The city of Selmiyah, located in Hama province, did not hesitate to join the peaceful opposition demonstrations, which it joined as early as April 2011. The demonstrations were small at first then gradually increased until they sometimes clashed with pro-regime demonstrations. Yet the peaceful nature of the demonstrations did not protect the city from terrorist bombings, and the “oppositionist” Jabhat al-Nusra chose to target the town.
The “opposition” leaders overseas used to defend the city until Jabhat al-Nusra got involved. The overseas opposition chose not to condemn the killing of civilians even though they were presumed to support the opposition. Rather, the overseas opposition fell silent and forgot the matter.
Some of the city’s youth were arrested or harassed by the security services, but despite that the city’s demonstrations maintained a civil character. The city’s opposition activists eschewed any armed appearances and repeatedly refused requests by the Free Syrian Army to enter the city.
There were a lot of kidnappings in the city last year. Most of those kidnapped end up being released after the family pays the kidnappers a ransom. Most kidnappings were committed by armed gangs coming from the desert and who found the state of lawlessness suitable. The ransoms were sometimes very expensive but the families chose to pay them because there was “no other solution. Cordial negotiations are useless and we cannot count on the intervention of the state. That era is over,” said Ali, whose brother was kidnapped and released three days later for 5 million Syrian pounds [$70,500].
The prevailing lawlessness, the militarization of the Syrian opposition, and the fear of arrest contributed to a drop in the size and frequency of the demonstrations. Now they are just small gatherings that raise some slogans then disperse on their own. The city’s largest demonstration happened on the first week of June 2011 and included about 10,000 people.
“Terrorism” was here
The city is pessimistic about the year 2013. On Jan. 21, there was a suicide bombing that killed and injured dozens. Before the city could recover, it was struck by another terrorist attack on Feb. 6. The attack killed 56 people, according to some sources. Other sources put the number at 90 dead and dozens of wounded, mostly civilians, including women and children. It was a nighttime car bomb that targeted a bus transporting defense factory workers between the villages of Tal Qirat and Braq (30 km [about 18 miles] west of Selmiyah).
As for many incidents throughout Syria, many in the town accused the regime of both bombings. But then Jabhat al-Nusra came out and claimed responsibility for the second bombing saying that “it targeted defense factories, which are a military target.” Many of the city’s inhabitants asserted that “the factories in Hama have not been producing military hardware for the past eight months. All they do now is manufacture blankets and military suits.”
Abu Malik, one of the injured, recounts what happened: “At the end of the workday, I saw a bus carrying 20 passengers coming from Bsirin (a nearby village) and approaching the factory’s entrance at a high rate of speed. The guards rushed toward it and ordered it to stop before it reached the main gate. The high number of guards caused the bus to stop about 30 meters from the gate. Then the driver detonated the bus. ... The explosion was awful. The other buses flew into the air. I fell on the ground and felt pain everywhere. My heart almost stopped. I tried to stand up but bursts of bullets were fired at us from the direction of the farmland. So I lay on the ground, where I saw body parts everywhere. ... I fainted, and I woke up in the hospital to find that I had fractures in the hip, back and hands. Had the bus been able to reach the main gate, the damage would have been much worse.”
Widespread condemnations and a media blackout
The bombing of the defense factories was widely condemned, especially after Jabhat al-Nusra claimed responsibility.
There was a news blackout. “Opposition leaders,” especially those who rushed to protest the inclusion of Jabhat al-Nusra on the list of terrorist organizations, also ignored the matter.
On that, Malik, a Selmiyah resident, said: “The first terrorist bombing killed my mother, my brother-in-law, my two nephews, and my cousin, although most of my family members were with the opposition, which made us think that the bombing was done by the regime, but we were surprised when Jabhat al-Nusra claimed responsibility and called those who died ‘infidels’! ... Then came the second bombing, most of whose victims were civilians, including some of my friends. What devastated me was that some of the revolution’s social media pages referred to the dead as ‘cadavers’ [not martyrs]. And they repeated the lie that it was a ‘quality operation,’ while most of the opposition figures fell silent as if nothing happened. What kind of situation is this? And what kind of opposition kills its own sons then congratulations them?”
However, other activists insisted on calling the bombing a massacre and asserted that most of the victims were civilians. Because of the specificity of the targeted area and because most victims were of a particular sect, those activists said that “the massacre indicates that the terrorists of Jabhat al-Nusra chose to expand their operations to the western and eastern part of Hama countryside in order to push the inhabitants toward sectarian strife.”
A human rights activist at the Office of Documentation for the Hama Rebels Union said that, “Unfortunately, the available details were not published and the truth was covered up.”