FiSyria, a Russian-language pro-jihad website that reports on Islamist factions in Syria — particularly where Russian-speaking fighters are involved — has posted an interview with Abdul Khalim al-Shishani, a representative of the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham’s Sharia Committee in Aleppo.
Al-Shishani describes ISIS’s recent expulsion of a local “warlord”, Khalid Hayani, the leader of the Martyrs of Badr Brigade.
Who is Khalid Hayani?
Syrian activist Edward Dark described the situation regarding Hayani in a recent article for Al Monitor:
Khaled Saraj, better known as Khaled Hayani, is a notorious rebel warlord operating in and around Aleppo. He’s a native of the town of Hayan — hence, his nickname — just a few kilometers on the Gaziantep highway north of Aleppo. He was largely unknown from his impoverished background right up until the armed conflict erupted in Aleppo province. Soon after, he formed his own militia, the Martyrs of Badr, and through various unsavory activities quickly amassed a small fortune, all in the name of the revolution and fighting against the Syrian regime.
Dark describes some of Hayani’s more notorious activities, including the extensive looting of factories and warehouses in the industrial zone of Liramoun on Aleppo’s northern outskirts, and the storming and subsequent mass looting of the Sheikh Maksud neighborhood.
It should come as no surprise, then, that the people of Aleppo are more than happy to see him go, even if it is at the hands of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS). The group has already dispatched with another notorious warlord, Hasan Jazara, captured in the Sakhur neighborhood along with some of his men as ISIS swept into several areas of Aleppo late last month. He has reportedly been sentenced to death for his crimes. His execution was to be held Oct. 31, but there has been no confirmation that it was carried out.
ISIS, for its part, has been playing a clever and slick media campaign, claiming that it is purging the rebel fighters of traitors, collaborators and criminals. After taking over the border town of Azaz, destroying the rebel faction Asefet el Shamal [Northern Storm Brigade] for allegedly collaborating with US and German intelligence, ISIS has now set its sights on other strategic areas in Aleppo, rooting out rival militias it accuses of criminal activity.
Interview With Abdul Khalim al-Shishani, member of the Sharia Committee in Aleppo
Fi Syria: We need details, as far as that is possible , to explain the conflict between the Mujahideen of ISIS and the Brigade of Khalid Hayani, which is related to the Free Syrian Army…
Abdul: The history of Hayani’s brigade is as follows. He got in with a small group of anti-Government forces, and at the beginning of the Syrian revolution he showed some diligence. He had some early victories and successes, and he was apparently intoxicated by them. Gradually, he stopped caring about the overall reasons why he came to fight and he began to gather around him a force, like a mafia, to enrich himself at the expense of the local population.
From the very start of the Sharia Council, there have been many reports and complaints from the public about this Hayani and his gang. If we could have gotten from the Sharia responsibility for individual members of the group, like Khalid Hayani and his most notorious commanders, then it would have been with an open armed confrontation with a group of up to a thousand people. And also take into account the fact that up to 200 of those guys held certain parts of a common front [against Assad’s forces]. And we were afraid that Hayani could have removed them from there …
FiSyria: And members of the front would have been exposed?
Abdul: Yes. And the enemy could have used that against us. They set up their posts all over the place, not to protect the population but to loot it.
They did not pass over a single car, so they could take bribes from its driver. They took fruit, if any of the Bedouins drove sheep, the sheep were taken. Truckers were usually stripped, stripped bare as they call it. If someone refused to pay, his car was confiscated and he’d be imprisoned. They had, as we found out, a small jail on almost every base.
If they got information that such-and-such guy was from a rich family, then they stuck him in their jail.
FiSyria: So they would take him hostage with the aim of getting a ransom?
Abdul: Yes, and he would be held in custody until his relatives from Aleppo handed over the money. We got complaints like that many times. But like I said before, we didn’t take any definitive action in this regard, because we considered that it wasn’t yet the time for internal squabbles. We thought, let’s finish with the main taghut, then let’s deal with cleaning up the internal ranks.
And we told people who came to us with complaints, that for the time being we were forced to leave him [Hayani]….
And people told us, how are you the assistants of the Sharia, when you punish the weak and spare the strong? And it was hard for us to hear these fair criticisms.
When we brought offenders before the Sharia court, they would usually say to us, “I broke one of the regulations, I committed a sin, and you are immediately bringing me before the law.” Khalid Hayani and his gang have not kept a single one of the laws of Allah…and they did not understand any of our reasonings or arguments that it was not yet possible and so on.
Fi Syria: The people needed fairness.
Abdul: That’s it, fairness. The situation reached the stage that Mujahideen began disappearing without a trace from their positions.
Fi Syria: From local ansars [local battalions]?
Abdul: No, not only them — also the Muhajirs [immigrants, i.e. foreign fighters].
Fi Syria: For what end? What do you make of it?
Abdul: As we understood it, it happened when a Mujahid had information that was important for them. More recently they started picking fights with our brothers who passed through their posts. We got the impression that this is what happened…
Fi Syria: Targeted provocations?
Abdul: Exactly, I can’t say otherwise. Our patience was misinterpreted by them, as a result they wound up with what they’d been looking for. The last provocation, that led to this action, was particularly brazen. One of our brothers, Sheikh Abu Ja’afar, went through one of their posts with several guys, to the Sharia House. They started picking a fight with them at the post, demanding that they show passports and ID cards and whatnot, knowing full well that the Muhajirs don’t have any passports.
Sheikh Abu Ja’afar, with his usual politeness, started to explain that they were foreign fighters, that they don’t carry passports, that they are going to the Sharia Committee. After several exchanges they let them go, but afterwards a pickup with a machine gun started to follow after the brothers.
When Sheikh Abu Ja’afar stopped his car, they jumped out of the pickup, surrounded the brothers, and took their weapons. Then Abu Ja’afar called our brothers on a walkie talkie and managed to say that a Hayani post had surrounded them and were trying to kidnap them. The brothers showed efficiency and within 5 minutes they reached the post, surrounded these impious ones, took their weapons, and arrested them.
Right then, we heard gunshots from a second post nearby….It seemed that the Hayanis were shooting at our car and injured three brothers, two seriously and one lightly. In a moment, our guys surrounded that post. Part of them were able to run for it, but we disarmed and took hostages of most of those at the post.
Fi Syria: Did you capture those who fired at our guys?
Abdul: Honestly, I can’t tell you, but I was told that those who ran for it, didn’t get far — our ansars know where they live.
Fi Syria: They say that right from the start of the conflict, Hayani sent negotiators. Who represented him?
Abdul: Abu Jastin came, he seems to be [Hayani’s] military Emir.
Fi Syria: Was there a third party?
Abdul: Yes, the third party was one representative of Jabhat al-Nusra, and there were more from other battalions. We immediately set out the condition that all those who shot at our brothers would be handed over, and that there could not be any other negotiations. We also demanded that all those about whom the public had made complaints to the Sharia Committee also be handed over.
However, our guys overheard on the walkie-talkie that Hayani, with his usual arrogance, told his subordinates that he wouldn’t hand anyone over, and that he’d “annihilate” anyone who opposed him.
A short while later, after considering the circumstances and understanding that our Mujahideen were determined, he had to come off his high horse, and he started to delay the negotiations.
Our boys understood that they were playing for time til nightfall, and they gave orders to surround their bases and homes.
Fi Syria: Yeah, I remember that momemt. Umar, who til then had always tended to a peaceful resolution of conflicts with partners, took a harsh position, he gave the order to attack their bases and homes.
Abdul: I have to say, either from confusion or because our Mujahideen practically surrounded their main bases in a short time, they didn’t show resistance. Our guys captured about 200 people, many fled, leaving behind all the stuff they’d looted from the population.
In nearly every house that these criminals occupied, there was equipment facilities for prisoners. On the main bases there were actual prisons, where they kept the hostages that they’s taken for ransoms.
In short, this was a real gang of robbers. The Arabs call these guys “kuta turuk”, literally “cutters of the road”.
You could suspect that, if a wealthy family travelled near one of their posts, then they’d drag him into jail. They even took women. In their jail there was a young family: a man, a woman and a 5-month-old baby. They were being held there until their relatives came up with a ransom.
We found a large number of documents that were taken from people. We found an entire database of information with the names of their grasses and stool-pigeons, and details of people living in a particular area. Who they are, what they do for a living, where they work, property and so on.
When we liberated their main prison and set the prisoners free, we found marks of torture not just on the prisoners but also on their subordinates. And it was obvious then why these subordinates weren’t exactly eager to defend Hayani and his cronies. They were kept in that work out of fear, and also because of the money that they were paid.
There’s another such incident — we liberated our brother Abu Umar at-Tunisi [Abu Umar the Tunisian] from their jail. The main events started around 4 p.m., but Abu Umar and another guy from ISIS, plus a car, had been captured at 1 p.m..
The prisoners were kept in appalling conditions. They had 2×2 cells. They practically didn’t feed them, they wouldn’t let them, they weren’t allowed out to go pee, and they had to pee right in the cell. Many of those liberated were at the end of their tether and really weak.
Those villians, they lived in houses, dripping in luxuries. We’ve the houses and villas of Assad’s generals and ministers, but in comparison with the houses of Hayani and his cronies, well, you could say they lived modestly!
What didn’t they have? Rare decorative fish, expensive horses, camels, cars, pedigree dogs, the rarest carpets, furniture, jewelry, antiques, weapons and all that stuff.
In one of the houses we found a radio, through which you can connect direct to Assad’s military command. We also found documents, which said that they’d had contacts and negotiations with Assad’s leaders, behind the backs of the Mujahideen.
All of these documents we’re now studying.
Fi Syria: What happened in the end with the captives, their property and such?
Abdul: Our guys are making enquiries, getting in contact with the relatives. Inshallah, they will be returned to their families. All the property that was seized, is in the Sharia Committee. The previous owners are already being declared. Inshallah, it will all be done fairly and the property will be returned to the suffering people.
Fi Syria: And where is Khalid Hayani and his inner circle? Is anything known?
Abdul: They fled. There are rumors that they fled to Turkey. Others say they’re hiding in one of the Kurdish villages that opposes us. There isn’t any concrete information as yet.
Fi Syria have also published a Russian-subtitled ISIS promotional video showing one of the men allegedly kidnapped by Khalid Hayani. The blue-shirted man, identified as one of the men kidnapped by Hayani and his gang, tells the interviewer about his kidnapping and alleges that Hayani tortured the prisoners. The alleged detainee says he personally witnessed two deaths.
The man accuses Hayani and his men of drinking wine and taking “narcotics pills”. At the end of the video, the man says that the prisoners knew ISIS had come when they heard the words “Allahu Akbar”, before leading the prisoners in the cell in a “Takbir”. Judging from the man’s clean shirt and his relative good state compared to the emaciated, pale and dirty-clothed prisoners in the cell, we suspect that he might not be a prisoner but is answering questions as part of a propaganda video.
Translation of Russian Subtitles
November 13, 2013
These captives are innocent people who were kidnapped by the sinner Khalid Hayani (Amir of the Shuhada Badr Brigade).
He kidnapped them, so that a video could be shot, demanding money, he made some provocations.
(To Prisoner) What did Khalid Hayani want from you?
(Prisoner) He demanded that I made a video. (Pointing) From that one he demanded 200 thousand, and from (him) over there, a million. From everyone something different.
(To Prisoner) Where are you from?
(Prisoner) From Deir Khafa.
(To Prisoner) Where were you, when you were abducted?
(Prisoner) I was in the Sakin Shabab area of Ashrafiyeh [in Aleppo]. They took me and my wife, they wanted us to make a video recording (so that relatives would pay money).
(To Prisoner) Where’s your wife right now?
(Prisoner) They let her go, so she could take the video.
(To Prisoner) What other information is there about that dog, Khalid Hayani?
(Prisoner) No, no, no.
(To Prisoner) How did he deal with the detainees?
(Prisoner) One of them was burned with a flame and of these criminals beat him. At the same time they were beating him, they spoke the words of the infidels…
(To Prisoner) Did they drink wine or anything?
(Prisoner) They did everything! They drank wine, took narcotic pills. Everything, everything.
(To Prisoner) Do you know the number of women prisoners?
(Prisoner) No, I don’t know.
(To Prisoner) They say there were five…
(Prisoner) No, no, I don’t know, every day they brought women.
(To Prisoner) You mean you don’t know how many exactly there were?
(Prisoner) No, I don’t.
(To Prisoner) What types of punishment did they dole out?
(Prisoner) They tied the arms and then suspended (people), they used electric currents, they beat (people), burned with flames.
(To Prisoner) Is it true that some of the prisoners died?
(Prisoner) Yes, two died in front of my very eyes.
(To Prisoner) Did they die from the blows?
(To Prisoner) Do you know where they took the bodies?
(Prisoner) I heard they threw them in some well.
(To Prisoner) Do you know where it is?
Voice Over: Here are the prisoners, who were captured by that Khalid Hayani and his group of criminals. Praise be to Allah, ISIS came to their defense and to return their rights…
(Prisoner) They entered my house and didn’t leave anything there, they looted it totally.
(To Prisoner) What’s your opinion of ISIS?
(Prisoner) It’s who liberated us, may Allah preserve them from anything bad. I ask Allah to raise the banner of La Illah Ila Allah. We were here and we heard only the words of the infidels. When we heard the words “Allahu Akbar”, then we understood that ISIS had come.
Voice over: Yallah, Takbir!
(Prisoners) Allahu Akbar!