Nusra raids Idlib radio station

Kafranbel activist Raed Fares was briefly detained by the Al-Qaeda affiliate for a “Sharia breach.”

Nusra graffiti.

BEIRUT – Al-Nusra Front fighters have raided an independent radio station broadcasting from Idlib's Kafranbel and briefly detained a prominent Syrian activist for "breaching Sharia" in a post on his Facebook account.


Nusra members stormed Radio Fresh FM and the Union of Revolutionary Bureaus (URB) on Sunday morning, and confiscated broadcasting equipment before shutting the offices down, the station announced.


The station's report added that the Nusra fighters arrested Raed Fares – the director of Radio Fresh and one of Syria's most famous opposition activists, as well as Hadi al-Abdallah – a citizen journalist famous for his frontline battlefield reports.


However, the Nusra media office later on Sunday told the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that only Fares had been detained, while Abdallah had not been arrested.


Abdallah, for his part, issued a Facebook statement late Sunday night confirming that he had not been detained, while Fares had been released after a promise that the Kafranbel activist would not repeated his "Sharia breach."


Fares on January 7 attacked Islamist obscurantism in a Facebook post in which he said "we are more concerned about what women wear than what they should learn."


"We drive the people to prayer like animals and stuff schools with sharia books," the harsh criticism of Islamist governance said.


Fares, one of Syria's leading opposition activists, is famous for organizing Kafranbel rallies featuring catchy English and Arabic-language banners that quickly gained international attention in the early stages of the Syrian uprising.


In November 2015, Fares traveled to Washington DC where he met in the White House with Robert Malley, US President Barack Obama's special advisor on ISIS.


The Syrian activist also met with US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee chief Ed Royce and penned an op-ed for The Washington Post condemning Russia's bombardment of Kafranbel.


Fares survived an assassination attempt in January 2014 when he was shot as he was returning home from work in his hometown.


Fares to stand before Sharia court


Fares and Abdallah

Hadi al-Abdallah (L) and Raed al-Fares were arrested Sunday by Nusra fighters. (image via fresh-syria.net) 


Although Fares was released Sunday, his fellow activist Abdallah signed a handwritten statement along with Nusra's local "Emir," Abu Khalil Kafranbel confirming the detained Radio Fresh director will need to appear before a Sharia court.


The statement said that after Nusra officials had sat with Abdallah, he "confirmed that Raed Fares's post was a clear sharia mistake," according to a report by pro-opposition outlet All4Syria.


"It was also agreed that Raed Fares would be released on condition that he stand before a sharia tribunal as soon as he was summoned with Hadi Abdallah's guarantee."


Abdallah later reaffirmed via Facebook that "after lengthy discussions with Nusra commanders and Sharia officials all day we affirmed the Sharia breach that was written by Raed, and we guaranteed that it would not be repeated."

"Nusra confirmed that breaking in was wrong, stated its intent to resolve the issue, promised to return all the confiscated equipment, gave its guarantee that 'the incident will not be repeated' and released Raed."


Abdallah rose to prominence with his battlefield reports filed on rebel front lines in the spring of 2013 when Hezbollah conducted a massive offensive to seize the town of Qusayr near Lebanon's border.


He managed to escape from Qusayr prior to its fall and went on to cover the war from northwest Syria, where he has continued to report from the middle of battles pitting regime forces against rebels.


A number of the reports Abdallah filed came when he was embedded with Nusra fighters during the Army of Conquest coalition's 2014 campaign that saw rebels sweep into control of the Idlib province.


Heavy-handed Nusra raid



Nusra drew condemnation not only for the arrest of Fares, but also its heavy handed behavior during the Sunday morning raid on Radio Fresh.


The independent station quoted one of its employees as saying that the Nusra members had set fire to a Syrian revolution flag in the station after which they forced staff members to "stomp" on the burning flag as they were forced out of their workplace.


The Kafranbel Syrian Revolution news page also reported on the incident, saying that the Nusra members had seized all the computers, cameras, broadcasting and other electronic equipment in the Radio Fresh premises.


"[The Nusra members] then painted 'forfeited' on the building's wall, meaning this building belongs to [Nusra] now," the activist Facebook page added.


The report also said that the Nusra members told Radio Fresh employees that they "don't want media" when asked why they had raided the offices.


Abdallah also spoke on the Nusra fighters' actions, saying that they "confiscated all of our equipment: the radio's broadcasting equipment, laptops, mobile phones and satellite internet devices, as well as all of our cameras."


"One of the revolution flags that we raised in yesterday's demonstration was near the door on the inside. They threw it on the ground at the HQ door and forced everyone coming in and out to stomp on it, and they stomped on it with their feet several times as well as a small revolution flag that was on my desk. They stomped on that too."


"For an hour and a half we were detained inside the office and they wouldn't let any of us leave."​


NOW's English news desk editor Albin Szakola (@AlbinSzakola) wrote this report. Ullin Hope translated the Arabic-language source material.

Nusra graffiti.

We drive the people to prayer like animals and stuff schools with sharia books.