REYHANLI — The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), al-Qaida’s Syrian arm, has released a Free Syrian Army officer from detention, reportedly the first FSA prisoner to be set free by the extremist group.
Last week the Military Council of Idlib province (operating under the FSA umbrella) issued a statement demanding that ISIS release all the civilians it has kidnapped or arrested. The Council also called for the release of FSA officers and soldiers, and reiterated that a Sharia (Islamic) court should be the arbiter of justice in the province, and not ISIS.
ISIS kidnappings have been met by civilian outcry this year. At a demonstration earlier this month in the city of Maaret al-Numan, in the north of Idlib, they repeated the demands made by the Military Council statement.
A few hours later, Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Saoud, the commander of the 13th division (as commanded by the Military Council), became ISIS’s first FSA prisoner to be released.
Later, Lieutenant Colonel Fares Baioush, Saoud’s assistant commander, spoke with Syria Deeply at his home in Reyhanli.
Syria Deeply: What were the circumstances around Colonel Ahmad’s arrest by ISIS?
Lieutenant Colonel Fares Baioush: On Dec. 13, he was arrested with two of his soldiers at an ISIS checkpoint in the west of Idlib, while heading to Taftanaz, a town in northern Idlib, to meet ISIS’s leaders and talk about the commandeering of Forsan al-Haq’s weapons.
SD: What was the given reason for the arrest?
FB: ISIS consider all General Staff’s commanders and officers as agents for the United States and the West in general.
SD: Does ISIS declare war against FSA officers as a whole, or just certain people?
FB: They are targeting the General Staff’s commanders and officers only, after accusing them of being agents of the United States.
On Nov. 11, Captain Mohammad Qadi and Major Ahmad Jahhar, two General Staff officers, were kidnapped in Azaz, a city in northern Aleppo province, while delivering technical equipment. Their dead bodies were found in the nearby fields of Azaz after five days.
Brigadier Ahmad Berri, the commander of Hama Military Council that follows the General Staff, was arrested near Saraqeb, a city in northern Idlib, while heading to Turkey two weeks ago. He’s in the same prison where Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Saoud was held, and he is still there until now.
SD: Why was Lieutenant Colonel Ahmad Saoud released, and why did this differ from previous situations that ended with a dead body or a missing person?
FB: We in the Idlib Military Council sent mediators to push for his release. When ISIS refused, a statement was issued demanding them to release him directly and have a judgement at their sharia [religious] court. A demonstration of people in Maaret al-Numan followed the statement and called for the same points, and I think that this demonstration was effective. A few hours later, the officer and his two soldiers were released.
SD: Are those of you in the Idlib Military Council trying to communicate with ISIS and organize better relations, since you are in principle fighting on the same side against the ruling Assad regime?
FB: Now, we are communicating with them to get our confiscated weapons back, and they still refuse, claiming that they need it for their battalions. This is despite that a Sharia court proved the weapons are ours.
We may reach armed conflict [against ISIS] if they do not return our weapons … [they originally claimed] that they came to Syria to fight the Assad regime, not to steal weapons and terrorize civilians.
We started the revolution in Syria and we will prevail. Those [al-Qaida] foreigners who say they come to help Syrians must fight under a Syrian leadership, otherwise we don’t want them here. Nobody chose them to control any area in Syria and judge its people.