Following initial investigations, SNHR has announced that Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, which has almost complete control of Kafranbel city in Idlib governorate, is the party most probably responsible for the assassination of Raed Fares and Hamoud Jneed on Friday, November 23, 2018.
In attempt to pre-emptively gain legitimacy through the use of terror and intimidation prior to the Turkish-Russian Agreement which came into force on September 17, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham carried out a number of raids on different villages, arresting dozens of individuals in the process at a time when the Syrian people were hopeful that a truce would contribute to completely eradicating the presence of extremist groups. In reality, however, the outcome of the truce was the direct opposite of this, with Hay’at Tahrir al Sham expanding at the expense of civil and moderate forces. Their ability to do so can be traced back to a chronic lack of any adequate support to strengthen civil society in north Syria that could enable the people there to effectively resist these terrorist groups’ strength and influence in light of the unfortunate complete absence of any form of strategy by the states that depict themselves as friends of the Syrian people despite these states’ constant reiterations of their claim that they wish to fight extremist groups.
SNHR noted, in its nine-page report released today, on Wednesday November 28, 2018, that eradicating those civil society movements which aspire to democracy is a shared goal of both the Syrian regime and these extremist groups since such movements pose an existential threat to the legitimacy of all such entities. When Syrian society is safe from the influence of the terrorism of both the Syrian regime’s security bodies and extremist groups, it inevitably sides with the civil community movement.
The report includes initial investigations into the assassination of prominent activist Raed Fares and fellow activist Hamoud Jneed. The report draws upon analysis of evidence, information, and photos collected from witnesses and other sources by SNHR. The report also features a first-hand account of the killing from the only individual who survived the assassination attempt, along with two other accounts from SNHR interviews with eyewitnesses. According to the initial investigations, there is strong reason to believe that Hay’at Tahrir al Sham was the party most probably responsible for the terrorist assassination.
The report also sheds more light on the life of Raed Fares who, with his artist friend Ahmad Jalal, was one of the masterminds behind the concept of drawing caricatures on the banners displayed during demonstrations. Raed Fares was also one of the first to write the date and name of the city where the demonstration was taking place on the banners that were carried by protesters at the demonstrations The Syrian people used to impatiently await each Friday to see the latest banners from Kafranbel, thanks to their creativity, stylish nature, and reliable weekly appearance. Kafranbel’s banners became a tradition and an internationally renowned potent symbol of the popular uprising for freedom. The report also notes that Raed Fares was the founder of the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus (URB) – an umbrella organization for a number of media and service projects, such as Radio Fresh, al Mantara Magazine, Mazaya Women’s Center, the Children’s Office, the Women’s Office, the Labor Office, and the ‘Eeesh Campaign’ (Live) and others. Additionally, Raed founded the group Lawyers for Freedom in 2014.
The report sheds light on the arrest and assassination attempts that targeted Raed Fares against the backdrop of his activism, leadership, and contributions to a number of civil and awareness-raising projects, in addition to his repeated criticism of oppression and of all extremist groups, which made him a prominent strategic target for terrorist groups. According to the report, Fares had received several death threats from leaders and security figures at Hay’at Tahrir al Sham, which had escalated particularly after Hay’at Tahrir al Sham arrested the lawyer Yaser al Salim on Sunday, September 21, 2018.
On Friday, November 23, 2018, at around 12:00 Damascus time/10:00 GMT, as most people were attending local mosques for the Friday prayers, a van followed activist Raed Fares’ car as he was driving accompanied by fellow activists Hamoud Jneed and Ali Dandous. After he parked the car, masked gunmen opened fire at the activist Raed Fares’s car, to kill Raed Fares and Hamoud Jneed.
According to the report, the gunmen retreated immediately after the operation which was planned to coincide with the Friday prayers, knowing that most residents would be at the mosques performing the weekly prayer, which facilitated the assassins’ movements, and helped them to pull off their terrorist act without being identified or recognized by people.
Some of the city residents confirmed that they had seen the killers’ vehicle heading east after the operation, adding that it was last seen heading towards the city center. It should be noted that Hay’at Tahrir al Sham has set up its checkpoints at the northern and western exits to the city, while the group has no checkpoints at the eastern and southern roads leading out of Kafranbel.
The report stresses that Hay’at Tahrir al Sham has almost complete control of Kafranbel and, as such, bears responsibility for the lives of its residents. Secondly, the group has signally failed to condemn, investigate, or show the slightest concern for the terrorist assassination that horrified the city’s residents and killed one of Kafranbel’s most prominent figures. In addition, extremist Islamic groups have become well known for adopting the type of operational strategy seen in the murder of Raed Fares and Hamoud Jneed in many of their killings and assassinations. Hay’at Tahrir al Sham has even dissolved the local police force in Kafranbel, with members of the group now taking sole responsibility for police and security responsibilities. Moreover, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham stood to directly benefit from getting rid of an individual whose influence, symbolic importance and legitimacy far exceeded their own. Raed Fares had the ability to directly influence the residents of his city, promoting a message of hope and democracy that explicitly rejected the group’s extremist project.
The report calls on the international community and influential states to work to provide financial and logistical support for the active local councils who are experiencing either an open or concealed conflict in the areas of northern Syria with Hay’at Tahrir al Sham which is trying to dominate or dismantle these councils, as the latter continue their efforts to thwart the influence of the extremist groups by raising awareness and providing services. In addition, the report stresses that the political transition to democracy must be accelerated and the new Syrian state must be assisted in restoring security and stability, as well as supporting the formation of a robust and coherent local police force to defend the residents.
The report calls on the OHCHR to monitor the violations taking place in areas under Hay’at Tahrir al Sham’s control and its damaging effect on civilian life in Idlib governorate, and to submit effective recommendations to the international community in this regard.
The report calls on all the armed opposition factions operating under Hay’at Tahrir al Sham to quickly detach themselves from its body, expose its practices, and arrange awareness campaigns on the ideologies of extremist groups, and how they infiltrate communities and recruit young men in tandem with workshops on the importance of respecting and defending basic human rights.