Radical Islamist rebels have seized a predominantly Christian town in northwest Syria in recent days and reportedly destroyed crosses on churches, pillaged homes and beheaded at least one opponent in a neighboring area, according to accounts conveyed from Syria on social media.
According to various media accounts, rebels from the Al Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front, Ahrah al Sham, the Islamic Front and Chechen jihadists on Sunday gained control over Kassab, a town of 1,700 residents who are mostly Armenian Christians who now fear for their future there.
The Christian Broadcasting Network reported that 80 people have been killed and at least three churches desecrated as Syrian Christians have all but abandoned the town.
This Sunday, March 23, 2014 image taken from video obtained by the anti-government activist group Shaam News Network, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian fighters holding their weapons as they gesture after seizing the predominantly Armenian Christian town of Kassab, Syria. The rebels, including militants from the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front, have also wrested control of a nearby border crossing to Turkey (AP/Shaam News Network via AP video)
Syrian Armenian community activist Nerses Sarkissian told Armenian Weekly that the rebels are desecrating churches, pillaging houses and destroying government buildings.
While most have fled to neighboring Latakia, the community is concerned about the Christians who have been unable to leave.
Other atrocities have been reported by Syria watcher Joshua Landis, who directs the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma and writes the Syria Comment blog. Landis retweeted photos apparently taken in Kassab and the vicinity showing the jihadi militants’ actions now that they control the town, including desecrating Christian churches, destroying bottles of alcohol and even beheading an opponent.
Here is the photo Landis tweeted:
This photo posted on Twitter purports to show the destruction of alcoholic beverage bottles:
Another Twitter user wrote “Jihadists broke the crosses of a church in #Kassab, and promised to turn it into a mosque” and attached this photo:
Another photo purported to show the head of a Syrian army soldier fighting to defend President Bashar Assad’s rule who was allegedly decapitated outside Latakia near Kassab. The link to the photo can be found (WARNING — graphic image) here.
Landis told TheBlaze that the photo was accompanied by a warning in Arabic to those who have “hurt the Muslims of Syria.”
TheBlaze is unable to independently authenticate the photos; however, Landis said in an email that the “torrent of social media, pictures, maps and TV clips coming out of Kassab” and surrounding areas provide “a clearer picture of what is going on.”
Christian residents who have fled the village and the Armenian-American community are accusing Turkey of aiding the rebels and allowing them to cross the border from Turkey into Kassab. Turkey has repeatedly denied that it provides support to the militants.
Armenian Weekly reported that almost all of the Christians have emptied the town and fled to neighboring Latakia. They are now beset with fear about their ability to return to their homes.
Their ancestors fled to this same town in Syria to escape the genocide of the Armenians a century ago carried out by the Ottomans in the land that today comprises Turkey.
“Almost all the Armenians of Kassab and neighboring towns have fled to Latakia city, where they have been given refuge in the Armenian churches there and are receiving food and aid from the Red Crescent, WFP and church groups,” Landis said.
The weekend offensive of the Christian town yet again “underlines what a dominant role foreign jihadists and militant, Al Qaeda linked groups are now playing in Syria,” he added.