The Syrian Observatory For Human Rights

Abuses, insults and offensive against Syrians and indulgence towards ISIS prisoners, the SOHR continue to reveal the situation inside the Turkish-backed “Sultan Murad Division” areas of control

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,

September 2019

When the Turkish state launched Operation “Euphrates Shield” in northern Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that the operation was aimed at countering the Islamic State and “Kurdish terrorist groups that threaten our country in northern Syria.” The few years since the Turkish invasion of a part of northwestern Turkey, unquestionably confirmed that the Turkish president’s statements were merely propaganda to justify his interventions in the Syrian territory, where the actions and violations of the armed factions loyal to “Ankara” against the Syrians of all components and political trends, revealed systematic violations under the eyes of Turkey without any attempt to stop them or to bring those responsible to trial. According to reliable sources, the Turkish-backed “Sultan Murad” faction, which is the largest and most powerful faction within the control areas of the “Euphrates Shield”, has been engaged in all kinds of violations against Syrians and non-Syrians who are in his grip, and did not hesitate to use all kinds of psychological and physical torture against detainees in his notorious prison on the Syrian border with Turkey in the area between the Turkish border wall and barbed wire that represents the original Turkish border before the construction of the border wall.

Attacks, beatings and insults, “Euphrates Shield” factions violate the rights of its detainees

Through reliable sources, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights obtained the testimony of a member of the media office of the Syrian Democratic Forces, who fall by mistake into the hands of the “Sultan Murad Division” and was detained for almost eight months in the faction’s central prison on the border with Turkey. According to the testimony of the reliable source, he was accompanied by the correspondent of Al-Hurra TV in “Manbij” during the period of application of joint patrols between the United States and Turkey within the agreement to hand over “Manbij” and to the “Manbij Military Council.” On June 22, 2018, a member of the SDF’s media office -along with three others- was arrested by Turkish-backed factions after they lost their way as the correspondent of Al-Hurra TV sought a report from within a village called “Hausharia,” which is predominantly by Turkmen. According to the source, the driver lost his way and entered the area of ​​the checkpoint “Aoun al-Dadat” overlooking the Sajur River because of the reporter’s failure to guide him across the road.

The source, who was tortured throughout his detention, told the Syrian Observatory that he had warned the reporter not to enter the disarmament area, but the reporter assured him that he knew the way and that the area was safe. “We stopped by and the correspondent went down and moved on his feet about 100 meters towards the areas of the Euphrates Shield. He found an unarmed young man aged between 15 and 16 years in civilian clothes, but I noticed the change of facial features of the correspondent who turned his back and started to run, then we were surprised by the young man chasing him, and then two armed men of the Free Army appeared behind the reporter, but we could not escape and as soon as they saw me in the military uniform of the Syrian Democratic Forces, they turned their attention to me and pointed their weapons towards me and towards the three companions -the driver, a relative and an assistant to the reporter. They forced us out of the car. Meanwhile, the reporter fled and two gunmen pursued him. When they returned, one said they stabbed him and that he was likely to die,” the source told the SOHR.

During the next few minutes, the gunmen reached out the next checkpoint to bring in reinforcements, and they already received two four-wheel drive vehicles carrying 10 fighters. “They searched us for the second time and found only the correspondent’s equipment. Then they started taking us to a checkpoint about 8 kilometers away from the Sajur River. In the road, we were exposed to the most horrible insults and beatings. One of them threatened to kill us, saying: we will liquidate (dogs of Assad) and (dogs of SDF). Then, one of their leaders told them that the Prophet did not order to treat prisoners of war in this way and prevented them from attacking us. After that, he reached out to one of the brigade commanders by radio, who asked him to take us to the headquarters of the brigade in an olive grove, most likely confiscated from it’s the owner,” said the source. Over the course of a few hours, the four detainees were interrogated intermittently by five interrogators, each resorting to insults, humiliation and beatings in order to extract confessions by force. The source pointed out that “one of the investigators named Abu-Nizar said that he is a doctor from Mayadeen, while the second is Abu-Alaa from Manbij, and he has been practicing the most severe forms of torture against me in order to force me to confess that I’m a PKK militant and that I was trying to carry out a bomb attack in the Euphrates Shield control areas,” the source added.

In the three-story faction command building, there was a basement used for torture, where detainees were subsequently transferred to the basement for torture in order to force them to confess. One faction commander said they killed 3,000 ISIS operatives in that room. “A person named Abu-Ali came to re-interrogate me from the beginning, and put his weapon towards my head to force me to confess,” the source who survived the torture told the SOHR. “By 10 pm, a phone from one of the leaders of the faction came to confirm that we are working with the international coalition against ISIS. After that, Abu-Nizar came and apologized for what happened and told me that we are now the prisoners of the Turkish-backed factions, and then another one named Abu-Abdullah came to host us until the morning before we were transferred to the prison of ‘Sultan Murad Division’ in the area adjacent to the border wall. This faction is working under the command of Fahim Issa, alias (Abu-Ahmad), and through what I saw it seems to be that this division controls all beyond the border wall”.

According to the testimony of the source, the cooperation between the faction of the Sultan Murad Division and the Turkish Intelligence is obvious. Each of the four detainees was separated in a room and then taken one after the other into a room where a Turkish interrogator sits accompanied with an interpreter. “The Turkish interrogator began to insult me ​​in Turkish and the translator -a Turkman- translated to me what the interrogator said, and in the end the interrogator said: Do not dream to come out of here alive,” the source said.

“For 20 days, they left us in a 3-meter room with nothing but a huge door with only a window of only 20 centimeters. They were giving us very little food. They provided a meal for only two people for 10 people, and sometimes the prison room had 16 prisoners,” the source said, “Then they brought up prisoners who tried to enter Syria to join ISIS through Turkey but the Syrian smugglers deceived them,” the source told the SOHR, adding that “As the (Sultan Murad Division’s) prisons are the best of the northwestern region of Syria, the first room we were in was crowded with elements and fighters of ISIS, while the second room packed with civilians of (Afrin), military personnel within the forced conscription, members belonging to the (YPG) and elements of the free army, as each faction arrested the elements of the other in order to bargain them”.

“During the first 25 days in the prison, they refused to allow us to bathe, not even wash the face. The prison was opened only twice at 10 am and at 5 pm,” the source said, “Water was being provided in very small quantities. We were subjected to severe psychological torture, and because of the intense heat, the numerical density in the prison room and the lack of bathing, we became allergic and had some lice and scabies, until the faction commander Fahim Issa ordered them to allow us to bathe”.

Regarding his sightings of detainees in the “Sultan Murad Division” prisoners of various components and trends, the source said: “During the first 15 days in that prison, they came to us with a 40-year-old woman from the Ghouta displaced people named (Um-Jaber) who was working in a civil organization in Afrin. She came with two militants of ‘Al-Rahman Legion’, one of them an interrogator, and they belonged to Al-Rahman Legion, where they were looking for a Kurdish soldier from the YPG who disappeared in Afrin. It was clear that they agreed to a financial reward for providing any information about him to his family,” the source said, “One of the military prisoners told us that in (Warda) prison there was a person named (Abu al-Mut), who was receiving money in exchange for the release of detainees. That person used to rape women, and when he tried to rape one woman in his room, she prevented him and he responded by beating her and transferring her into our prison. After a week of persistent pain, she was aborted due to the assault the she was exposed to. She was not taken to hospital until 25 days after the incident and did not return to us again. There were some negotiations between Al-Rahman Legion and Sultan Murad Division to release the two militants who were prisoned for 27 days, which happened at the end. The woman said she would complain to the United Nations as she was working in a human rights organization”.

According to the source, members of the “Sultan Murad Division” were trying to blackmail the detainees to solicit information in any way. “Before we were released from prison, we were interrogated for the last time an hour before our release, and they tried to blackmail us, seduce us with money and bigger salary,” the source said, “They offered me money in exchange for giving them information about what happens in the SDF’s control areas, and they gave us shoes that I suspected had tracking devices. Later on, we discovered it contain tracking devices. Before we were released, we discovered that they stole all our belongings, phones and everything”.

YPJ fighters, Assaults force one of them to set fire to the prison

According to the reliable source, “Sultan Murad Division” arrested a 35-year-old woman from Afrin, who was YPJ fighter for 5 years and quit to get married and gave birth to a boy and a girl. One of her relatives reported to “Sultan Murad Division” that she is working with the Kurdish forces, leading to her arrest. “She was then transferred to the ‘Sultan Murad Division’ prison and was subjected to interrogation on a daily basis by the Turkish intelligence in the light of ill-treatment and beatings, insults and violations,” according to the source who added that the prisoners could hear what was going on in the interrogation room. “When the lady asked the interrogators to see her children, they told her they had slaughtered them in Afrin, but after three months they had to release her under pressure from the water company where she worked, as the company confirmed that it was not possible to work without her presence”.

Attacks and abuses of the “Sultan Murad Division” also affected female YPJ fighters who were captured during the war in Afrin, after being held for a while in the notorious “Al-Raaei” prison. “In the evening, the YPJ fighters were communicating with us and they were giving us some help. They told us that the women were raped in ‘Al-Raeei’ prison, and that the alternates in the prison resorted to bringing the detained girls to dance for them in the evening. Two girls refused to dance for them and one of them set fire on the cell at night causing the death of two of the detainees, one on the spot and the other due to her injuries. The women were held in prison with us for about seven months and then transferred to Afrin”.

Elders, diseases and age did not prevent attacks and violations

According to the sources of the SOHR, the elderly and the sick were not spared from the attacks of the “Sultan Murad Division”. In the prison, the source met a 60-year-old Kurdish woman with her Turkmen husband. The two were suffering from chronic diseases such as thyroid and stroke. They were imprisoned for 11 months during which they were subjected to the most heinous torture and humiliation, under the pretext that one of their neighbors reported that they had four daughters and five young men working with the YPJ and the Manbej Military Council. Despite repeated diseases, the couple were not taken to hospital or released until several months after their arrest.

“Four months after my arrest in the Sultan Murad Division Prison, 10 days before Eid al-Adha, Fahim Issa accompanied by the military commander of the faction Murad Abu-Abdo and a coalition member, came to the prison. One of the relatives of the driver who was arrested with us was taken by Fahim Issa to have several pictures for him then he made a phone call to his mother for the first time since our arrest. Then, Issa said that they had us on the list to be exchanged for two of the Turkish intelligence (MIT) who have been arrested by the Military council of Manbej for over a year. The Turks asked to exchange us for them. He said they would negotiate their release in exchange for our release. However, after several negotiations for a long time, it was agreed to release us 8 months and 20 days after our arrest, in exchange for the release of 23 FSA commanders,” the source said, “After four months, the young Hassan was released and delivered to his father at the (Aoun al-Dadat) checkpoint. Our story reached the Pentagon and several international pressures began to release us. A day after Hassan’s release, we were transferred to the new central prison of ‘Sultan Murad faction’, which was set up on a huge armory. The area of ​​the prison courtyard was approximately 40 meters, and each room had 37 double beds”.

The source also pointed out that the “Sultan Murad Division” arrested an elderly man and took him to prison after one man accused him of kidnapping his son in “Afrin”, where he was subjected to systematic torture in the prison of the “Al-Rahman Legion,” including picking off his body hair, breaking his ribs and his index finger, and remained a full week on his back because of his broken ribs until he was finally taken to hospital and released after 7 months of detention”.

“Alaa”, A Shabih who was forced to divorce his wife

During the presence of the source in the Central Prison, he knew of kidnapping 3 members of the Manbej Military Council by the “Sultan Murad Division”. The three were kidnapped from “Al-Dandaliya” checkpoint after they were betrayed by an affiliate and drugged in order to hand them over to the faction elements during the night. According to the source, the three kidnapped are a Kurd, a Turkman and an Arab. “We also met three of the Alawites Shabiha affiliating to ‘Suhail al-Hassan’ brigade. They were a 50-year-old man, his 33-year-old nephew and a 40-year-old brother-in-law. They were arrested after they lost their way and were transferred to the central prison in the same room with us,” the source said.

Attacks and violations by the “Sultan Murad Division” did not stop at the beatings and insults on the detainees, but according to the source’s testimony, “the 33-year-old from the regime’s shabiha, Alaa, was forced to divorce his wife in order to be married to Fahim Issa. His wife was in contact with Fahim Issa to release him but the latter persuaded her to visit the prison and then forced Alaa to divorce her. According to our understanding, Fahim Issa refuses to release the three in the deals with the regime, for fear of being exposed. The three have been in prison for nearly two years and 5 months so far. They have not been released, according to what I learned through my contact with Alaa’s sister-in-law, who confirmed that he often suffers from various diseases and though Issa refuse to release him”.

Among the regime’s detainees in the “Sultan Murad Division” Prison, an Alawi captain and a military personnel who were arrested and held for 45 days in solitary confinement, and remained without food or drink for 10 days. According to the source, the Captain was subjected to the most heinous attacks, torture and insults, and was investigated to ask him about the relationship between the regime and the Kurds.

Being “Kurdish” is a crime; the punishment is “death and burial in a Mass grave”

According to the source, one day after the arrest of “Alaa” and his companions, another person belonging to the group “Suhail al-Hassan” named “Mohammed” from Aleppo. “Mohammed” was accompanied by a young Shiite suffering from diabetes and has been subjected to violations for four days without being treated or having food or drink, which led eventually to his death in the “Sultan Murad Division” areas of control. “He was buried in a cemetery behind the prison. There is a mass grave or a well used to bury the dead from Afrin, where approximately 10 people were buried daily inside that well, as was the case in Ergenekon in Turkey,” the source said.

The source said that all young people of “Afrin” are potential prisoners for the “Sultan Murad Division”. “All Kurdish men were arrested and imprisoned in the ‘Sultan Murad Division’ Prison, along with the other prisons in al-Bab, Jarablus and Afrin. When Fahim Issa founded the new central prison, he said he would like to fill it with Kurds and PKK. According to our observations, there were 5 or 6 new prisoners from Afrin every day and they were subjected to torture, suspension and brutal beatings during the interrogation. The most famous way of torture used there was the so-called (Balango), which caused great harm to those exposed to it,” according to the source.

“The young prisoners affiliating to the Military Council of Manbej were forced to work daily in sweeping courtyards, cleaning the headquarters and kitchen work. They also were subjected to all kinds of insults and beatings. Every Afrin resident is a potential prisoner, displaced or expelled. The goal was to force the Kurds to leave their lands. Sometimes prisoners were released from the prison of one faction to fall into the hands of another. If the prisoner does not has a paper proving that he was arrested by another faction, he would be detained again”.

Insults and arrests, a punishment to parents who try to find out what happened to their children

The sources of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights pointed out that the violations also affected the families of the detainees when they were trying to find out the fate of their children. “When the people of Afrin were visiting the prison area in order to know what is happening to their children, parents are prevented and detained for several days until they become a lesson to others, sometimes arresting five or six people at a time”.

The sources also revealed the story of a fighter from Afrin who joined the Kurdish forces as part of the duty of self-defense without taking part in any military operations. After being reported that he works for the Kurdish forces, he was detained for about seven and a half months in prison without anyone knowing about him. “One day, a new batch of prisoners arrived and he was identified by one of them. He revealed to us that his family believed that he had been killed a long time after the ‘Sultan Murad’ told his family that he had been killed and prevented them from solemnizing him or searching for his body. They released him eventually and he returned back to his house,” the source said.

ISIS fighters, Normal treatment for war criminals

Despite abuses against detainees in the “Sultan Murad Division” prison, ISIS detainees were routinely treated compared to war criminals who committed crimes and atrocities against thousands of civilians. According to the source’s testimony, there was an Islamic State fighter from the UAE who was held in prison for one year and 10 months. “The ISIS UAE fighter was a prince in the organization and spoke several languages, including Kurdish, English, German and Russian”, the source said, “The second was a Saudi named Abdullah al-Shammari. He also have been a prince in the organization and later revealed that he had slaughtered a relative of Alaa, in addition to his participation in capturing and killing Yezidis. He told us that there are still acts of captivity and enslavement of neighborhoods in several areas of Idlib”.

According to the testimony obtained by the SOHR, There were other elements of the (Islamic State) detained in the “Sultan Murad” prison, including two from Morocco were on their way to join ISIS, one person from the city (Casanova) named Mohammed Khalis, and the other from (Agadir) named Abdul Rahim al-Amo, in addition to another Pakistani From (Khorasan) called Mohammed Ghazi and his nickname (Abu Muslim Khorasani). They were all detained at the central prison of “Sultan Murad”.

One of the most prominent examples of the Turkish dealings with ISIS operatives is the story of Omar Haji, the ISIS coordinator who is one of ISIS’s top legislators. Haji was detained in the same prison for issuing fatwas that killed and massacred more than 3,000 people. He is also wanted by Interpol and the “Sultan Murad Division” knew that but never attempted to extradite him. “According to the information obtained, Omar Haji was released from the prison of Sultan Murad Division after paying a bail of 45 thousand US dollars, and I witnessed that he was getting everything he wanted and was treated with respect during the investigation. The Islamic State was spoiled by the Turks. After his release, they made him the imam of a mosque in Afrin. He still preaches and publishes his thoughts and fatwas everywhere,” according to the source.

Illiteracy, fear of the Turks, addiction and infighting, Chaos control the areas of “Sultan Murad Division”

Despite all attempts to legitimize the areas of control of the “Sultan Murad Division faction”, the source told the SOHR that chaos controls these areas, as illiteracy and ignorance are widespread among the members of the faction except for Fahim and a few number of the faction members. “Also, there is a widespread of drug pills and hashish as a form of addiction in northwestern Syria, in addition to killings and looting. On one occasion, the Al-Ashmat faction led by Hussein Abu-Aashma attacked the headquarters of the Sultan Murad Division and kept exchanging fire, where each faction is working to arrest the largest number of other factions in order to barter them,” the source noticed, adding that the “Sultan Murad Division, including Fahim Issa, is completely afraid of just a simple Turkish military personnel, as everyone seeks to please the Turkish soldiers as if they worship him”.

More than three years have passed since the Euphrates Shield Turkish-backed factions seized control of several areas in northwestern Syria. Despite all this period, the conditions of these areas remain fragile and suffer great chaos in light of the continued arrests and violations against Syrian citizens. This requires international intervention to force Turkey to push these factions to respect human rights and to provide minimum humanitarian and living conditions for the people of the region controlled by them.