Syrians for Truth and Justice (STJ) documented the murder of three women over June and July 2021 in the areas controlled by the opposition’s Syrian National Army (SNA) and their affiliated armed groups.
The first femicide took place in the city of Ras al-Ayn/Serê Kaniyê, which is controlled by the Turkey-backed SNA. STJ documented the murder of the wife of a fighter from the SNA-affiliated Sultan Murad Division. The victim’s family say that the fighter killed their daughter and faked her suicide, while de facto authorities did not conduct any investigation into the murder nor interrogate her husband.
The second femicide, which resulted in the death of two women, occurred in the city of Sarmada, in Idlib province, which is controlled by the military group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). STJ documented the honor killing of a young woman and her mother. A paternal male cousin of the young woman killed her with her mother after the young woman posted a photo of herself on social media without a hijab. The perpetrator escaped to Shaykh al-Hadid district, in Afrin region, which is controlled by the Turkish Army and the SNA, seeking protection from his armed group the Suleiman Shah Brigade (also known as al-Amshat).
Importantly, the two perpetrators are still at liberty with total impunity. Both murderers resumed their normal life after they obtained “protection” from the SNA’s factions they fight with or the tribes they belong to.
Furthermore, the impunity the fighters enjoyed was reinforced by the other de facto authorities in the areas where the murders took place. These authorities did not take any legal measures to address the femicides and eventually closed the cases with the burial of the three victims’ bodies.
Nadiya: Killed by Her Husband’s Military Rifle
Salim* (22) killed his wife Nadiya* (19) on 2 July 2021. Hassan is a fighter with the Sultan Murad Division. He shot and killed his wife with his military rifle in their house in the city of Ras al-Ayn/Serê Kaniyê. Nadiya’s body was transferred from the city to Turkish territories and then delivered to her family in Idlib through the Bab al-Hawa Border Crossing on 3 July.
Nadiya’s family accused the husband of murdering their daughter. They said that he was provided with protection and help from a commander in his division to obtain a “forged” forensic report to corroborate his claims that Nadiya took her own life.
Moreover, the family accused the authorities in control of the region of being legally passive because they did not carry out a serious investigation into the murder nor interrogate Nadiya’s husband and neighbors. Instead, the authorities composed a routine report on the incident, adopting the husband’s narrative and closing the case. The authorities did not treat Nadiya’s death as a homicide and privileged the husband’s account, insisting that Nadiya was not killed, but committed suicide.
A Life of Domestic Violence
Nadiya is not only a victim of femicide. She also was a victim of child marriage. Nadiya married Salim at the age of 14 and was constantly beaten by him throughout their five-year marriage. She repeatedly complained to her family and relative about the abuse she received at the hands of her husband, but they never helped her nor provided her with a solution.
To investigate Nadiya’s murder, STJ interviewed her mother and a relative, who confirmed that she was repeatedly subjected to domestic violence and abuse throughout her marital life.
Rabya, the victim’s mother, told STJ that her daughter and her son-in-law were both born in al-Ghab Plain in Hama’s countryside. They married in 2016 and later moved to the city of Ras al-Ayn/Serê Kaniyê. They relocated to the city after her husband’s faction, the Sultan Murad Division, began operating there under the command of Fahim Issa. Nadiya’s mother added that her daughter and her husband had three boys together.
Nadiya’s mother recounted the painful details of a phone call she had with her daughter a few hours before she died with researchers with STJ. The mother said:
“On the evening of 2 July, I had a video call with Nadiya. She was crying and imploring. She wanted an escape from her husband’s violence. I saw beating marks and cigarette burns on her body. She said that he hit her with a metal cable and a plastic pipe in front of her three sons.”
The mother narrated:
“She blamed us. She said: ‘Why did you abandon me to this animal! I need a way out of all this, and I want to return to live with you. I can no longer take the beating, insults, and all the swearing.’ She told me that, every evening, after he finished a shift with the faction, her husband returned home as if drunk. She suspected he was on narcotics. She added that he would beat her the minute he arrived home. He hit my daughter with his hands, feet — anything he could use. I do not know what sin my daughter committed that he beat and tortured her.”
“Over the same call, Nadiya told me that he threatened to kill her should she call and tell us that he was beating her. She begged that we come and take her home.”
STJ also talked to Nadiya’s relative. He corroborated the mother’s account and said that Nadiya repeatedly sought his help, complaining about beating and torture. The relative recounted:
“Salim proposed to [Nadiya] in 2016. They married only two months after the engagement. Our inherited traditions do not stand as a barrier to wedding girls at such an age . Since 2016 until she died, there were problems between the two all the time. She always had scars of beating and torture on her body. Every time he beat her, she would come to me and ask that I divorce her from him. I used to refuse due to the region’s traditions and customs which ordered women to show patience towards their husbands as they waited for their lives to stabilize.”
“In the spring of 2018, [Nadiya] asked me to help her. She showed me her body, the marks of barbaric torture, and cigarette burns. Her husband was determined to beat her even though she gave him three sons. The labor was quite difficult in the three births, it was like death to her.
However, I returned her to her husband every time she asked for my help. In 2020, Salim travelled to Ras al-Ayn/Serê Kaniyê, where his faction Sultan Murad Division operated. Every time she called, she complained about beating, torture, her miserable life, drugs, and alcohol at home. Ultimately, he killed her in cold blood, and we got her back as a dead body.”
The Details of the Murder
Nearly three hours after the video call Nadiya had with her mother, her husband called one of her relatives and told him that she committed suicide.
STJ reached out to the relative. He recounted:
“On 2 July, almost three hours after the call between Nadiya and her mother, the husband Salim called and told me that she accidently killed herself with a rifle. I immediately told her father and [relative]. [Nadiya’s relative] called Salim to learn how she died. Salim told him that when he returned from the ribat shift at the faction’s post, Nadiya went to the kitchen to make dinner. He added that he suddenly heard the sound of gunshots coming from the kitchen and when he went in, he saw Nadiya on the floor drowning in a pool of her blood while the rifle was still mounted on the wall. The husband said that probably Nadiya went near the rifle and moved it in some way so that it accidently fired three shots. The bullets ripped through her shoulder and killed her.”
“On the same call, Salim told [Nadiya’s relative] that he would bury her in Ras al-Ayn/Serê Kaniyê because it was impossible for him to transfer her body to Idlib. The victim’s father refused and insisted on burying his daughter in Idlib.”
The source added that Nadiya’s father asked for help from a SNA commander and managed to transport Nadiya’s body from Ras al-Ayn/Serê Kaniyê to the Bab al-Hawa Crossing through Turkish territories. The family, based in Harem town, was delivered Nadiya’s body on 3 July, one day after her death. The family summoned a coroner to examine Nadiya’s body because they did not trust the findings of the report issued by the coroner in Ras al-Ayn/Serê Kaniyê.
STJ accessed a certified copy of the forensic report issued by the Forensic Medicine Department of the Ras al-Ayn Healthcare Directorate. The copy was without an issuance date or serial number but carried the department’s reporter Urwa al-Qa’ed’s signature, as well as the seals of the department and the Ras al-Ayn Local Council.
The report lays out these conclusions:
“Upon examining the body of the woman referred to as [Nadiya. . .], it became clear that she was just in her early thirties, about 170 CM long, white, and with long black hair. Her pupils were dilated. There were traces of excessive bleeding on the body and a nearly 3 cm radius bullet entry hole up the wishbone, with a ring around it caused by burning. Additionally, there was a nearly 1.0 cm radius bullet exit hole on the backside of the right shoulder blade. Also, there was a blue spot on the humerus bone in front of the muscle, that happened hours ago, and a bluish bruise on the inside of the humerus bone. The examination of the left arm revealed seven parallel line-shaped marks, about 5 cm each, on the inside of the wrist. Two of these lines indicate a deep wound, probably of a piece of glass. There were no other marks across the body. The time of death, since the examination started, is about three and half hours ago. The cause of death is excessive hemorrhage due to a gunshot. There is no need for an autopsy to identify the cause of death. The gunshot happened from a close range, of approximately a meter and a half…These conclusions are based on my official expertise.”
 In general usage, Ribat refers to defending Islam.
*connotes the use of an alias.