Jabhat Al-Nusra executed two Palestinians in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus a few days ago. The Nusra fighters who carried out the punishment said in a statement before carrying out the death sentence that the “Amir of the Nusra Front” in the camp sentenced them to death on charges of “insulting Allah.” The two young men, Shadi Abu Siam and Zakariyah al-Mari, were executed in a public square. The video clip broadcasted by activists on social network sites showed a large number of people including several children gathered during the execution.
Amjad, a field activist inside the refugee camp, said in an exclusive interview that the actually carrying out of the death penalty was exhibitionistic—more like a ritual celebration taking place in a public square. It also coincided with the time children were dismissed from schools, which doubled the number of people who witnessed the incident. The execution came after threats from Al-Nusra two months ago, when the group declared it would execute anybody who “insults religion without asking for repentance”—referring to the three-day time period given for someone to declare repentance, according to Islamic texts. Though Shadi Abu Siam appeared in the video raising his index finger (which is the act declaring repentance according to the texts of Islam) during the recitation of the execution statement, the fighters ignored the sign.
The Jabhat al-Nusra group in southern Damascus had recently issued a statement addressing the residents of the area. The statement warned anybody, whether civilian or military, that the death penalty would be the punishment for cursing or insulting religion or the Prophet Mohamad. The statement declared, “We decided to apply the death penalty to those who detract from the greatness and majesty of Allah, or insult his religion or his Messenger. Fighting the regime does not give you a license to mock Allah, and we warn all those who defend the blasphemer that they will face the same penalty.”
The statement explained that Al-Nusra “had taken into account the situation of the people in the region, so the blasphemer had to either repent or be killed. It has been some time since Al-Nusra has forbidden this kind of speech, and people have no excuses now.”
Amjad, the activist, said, “the incident is the first of its kind in the Yarmouk refugee camp. Despite the sharp disagreement between Jabhat al-Nusra Front and the Sharia Court—which is supported by 80% of the armed factions in the camp—neither the other armed factions nor the Sharia Court tried to stop the execution, perhaps in an effort to avoid a military confrontation or for some other special considerations.” Alaa Farhat, a journalist, published details and background information about the incident on his Facebook page. His account confirmed the story told by Amjad. Farhat said Jabhat al-Nusra executed two young Palestinian men in the camp, but though the “death Fatwa” included eleven names, the group released nine without executing them. Those [freed] were a group of young men from the towns of Beit Sahem and Yalda in the Damascus countryside. Jabhat Al-Nusra carried out the execution of the two Palestinians.
Farhat pointed out that many people in the camp knew that Zakaria Mari, like several of the camp’s civilians, used to reject the behaviors of the Front. Everyone knows that Jabhat Al-Nusra was waiting for an opportunity to retaliate against its political opponents in the camp, and the group used the complaint submitted by Zakaria’s wife after a dispute with him. In the complaint, Zakaria’s wife claimed that he cursed Allah, which was the charge for which he was executed. Al-Nusra released the other nine detainees because the townspeople of of Yalda and Babbila stood up against the sentence. Jabhat al-Nusra feared their resistance and so suspended the execution and was forced to release those people. It is noteworthy that all state institutions, including the judiciary, have ceased their work because of the shelling, the siege, and the destruction in all rebel-held areas.
Fadel al-Ward, a displaced lawyer from the Yarmouk camp, said the judge who rendered the verdict is the legitimate Amir of Jabhat Al-Nusra in the camp. Before joining al-Nusra, he was just a simple worker. He then became its Amir, though he lacks any academic credentials.
The scene of the execution was met with considerable condemnation and hostile responses. A former resident of the camp, Abu Jafar al-Maqdisi, described the execution as a “criminal act,” adding that it was merely a settling of accounts between Al-Nusra and its opponents. Ashraf, a resident of the camp, commented that “those who carried out the execution are a bunch of thieves and drug dealers, they know nothing about the teachings of our religion.”
Finally, it must be said that this incident is not the first of its kind to be carried out by Jabhat Al-Nusra. On November 27th, 2014, the group executed people in the city of Arbin in the countryside of Damascus on charges of “insulting the Prophet Muhammad.” The executions took place in a public square, and the people of the city rejected the act. There were mutual threats between Al-Nusra and the rest of the armed factions that condemned the execution.