ALEPPO, Syria — Cautious calm and fear prevail among the residents of al-Bab, which is under the control of the National Army of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) in the northeastern countryside of Aleppo.
A few days later, the protests came to a halt, but residents remain worried. The protesters called for controlling the security situation and hold accountable those responsible for the terrorist bombings.
The city is currently under tight security measures by the pro-Syrian opposition police forces, which have been conducting security patrols around the town in a bid to prevent the occurrence of similar incidents.
On Nov. 16, a car bomb explosion rocked the city center, killing 18 people and setting on fire public and private vehicles and shops.
“The car bomb exploded in the city center, targeting the main road in front of the bus departure terminal, which is a crowded area with several shops and street vendors. Hence, the high death toll,” Sharif al-Halabi, an activist from al-Bab, told Al-Monitor. “The explosion caused fires in the shops and cars parked in front of the bus station. The massacre was horrific and spread terror among the residents. It is a real tragedy and it is only normal for people to protest and demand tight security measures."
On Nov. 17, the city’s police announced that they had arrested the person who carried out the car bombing. The Turkish Ministry of Defense accused the Democratic Union Party and its military army, the People's Protection Units, of being behind the car bombing.
When the police announced the arrest of the perpetrator, hundreds of angry people went out into the streets calling for the bomber’s execution. The protesters stormed the police headquarters building and burned a military vehicle parked at the gate of the building.
The police fired tear gas and live bullets in the air to disperse the protesters, one of whom was killed and another wounded by an unknown source of the fire. The police denied having shot at protesters and accused masked men of opening fire amid the demonstrations.
Al-Monitor met with the chief of the police forces in the city, Maj. Haytham al-Zain al-Shihabi, on Dec. 8. “The situation in the city has calmed down and life has returned to normal. The police are doing their best to maintain security in the city of al-Bab. We have intensified security measures to prevent any future explosions. The residents seem to be cooperating with us in maintaining security,” he said.
Shihabi added, “We are not against calls for peaceful demonstrations and peaceful strikes. However, we reject any attempts at sabotaging service facilities and public institutions. People need security and stability and we are working on this.”
The civil gathering of the notable families of al-Bab city issued a statement Nov. 17, commenting on the strike and protests in the city. “The protests and calls for a strike are the normal right of people to express their opinion and demand accountability for the criminal who carried out the terrorist bombing that claimed innocent lives,” the statement read. “We call on the judicial authorities to implement the death penalty for the criminals involved in all the bombings and for the protection of public property."
A source in the civil gathering told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The popular anger is far from over as people fear similar terrorist incidents and blame the police and the FSA National Army faction for the security chaos. We demand more efforts to improve the security conditions."
The source added, “An extensive meeting between the civil gathering and Turkish security officials as well as officials from the National Army was held on Nov. 19, during which the people’s demands were relayed to the officials. The people call for controlling the security checkpoints to prevent the entry of car bombs, providing police officers with devices to detect explosives and conducting night security patrols. The people also demand the right to hold peaceful demonstrations and call for strikes, which is a right guaranteed to the people in the city."
On Nov. 29, the civil gathering issued a statement clarifying its position on the arrests by the Turkish police and intelligence forces against the protesters who raised banners calling for an end to the security chaos in the city. The Facebook statement read, “Every peaceful movement is a legitimate right of those who want to demand a right or express a position, and it is not acceptable for any party to take any action against those expressing his opinion peacefully, whatever his opinion and point of view as long as he is committed to peace.”
Explosions are not the only thing keeping civilians up at night in al-Bab. Additional factors also contribute to the deteriorating security conditions, such as clashes between armed groups affiliated with the FSA’s National Army or the skirmishes between these groups and civilians, with heavy use of firearms.