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Syria: Refugees deny Regime’s Islamic Emirate claim | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Wadi Khalid, Asharq Al-Awsat- One of the neighbors of Dr Nasser Mari, who was accused by the Syrian authorities of declaring an Islamic emirate in the city of Tall Kalakh on 12 May, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Mari himself was surprised by the news.” The neighbor added: “I know the man as a neighbor, and he is a surgeon who was the manager of a hospital, and was arrested one and a half years ago and remained in jail for a long time and was tortured and kept away from the world for the charge of treating one of the smugglers. He was freed only a few days ago and was immediately accused that he declared an Islamic emirate, and under this pretext, an attack was launched on the city’s residents and all the neighboring villages and the city was bombarded by artillery and tanks under the alleged pretext of “purging the city of the Salafists.”

The man who arrived in the area of Al-Buqayah, in Lebanon, after fleeing from Tall Kalakh along with his family said that he does not know what happened to Dr Mari whom he described as “a secular and unreligious man and does not have anything to do with Salafism or the Islamists, and does not even practice his religious duties.” He added: “The man left prison sick and remained at home, and when the incidents started, we were no longer able to communicate with him, and it is inconceivable how he can within days do such action of such seriousness and to have ministers and a radio station.”

Those who fled from Tall Kalakh to northern Lebanon know Dr Mari, and it is clear that he is a well known man in the city and is described by the refugees as “a straight and respectable man.” They say that his wife is a gynecologist, and he has a son who is a physician in France. The refugees are surprised by what is said about him that he is a across the border smuggler of diesel. More than one group of Tall Kalakh residents, with whom we spoke, emphasized that “Dr Mari was put in jail on false charges during a fierce campaign against the residents launched by the Syrian authorities in the city one and a half years ago, following which hundreds of residents were imprisoned, and 250 of them are still considered missing and their families do not know anything about them.”

One of the refugees, who was surrounded by 20 Syrian citizens and who agreed with him, said: “There is an old vengeance between the authorities and the people of Tall Kalakh, which is a city that is just 1.5 kilometer away from Wadi Khalid, in Lebanon, and the goods have been moving across the border between the two countries in an illegitimate way for long years, and this is something that the residents do, as well as the regime’s thugs and some of those who are protected [by the regime]. One and a half years ago, the authorities decided to punish the unprotected smugglers in order to leave this business for the influential persons alone. A broad arrest campaign was launched in the city, which included raids and manhunt, following which Tall Kalakh lived a state of strong tension, and since then the city was having a bad relationship with the authorities.” The man added: “As for Dr Mari, all that he did was that he treated a 16 year old boy who works in the field of smuggling glass after he was hit by gunfire when he was being chased. Following this, Dr Mari was arrested and tortured, and remained in jail like the hundreds who were arrested at that time. We were then surprised by the talk we heard in the media about an Islamic emirate, which was said that he is its amir.”

While touring the area of Wadi Khalid and saw hundreds of refugees, we noticed that there was not a single bearded man. Even the old men who are in their 80’s are shaved, and this is something noteworthy that is different from what we see in Lebanon, and the refugees do not have any Islamic or Salafist features. As for women, no one of those whom we saw was wearing black clothes that cover her face , and all we saw were women whose faces are uncovered and were putting on clothes of Muslim farmer women with the head scarves that is known all over the Cham states.

Media reports quoted Syrian sources on 12 May as saying that “the man called Nasir Mari has announced an Islamic emirate in Tall Kalakh and has appointed defense and finance ministers for it, and established a radio station that speaks in his name.” The sources said that the Syrian authorities are working to dismantle this emirate. Hours after broadcasting the report, the Syrian Army began to besiege the city and bombard it using tanks and artillery. This has come one day after the announcement that “President Bashar al-Assad has made tough instructions banning the security forces from opening fire on the demonstrators.”