Aftermath of the car bomb that killed 42 in Salamiyeh, 22 January 2013
Omar Hossino writes for Syria Deeply:
For two years Salamiyeh, the Ismaili-majority city 20 miles east of Hama, has skirted much of the violence unleashed on its neighbors despite hosting large anti-government protests. It’s created an environment of political tolerance that differs from Assad regime strongholds and territories held by rebels.
But a series of bombings there, and the looming entry of rebel forces, is poised to bring this quiet city of 75,000 into Syria’s civil war, and risks fraying Salamiyeh’s sectarian harmony that served as an example for the nation before and during the revolution.
The attacks kicked off with a car bomb that ripped through the western neighborhoods of the city, killing at least 42 on Jan. 22, followed by another blast at a factory less than two weeks later, killing dozens. The first explosion was claimed by Jabhat al Nusra and those responsible for the second, which targeted a plant owned by the Defense Ministry that didn’t produce weapons or military equipment, haven’t come forward yet.
The first target was a local carpet factory that served as the headquarters of the Lijan al-Shaabiya, the pro-regime paramilitary group commonly known as Shabiha. Although the attackers succeeded in killing some armed men, civilians also died, including children such as Milad Hamoudi, Mayar al-Meer, Hasan al-Meer, Wafa al-Hajj and Roa Ismail.
Jabhat al Nusra, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization with alleged links to Al Qaeda in Iraq, claimed responsibility for the attack through a statement on jihadist web forums, but there was no accompanying video message.
Salamiyeh is home to the Arab world’s largest population of Ismailis, a small Shiite Muslim sect, and boasts important religious sites such as the putative grave of Imam Ismail and a shrine for the late Aly Khan, father of the current Aga Khan IV. It has also been recognized since 2011 for its early and continuous participation in peaceful protests against the Assad.
The city “has an old history of both education and opposition to the regime; in my time in jail, I knew many people from Salamiyeh,” George Sabra, the president of the Syrian National Council, told Syria Deeply. Eiad Charbaji, a prominent anti-Assad activist, noted that residents of Salamiyeh have defied the “Baath regime since their births.”
Salamiyeh is one of the few communities in Syria with a significant minority population opposed to the regime. The city’s first protest was documented in a YouTube video on April 1, 2011, and dozens have been held since in 2011, 2012 and this year. Over 30 residents have died in the struggle against the Assad regime, including Ali al-Fakhouri (who delivered aid to Rastan, near Homs), Dr. Hayyan Mahmoud and Mulham Rustom. During Fakhouri’s funeral on June 29, 2012, government forces fired on the procession. But state-sponsored violence has largely been muted, as the regime refrained from deploying the army in cities with large minority populations and relied instead on recruiting Shabiha militias and popular committees to impose its will.