Al-Mabouja, 30/31 March 2015
“Al-Mabouja” is a village in the northeastern countryside of Salamiyah, on the road between the cities of Al-Raqqa and Salamiyah. Al-Mabouja is about thirty kilometers from Al-Raqqa and is inhabited by about 4000 people, most of whom work in agriculture.
The village had not witnessed any unusual event before the terrible and decisive night of March 30/ 31 2015, despite what had happened until that date in terms of popular movement, fighting, and social, political and sectarian divisions that swept the whole country.
The sectarian diversity of Al-Mabouja residents made it a microcosm not only for the surrounding area, but also for the whole of Syria. However, the multiplicity of beliefs in the geographical vicinity of Al-Mabouja will be transformed into political polarizations that will intensify after 2011.
On the east, south and north-eastern sides, Al-Mabouja is bordered by villages inhabited by Sunni Bedouin clans, and on the southwest is a village whose inhabitants are a mixture of Sunnis and Ismailis, while on the west there is Al- Saboura sub-district, which is the administrative center of all surrounding villages. It is a purely Alawite population gathering and a site with an advanced security role in the Badia throughout the rule of the Assads.
Second: Al-Mabouja and its west
With the onset of the popular movement in March of 2011, sharp differences began to appear in the political position between opponents and loyalists.
These distinctions ran horizontally throughout the Syrian society, right up to the members of the same family.
Numerous anecdotal evidences indicate that the regime worked during that period to give these differentials in the political situation a sectarian dimension by exploiting and employing the state of sectarian diversity in the region. The residents of the region mention several incidents in which the supporters of the regime and its systems created problems that the people of the region were the ones who were quick to comprehend and solve. However, the residents’ efforts to contain the problems caused by the system’s hardware did not last long. The regime began forming armed militias auxiliary to the army and the security forces. These militias have taken a position from Al-Saboura area.
These militias deployed several checkpoints in Al-Saboura and the surrounding villages at the end of 2011. However, it did not set up any roadblocks in the village of Al-Mabouja before 2015. The popular sentiment in the village refused to erect barriers between the village and its surroundings because it saw the setting of these checkpoints as a provocative factor and a cause for stirring up problems among the people rather than a control of security and the maintenance of stability .
Third: Al-Mbuja and its east
Continuous pressure from the regime’s security services and loyalists who already belong to the villagers succeeded in forming armed groups bearing the name of “Popular Protection,” and these groups established checkpoints for them on the outskirts of the village. From this point, a series of harassment and provocation of civilians passing through the village began. These harassment at checkpoints was happened frequently and sometimes followed by arrests and physical assaults.
Tensions began to increase between the Bedouins, residents of the eastern villages, and the people of the village as a result of these practices carried out by groups led by people from Al-Saboura . Along with this tension and the manner in which the pro-regime militias were formed, the “Faruq Brigades” and later the “Al-Nusra Front” began to spread in the Bedouin eastern villages, and the entire region went out of the control of the regime at the beginning of 2013; Thus, the village of Al-Mabouja and the adjacent eastern villages became a dividing line between two fighting fronts.
With the emergence of the “Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant”, ISIS, and its declaration of an “Islamic caliphate” in parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014, the individuals involved in the Islamic brigades present in the region, Al-Nusra in particular, became either supporters of or opponents of ISIS. Thus, the villages that lied to east of Al-Mabouja witnessed a struggle between Al-Nusra and ISIS over control of the area .
The conflict was finally resolved in favor of ISIS by the end of 2014. Thus the map of control in the region was formed as follows:
1- ISIS controls the lands that lied south and east of the Salamiyah-Al-Raqqa road. This area includes the villages of Salba, Rasm al-Qatasiyah, Masoud, and Masada, as well as the desert of Sokhna and Palmyra up to Raqqa.
2- Jabhat al-Nusra controls the lands north and west of the Salamiya-Raqqa road to the northern Hama countryside, in addition to a group of villages southwest of the city of Salamiyah, up to Talbiseh and Rastan.
Fourth: Al-Mabouja, between its west and east
With the beginning of the year 2013 and the expansion of Al-Nusra’s activity in the region, Al-Mabouja became a target for the regime’s missile and mortar shells, and its people lived in a state of fear, tension and anticipation. This
situation worsened with the increase in bombing rates that escalated after ISIS took control of villages east of Al-Mabouja in 2014.
At the time, ISIS established a long dirt berm between its areas of control and those of the regime forces, which made the vistits of the villagers to their lands, their only source of livelihood, often, a daily adventure because it was fraught with the threat of sniping or kidnapping.
Indeed, since 2013 and before ISIS built the berm, incidents of mutual violence had been escalating due to barriers and the growing sectarian and regional sensitivities; Kidnapping and murder were the most visible features of this violence. During this period, several people were kidnapped, without necessarily having any political or security roles. Al-Nusra Front kidnapped “Ali Kulthum” in 2013, and nothing is known about his fate until now. ISIS kidnapped “Mwafaq Al-Haj Youssef”, who then managed to flee and return. And “Ihssan Rizq Nayouf” (from the village of Aqrib), who was killed by the organization which announced the news of the capital punishmentand displaying a picture of implementing it via its media. ISIS kidnapped “Fayez Al-Sijri” from his land and later executed him by firing squad; He also kidnapped “Ahmed Al-Jundi,” whose fate is not known to this day.
Fifth: Control is distributed inside Al-Mabouja , before the massacre
By the end of the year 2014, the regime forces were controlling Al-Mabouja employing a number of militias, all of which were under the control of the National Defense Militia in Al-Saboura. They were all names as follows: 1- The National Defense. 2- Eagles of the Whirlwind. 3- Desert falcons. 4- The Leopards (the Tiger Group). 5- Baath Brigades. 6- Group 147 (affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard). 7- A group affiliated with the Lebanese Hezbollah.
These militia groups were not only harming the residents of the eastern villages passing through their checkpoints, as previously mentioned, but the daily beating, insults and humiliation affected the people of the same village as well. Moreover, after ISIS regained control in the eastern villages after the year 2014, Al-Mabouja turned into a smuggling pathe through which unknown supplies pass towards ISIS-controlled areas.
At this stage, the residents of Salamiyah and its countryside had a growing feeling that the regime was using them as a bargaining chip, and that it opened the way for extremist organizations to target them, so that the regime would exploit this targeting in favor of its propaganda as a “protector of minorities” in the face of the ghoul of Islamic extremism. There was a constant fear among the people of the region that the regime itself would fabricate a massacre or provide the conditions for its occurrence, for at that time, it was the worst at the military or international level.
Hours before the ISIS attack on Al-Mabouja , the regime’s militia checkpoints were distributed around the village in the following order:
1- A checkpoint (National Defense): located on the southern side of the village, Al-Mabouja Road, Qalib al-Thawr.
2- A checkpoint (National Defense): located on the eastern side, on the road connecting Al-Mabouja to Salba.
3- The (Ba’ath and National Defense Brigades) checkpoint: located in the north-east, on the road to Rasm al-Ghajiya (al-Qutshiya).
4- The Popular Committees Checkpoint (Al-Baath Brigades): located on the western side on the Mabouja Al-Sabboura road.
Sixth: The night of 30/31 March 2015: the massacre and the open wound
The attack on Village Al-Mabouja started from three directions on Monday, March 30th, 2015 at 11:00 pm.
1- The southern axis: from the side of the Village Qlib al-Thawr and Abu Hanaya.
2- The eastern axis from the side of Village Salba.
3- The northern axis from the side of Village Rasm Al-Qatshiya and Umm Tuwina.
ISIS’s attack on Al-Mabouja seems to have given a signal to the regime forces and its militias in order to implement an orderly and rapid withdrawal and to open the way for ISIS groups that entered the village; The regime’s militias withdrew without even warning the people, leaving them to face their bereaved fate alone. The people of Al-Mabouja will remember these facts of that bloody night:
1- On the northern axis, the regime forces withdrew from their checkpoint before any clash took place. ISIS forces found the road to Al-Mabouja open.
2- On the southern axis, the regime forces withdrew from their checkpoint before any clash took place. ISIS elements faced no resistance at the checkpoint on the road to Village Qlib al-Thawr, where the official in charge of the checkpoint fled with its members prior to the attack. The deserters left behind the medium and heavy weapons (medium machine gun on a vehicle and mortar) and carrying only their individual weapons. From this axis, the road was also open for ISIS elements who reached the homes of the first village, where another checkpoint was located, consisting of the people of the village, who refused to retreat
and resisted the advance of ISIS forces so bravely until they were all killed.
3- On the eastern axis, the checkpoint official gave an order requiring the withdrawal of all checkpoints after the first bullet fired by ISIS militants. The withdrawal was carried out in spite of the protest and surprise by some of the villagers at the checkpoints, so the ISIS found the road to Al-Maboujah from the eastern side as well open and cleared.
4- On the northeastern axis (Rasm al-Ghajiya road), a light clash took place (during which two young men from the village were killed), and after which the regime forces withdrew from the site.
Seventh: ISIS is insde of Al-Maboujah
ISIS forces entered the village after the withdrawal of the regime forces, and some clashes took place between the organization’s members and some of the people who had individual weapons or some hunting weapons that they had already posessed in order to defend himself and his family.
Clashes continued throughout the night. From the moment the masked terrorist entered at 11:00 pm on 30/3/2015 until 7 O’clock in the morning of the next day, 31-2015. The regime forces, which withdrew from the village, stationed on the western side of the village. The regime did not move its forces stationed in Al-Sabboura, which is only five kilometers away, nor those stationed in the direction. Thus, civilians, children, women and men of Al-Maboujah were left to face the brutality of ISIS alone, under the watchful eye of the regime forces.
That night, a number of the villagers could escape from the western side, and most of them fled towards Salamiyah, while a few of them
stayed at home. The organization’s stay in the village did not last long, and it seemed that the goal was never to control it, as it withdrew in the morning after killing 50 people and kidnapping 40 women, children and elders of the village. The fate of 6 of them was identified. ISIS kept eight members of the Al Mimar family and two of the Atfah family with them, and until this day their loved ones know nothing of their fate.
Today, six years after the Al-Maboujah massacre, the wound is still open and scattered. Dozens of families are still waiting for news of a child who has been kidnapped and are expecting to see her as a mature girl. A grandson still asks about a grandmother, who does not remember the details of her face, but he keeps the memory of an overwhelming feeling of warmth and reassurance that numb him while he falls asleep in her lap. A young woman who finished her studies today is still waiting for her father to read him her diary that she wrote on his long absence.