbij, Aleppo province]

ISIS had risen to power in Aleppo as well as many other parts northern and eastern Syria through lies and deception. With a revolution largely in denial of the great threat that was about to come ever since the days of Nusra, an extremely fractured revolution brutally fought on all sides by Assad and his extensive list of allies and foreign mercenaries that supported him in all possible ways, and a revolution without any serious support from the so-called “Friends of Syria”, ISIS managed to rob more than a third of the revolution’s liberated territories and do more damage to the FSA and the activists at the heart of the revolution than Assad ever could.

From the very beginning, it was the people who spoke out and rose up against ISIS: the same people who had demonstrated against Nusra before, and the very same who had started the revolution in the most peaceful of ways, with their arms in the air, chanting for freedom and dignity. It was the women and children of Raqqa who stood in front of ISIS HQ and demanded the release of their fathers, brothers and husbands. It was the people of Aleppo who took it to the streets and exposed the “family fun time” charades. Activists and ordinary civilians took it to the streets throughout the country and ISIS’ responded in the same manner as Assad had before: protesters were attacked, shot at, and eventually massacred on the streets. In return, the fate of ISIS would become the same as that of Assad.

[Kafr Nabl, the small revolutionary town in Idlib's countryside that became famous for its cartoons and was attack by ISIS by the end of December 2013.]

The scholars had also increasingly been speaking out, listing the crimes of ISIS, warning them and declaring their deviancy. However, the approach towards them remained moderate for a long time, as had been the case regarding Assad before. As for the only ones who could have made a real difference on the ground, namely the armed revolutionaries, they were either under attack themselves or tried not to also become victims of the crimes committed against their people for months. This was a grave mistake. The very cause of the revolution against Assad manifested itself once more in a different form, to ignore it is to allow the revolution to eventually be destroyed.

At first, the perceived solution would be negotiations, debates and courts. Worse, some continued to maintain relations with ISIS despite all that took place. This had to stop at some point, and it became clear that, at least as far as Assad was concerned, ISIS was fighting his fight. Assad couldn’t reach the leaders of the revolution, civilian or military, but ISIS could. Assad couldn’t transform the revolution into a barbaric manifestation in the name of religion so that he would come out looking at the lesser evil in the eyes of the world, but ISIS could.

Conspiracy theories had been running wild, involving all sorts of intelligence agencies around the world. One thing, however, would become clear: Assad and ISIS conspired against the revolution, the only question was the extent of their collaboration. Assad had already collaborated with ISI against the Americans in Iraq, something even his later ally Maliki accused him of. In Syria, not only would ISIS not fight Assad unless sporadically for show, Assad would not strike them at all. For Aleppo, December 2013 would become the beginning of a barrel bombing campaign more extreme than anything seen before and which would last for months on end. ISIS, however, was never targeted despite their absurdly visible huge black painted buildings and large convoys.

[ISIS' "religious" police in Menbij, Aleppo province.]

It has to be admitted that striking military targets, even those of the FSA and of others, was already not that common outside of battles on the front lines. Assad preferred to strike residential areas, hospitals, bakeries, breadlines, schools and cemeteries instead, so that the population would abandon the revolution in terror and desperation. However, in areas under ISIS’ control there were no air strikes at all. All the barrels that were saved in every single city, town and village occupied by ISIS, were unleashed upon what remained of the revolution’s liberated areas. Eventually, it became clear to everyone that ISIS’ entire mission in Syria was counter-revolutionary from the onset. Everything would change on 3 January 2014, when the growing consensus against ISIS and the necessary response to it manifested as an all out war.

There is more than enough blame to go around for the rise of ISIS in Aleppo and in Syria in general, and some are more to blame than others. Many mistakes were made in how the revolution dealt with the rise of ISIS, which at first essentially a continuation of the attitude towards Nusra. Too many compromises were made, fundamental developments were ignored for too long, and  too many good people had been deceived. However, the main responsibility cannot lie with those in the worst of positions, those who have been suffering from Assad’s genocide and mass destruction, those who are desperately seeking to survive.

Despite that the guilty ones are Assad, Baghdadi, Khamenei, Putin, Nasrallah, Zawahiri and all their cronies swirling around them, some would like to blame it all on the Syrian revolution, much like everything else that happened in Syria. These are often the same people who have been absolving Assad from his crimes, denying Syrians their right to resist, and portraying the revolution as a grand scheme of imperialists and religious extremists. The Syrian people had awoken and rose up against Assad’s tyranny, while these critics carelessly continue to live in the comfort of a dream world.

[On the right: Khalid K., a bloodthirsty psychopath of Iraqi decent who had Dutch citizenship . He had been held by the Dutch intelligence agency [AIVD] for two weeks on suspicions of terrorism before he was released and left for Syria to join Nusra and later ISIS.]

It took the world at large more than a year to wake up to the horrors of ISIS, and only after it re-emerged in Iraq and took Mosul, the country’s second city. Their capture of Raqqa and more than a third of of the liberated areas from the revolution, much like Syria in general, remained under the radar for the most part. The long list of crimes ISIS had committed against the Syrian people were of little interest, they still are even today. One would have expected the opposite, considering much of the reporting about Syria trended around foreign fighters [on only one side] rather than the genocide. At the same time, this growing flow of people going to fight under the flag of Al Qaeda and ISIS was often belittled: their motivations were romanticised, their mental health unquestioned, and their efforts even hailed at times.

The governments of the countries of which they held citizenship did little to nothing to bring this flow to a halt. In some cases, there were even signs of encouragement. The same may even more so apply in particular to countries the invaders entered Syria from. bordering Releasing known terrorist suspects as occurred several times and throwing barely any obstacles ahead of them and others upon the same path doesn’t help dispelling conspiracy theories, even though incompetence and opportunism are what lies behind it. And for some, citizens rather than governments, these groups’ deception in terms of their slogans and fighting reputation, along with a bias against what truly drove the revolution, proved too much to process.

Unfortunately, the last to be consulted were the Syrian people, who did not ask for these terrorist groups and their followers to come to their aid. The revolution may have failed in preventing the rise of ISIS on its own, but it eventually rose up on its own on while others continued to look on. The 3rd of January 2014 offensive that was about to commence would bring a halt to ISIS’ expansion in Syria and set up its fall in more than half of the territories it had occupied by the end of 2013.