By LIAM STACK and HANIA MOURTADA Jihadist rebels interviewed two high-profile prisoners, a provincial governor and a local chief of the Baath Party, about their capture and then posted the video to YouTube.
As our colleagues Duraid Adnan and Rick Gladstone reported, Syrian rebels seized the capital of the northern province of Raqqa on Wednesday, driving government forces from the town and capturing two high-ranking prisoners, the governor of Raqqa Province and the local chief of the ruling Baath Party.
They also appeared in a video posted online that showed their high-profile captives on an ornate sofa in the governor's palace with a jihadist fighter seated between them. Together, the three men gave similar descriptions of the events that led to the fall of the palace and the capture of the governor, Hasan Jalali, and the party chief, Suleiman al-Suleiman.
The video captured something intangible about the conflict in Syria, which will mark its second anniversary next week. The video was apparently recorded before the town was under total rebel control, with military and intelligence forces still entrenched in their local headquarters, but the rebels are nevertheless shown as jubilant and proud. The captured government officials are visibly exhausted, looking both defeated and bewildered at the same time.
Rebels in the video name two different groups who participated in the attack on the palace, the Islamic Front for Unity and Liberation and the Shura Council Front. Little is known about either group, and neither one appears to have a significant Web presence.
The rebel seated between the two prisoners in the first video is referred to as a leader of the Islamic Front for Unity and Liberation, and can barely bring himself to say the name of the Free Syrian Army, the disorganized umbrella rebel group. He instead said the seizure of the palace was a victory for âthe Islamic fronts.â
The man conducting the interview, who is not identified, began by cordially asking Mr. Jalali, âBrother, please explain to us the details of what happened today.â
Mr. Jalali, visibly tired, glanced around the room in disbelief before responding.
Brother, the secretary of the party's branch and I were in the governor's palace. A clash erupted between people outside and members of palace defense inside the palace. And there were some injuries and there was damage inside the building. And to stop the bloodshed, brothers from the national reconciliation committee intervened and they tried to put an end to the bloodshed on both sides and to resolve the issue.
The interviewer then asked a man identified as the rebel leader to speak. The rebel leader, who is never named, appeared unwilling to give the Free Syrian Army credit for the rebel victory in Raqqa. He claimed it instead as a victory for Islamist groups and vowed to continue the fight to Damascus.
After the Free Syrian Army entered or, to be more accurate, after the Islamic fronts entered Raqqa province, the Islamic Front of Unity and Liberation besieged the governor's palace, with the help of our brothers from the Shura Council Front. After a siege that lasted several hours and an exchange of gunfire, some brothers intervened and conducted the necessary negotiations to stop the bloodshed of our brothers the jihadists. Of course, as a result of these negotiations, we were able to get the wounded out of the place and we were able to free the detained men who were in the governor's palace, with the help of our brothers in the Shura Council. Praise be to God, the operation was conducted successfully by the Islamic fronts and with the lowest number of losses. Praise be to God.
Mr. Suleiman, the local chief of the ruling Baath Party, gave a similar account of what happened that day before attempting to defend himself and Mr. Jalali to their new captors. At time as he spoke, he appeared frightened.
âGod willing, I hope we have always done what's right,â he said. âThere's not one day when we worked in a bad way nor do we want anyone to do something bad. And we don't want anyone to be killed or anyone to kill anyone. From either side.â
A video posted to YouTube shows rebel fighters celebrating inside the governor's palace in Raqqa by destroying monuments to President Bashar al-Assad and his father, who ruled from 1971 to 2000.
The same men posted a second video to YouTube that appears to have been filmed shortly before or after the first. It shows jubilant rebels inside the palace defacing a portrait of President Bashar al-Assad and toppling a bust of his father, Hafez al-Assad, who was president from 1971 to 2000. It then shows a brief interview with the leader of the second Islamist militia that stormed the palace, the Shura Front, who said the fighters âseized all the weapons and spoilsâ in the building and also took 200 to 250 prisoners.
The interviews were posted to YouTube by Orient TV, an anti-regime television station founded by the business