Rebels in liberated areas across Syria, from Aleppo to Raqa, have been working to establish new judicial authorities, amid a growing trend of Sharia courts passing down brutal punishments.
The commander of the powerful rebel Liwa al-Tawhid, Abdel Qader as-Saleh, announced in November 2012 the “establishment of a unified chamber of operations for all brigades and battalions on the field [in Aleppo and its province] in order to secure the success of military operations under the banner of [Islamic Sharia] in order to establish a state of justice.”
However, Syrian activist Wael Nahhas told NOW that that the judicial system in Aleppo is not fully centralized.
“There is more than one judicial body in Aleppo and this leads to divisions despite the Sharia Authority’s attempts to unify decision-making,” he said.
Nahhas drew a distinction between the Sharia Authority in the rebel-held areas of the northern city and the Unified Judicial Council.
According to the activist, the Sharia Authority “is a gathering of numerous Islamic brigades and others that do not overtly acknowledge their Islamic nature.”
“In other words, the Authority serves the purpose of coordination among all brigades and battalions; the Al-Nusra Front was the most influential member of the Sharia Authority before it withdrew from it.”
He added that the Unified Judicial Council, meanwhile, “is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and operated according to unified Arab law.”
According to AFP, secular-leaning judges established the Unified Judicial Council as a liberal alternative to the Sharia authority, which is dominated by hardline rebel groups. However, the former lacks the firepower to effectively enforce its decisions.
Nahhas also said that the mix of judicial bodies throughout rebel-held areas of Syria include “self-reliant” minor judicial bodies.
The Islamist Al-Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham exert considerable authority in the provincial capital of Raqa, which was seized by rebels in March.
Raqa News Agency spokesperson Sarmad al-Jilani told NOW that residents in the town have “somewhat good” relations with the two Islamist groups since they have been distributing salaries and rewards for civil servants formerly in the pay of the regime.
However, another Raqa activist, who wished to remain anonymous, told NOW: “Al-Reqqa’s inhabitants have no love or sympathy towards the al-Nusra Front or existing Islamic brigades.”
Raqa residents recently gathered in reaction to the Al-Nusra Front’s execution in mid-May of three men who purportedly fought on the side of the regime.
Jilani told NOW that “the inhabitants were not against the executions; rather, they were against the place where they were carried out.”
“They argued that the square [where the execution was held] belongs to martyrs, and the blood of the [executed] regime officers should not have been mixed with the blood of martyrs,” he added.
“A person proven guilty of murder should be killed. This is what the Sharia says and most inhabitants were happy that their sons were avenged.”
Amid the administrative divisions among rebels, harsh “Sharia-inspired” justice been implemented numerous times and documented in videos posted online.
A YouTube video posted on July 31 shows fighters from Liwa al-Tawhid inflicting “punishment on a thug from the Berri family” in Aleppo.
Meanwhile, a video purportedly filmed on September 5 shows the “execution of murderous thug Mohammad Ahmad Saab” according to one fighter. Saab is shown handcuffed with apparent torture marks on his face and is soon executed by means of a firing squad.
Another video published on YouTube shows “informant Ziad Samneh” with apparent torture marks on his face before he is beheaded as “punishment.”
Fighters also sentenced to death a Syrian pilot “accused of bombing the city of Aleppo,” saying in a YouTube video that this was “a quality operation.”
Another video published on January 25, 2013 showed some “thugs” following “two days of interrogation.” A religious tribunal sentences the four men to death “by firing squad as punishment for taking part in killing a mujahid.”
The “mujahedeen” in this video asserted that “not one thug or traitor – with the grace of Allah – will be spared from being trampled under the mujahedeen’s feet so that there is no religion but through Allah.”
Fears have grown over the influence of Islamist-inspired rebels in Syria, with the US sanctioning the Al-Nusra Front for its link to Al-Qaeda, while international organizations and foreign powers have condemned videos of arbitrary executions emerging from Syria.
Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in an audio message released in April called on rebels to fight to establish an Islamic state in Syria.
This article is a translation of the original Arabic