Masked attackers kill five Syria rescuers: White Helmets

Five Syrian rescue workers were killed in an attack by masked assailants Saturday. (Photo credit: The White Helmets' Twitter page)
Updated 26 May 2018
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Masked attackers kill five Syria rescuers: White Helmets

  • The White Helmets said armed men stormed the Al-Hader center in a pre-dawn attack and fired on the first responders inside.
  • Four volunteers were killed on the spot and a fifth died later in hospital.

BEIRUT: Five Syrian rescue workers were killed in an attack by masked assailants Saturday on one of their centers in the northern province of Aleppo, the White Helmets said.
The White Helmets said armed men stormed the Al-Hader center in a pre-dawn attack and fired on the first responders inside.
Four volunteers were killed on the spot and a fifth died later in hospital, it wrote on Twitter.
Founded in 2013, the White Helmets are a network of first responders who rescue wounded in the aftermath of air strikes, shelling or blasts in rebel-held territory.
The Al-Hader center lies in a part of Aleppo province controlled by Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS), an extremist organization whose main component was once Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria.
“At around 2:00 am, an armed group stormed the Al-Hader center, blindfolded the staff members who were on the night shift, and killed five of them,” said Ahmad Al-Hamish, who heads the center.
“Two others were wounded and another two were able to flee. The attackers were masked and escaped after stealing some equipment and generators,” he said.
It was unclear whether the attack was a robbery-gone-wrong or if the center and its crew had been specifically targeted.
More than 200 White Helmets rescuers have been killed in Syria’s seven-year war, usually in bombing raids or shelling on their centers.
While attacks like the one on Saturday are rare, they have happened before.
In August, seven White Helmets members were killed in a similar attack in the town of Sarmin, in neighboring Idlib province.
Most of Idlib is held by HTS, as well as a part of Aleppo and the adjacent province of Hama.
Tensions are on the rise there, with a wave of intra-opposition assassinations and clashes leaving at least 20 rebels dead in 48 hours, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“You cannot separate the Al-Hader incident from the assassinations and other killings that have been happening more and more in recent weeks in areas under HTS control,” said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.
The population of Idlib province has swelled to more than two million people as a result of massive transfers of rebels and civilians from onetime opposition zones elsewhere in the country.
The killings come as the White Helmets are facing a “freeze” on funding from the United States, which is still reviewing over $200 million earmarked for stabilization in Syria.


German Daesh ‘shoemaker’ pleads to come home from Syria

Updated 9 min 38 sec ago
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German Daesh ‘shoemaker’ pleads to come home from Syria

  • Speaking in near-fluent English peppered with Arabic words, Sufyan recounts his winding journey to what he thought would be a pious life under Islamic rule
  • Sufyan was hired at a hospital in Daesh’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa, using his 12 years’ experience as an orthopaedic shoemaker

RMELAN, Syria: From northern Syria, Muslim convert Sufyan is imploring his native Germany to take him back, having been captured years after joining the Daesh group’s so-called “caliphate.”
His beard neatly buzzed, Sufyan is one of hundreds of foreigners held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in war-torn Syria, accused of fighting for Daesh.
The 36-year-old insists he was not a fighter, but a misguided civilian making orthopaedic shoes and prosthetics in Daesh territory.
“I am not Jihadi John, I am not Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, I am not Adnani,” said Sufyan, listing Daesh’s infamous British executioner, its elusive chief, and its now-dead spokesman.
“I just made limbs,” added the pale-skinned Sufyan, who refused to give his real name and said he was from Stuttgart in southwest Germany.
He was selected to speak to AFP by the YPG, who detained him around a year ago and were present during the interview.
They have refused to try accused foreign fighters in their custody, urging Western countries to take them back.
Some foreign governments have agreed to do so, but most are reluctant.
The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are holding several alleged German Daesh members, including Mohammad Haydar Zammar, a Syrian-born German national accused of helping plan the September 11 attacks.
Berlin is not known to have repatriated anyone, but Sufyan hopes he, his Syrian wife and their son can start afresh in Germany.
“People make mistakes and I was naive,” he said, dressed in a yellow hoody with a side zip, cargo pants, and black beanie.
“I just want to go back to my old life.”
Speaking in near-fluent English peppered with Arabic words, Sufyan recounts his winding journey to what he thought would be a pious life under Islamic rule.
In 2014, Daesh declared a “caliphate” across large parts of Syria and neighboring Iraq.
The following year, Sufyan traveled across Europe and Turkey, finally crossing into Syria in March 2015, four years into the Syrian war.
Once inside, he says, Daesh shuffled him among safe houses for weeks alongside Australians, Central Asians, and Russians.
He was given one month of military training and assigned to a battalion, but claims he never fought.
“I didn’t fight and I didn’t kill anyone,” he said.
“I never killed any person in my life.”
Instead, Sufyan was hired at a hospital in Daesh’s de facto Syrian capital Raqqa, using his 12 years’ experience as an orthopaedic shoemaker.
“They teach me over there prosthetics. Until I came to YPG, I was doing this job... making prosthetic and orthopaedic shoes,” he said.
In 2016, he married a Syrian woman from northwest Idlib, and they had a son.
They stayed in Raqqa until YPG-led forces surrounded the northern city in 2017, forcing them to flee to the Daesh-held eastern town of Mayadeen.
Sufyan took up the same work there until Mayadeen came under attack, this time by the Russia-backed Syrian regime.
He said he had grown embittered toward Daesh by then and decided to pay a smuggler to bring him and his family to a YPG checkpoint.
“I was not ready to kill someone or to die, so I decided to go out,” said Sufyan. “Everyone was running away.”
A year later, Sufyan lives separated from his wife and son, who are detained in a Kurdish-run camp. He desperately wants to be reunited with his family.
Kurdish authorities say they have in their custody around 520 male foreign Daesh members, 550 women and around 1,200 children from 44 countries.
According to a European Parliament report in May, Germany estimates there are 290 children with claims to German citizenship in Iraq and Syria.
“If I can come back to Germany and if Germany want to punish me, I will accept this, to stay in prison,” Sufyan told AFP.
“I hope it will not be a long sentence, because I miss already my wife and my son,” he said.
He hopes to study or open his own business in his homeland, for which he has renewed appreciation since meeting Syrians who “see Germany as something like a paradise on earth.”
“I know Germany is a country with a lot of ‘rahma’ with a lot of people. I expect that Germany will have also ‘rahma’ with me,” he said, using the Arabic word for “mercy.”
Sufyan has written to his parents in Germany, who replied and also sent a letter and money to his wife.
Included in his parents’ reply was a picture of a bicycle, which has kept Sufyan’s hopes of returning home alive.
“My brain says, why will my mother and my father buy a bicycle for my son if he is in Syria? I hope I can go back to my country and make a new start.”