BEIRUT: Militants from the Al-Qaeda affiliate the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) have stormed several media facilities in the rebel-held town of Kafranbel, one of the best-known symbols of Syria’s anti-government uprising, activists said.
Activist groups from the town, located in the northwest province of Idlib, said the raids took place Saturday evening, targeting a radio station and a media center located next door.
An activist from Kafranbel told The Daily Star that the ISIS militants seized six media workers and released them after two hours of detention. However, they ransacked the premises of the two locations and confiscated or destroyed computers, cameras, radio and Internet equipment and pro-uprising banners stored at the media center.
The activist said the attack came just hours after the station, Radio Fresh, broadcast a segment that featured interviews with several women discussing their personal lives and problems as divorcees.
In recent months, the Al-Qaeda affiliate has been blamed for a string of kidnappings and murders of opposition supporters active in the media and humanitarian assistance sectors, primarily in the northern and eastern parts of the country.
The activist vowed that the production of Kafranbel’s well-known banners and drawings, often displayed prominently during Friday nationwide protests, would continue, “and better than before.”
Another media activist from Kafranbel said the ISIS militants indicated that the media center was the intended target. He said that cartoons depicting ISIS fighters stabbing the rebel Free Syrian Army in the back were particularly objectionable to the hard-line Islamists, who often face accusations that they are in league with the regime to defeat the mainstream opposition.
Also in Kafranbel, an FSA unit accused ISIS militants over the weekend of using an informant from the town to engineer the seizure of their weapons, stored in a depot.
The Fursan al-Haqq Brigade said the arms, which included anti-aircraft weapons, were being used to fight the army of Syrian President Bashar Assad and that their seizure meant that rebels were unable to protect the population from regime airstrikes.
The brigade also posted a video statement on YouTube, in which a spokesman accused a local named Hassan Hamra of “treason” and inciting strife by working with ISIS militants to facilitate the capture of the weapons.
They said Hamra was now wanted by local judicial authorities.
The activist from Kafranbel said that negotiations were now underway with ISIS to return the arms that were taken.
The developments came, however, as popular pressure in another town in Idlib province prompted ISIS militants to release a popular local rebel commander, activists said.
Lt. Col. Ahmad Saoud, who was kidnapped earlier this month, was released late Friday after residents of Maaret al-Numan staged a demonstration demanding that ISIS let the defected officer go free.
They said he was seized on the grounds that he was “collaborating” with the opposition National Coalition and the Turkey-based leadership of the FSA.
Saoud, a defector from the regular army, heads the Division 13 unit of the Free Syrian Army.
FSA groups in Maaret al-Numan and from the next-door province of Hama had demanded that ISIS release all detainees that it holds, as well as refrain from any violations against civilians and their properties.