Mousab Alhamadee is a media liaison for the opposition Local Coordination Committees (LCC) of Syria. According to our sources, he lives in Hama. He writes here about a vegetable merchant from his hometown of Apamea who reportedly had made a name for himself as a brave fighter before being killed in battle.
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By Mousab Alhamadee, Hama, June 18, 2012
One of the best-known fighters in Hama province was Khaled Nasrullah (pictured above, according to our sources), a merchant in Apamea. He became so angry about the brutality of the Assad regime that he sold his wholesale vegetable business and took up arms against the government. Here is how a vegetable merchant became the commander of a small rebel force and a famous revolutionary hero.
Khaled was in his shop in Apamea’s Souk Alhal market on March 28 of last year. The market was crowded with cars and people. Business was good: Khaled had a reputation for having some of the best potatoes, some of the best in Syria, some people said.
Suddenly, a small group of young men marched down the street chanting for freedom. At first, Khaled felt angry at the disturbance because these marchers did nothing but make traffic even more crowded than usual.
At this first demonstration, his dark eyes were filled with anger and sweat dripped from his forehead. But the scene was repeated many times in the few days to come and, with time, Khaled became less annoyed with the marchers and their noise.
“But here was the surprise: In the process of their interrogation, the intelligence agents had tortured these men. They came home with wounds on their bodies and their faces badly bruised” – Mousab Alhamadee
Then he began to hear the rumors on the streets of Apamea about street protests in Dara’a and Banyas. He couldn’t take part in the demonstrations himself. He was busy with his successful vegetable business. But this would not last long.
A few weeks later, as the protests became more frequent, the numbers of marchers grew. One day, government soldiers arrested about 15 of them. Many of them were Khaled’s cousins and friends.
Khaled asked local authorities to set them free. He negotiated with security agents and finally, after a great effort, agreed to pay more than $1,000 for their release.
But here was the surprise: In the process of the interrogating them, the intelligence agents had tortured these men. They came home with wounds on their bodies and their faces badly bruised.
Khaled forms his own militia
Khaled, a robust man in his mid-30s, was enraged and decided to join the Apamea protests. The protests escalated. In early August, security forces killed more than 10 people in Apamea. Syrian soldiers in many parts of the country began to defect and to join the Free Syrian Army to help defend the demonstrators from daily attacks by government forces.
“They became a small efficient fighting force, traveling by night wherever they were needed. [Khaled] and his men slept wherever they could, and never had time to change their clothes” – Mousab Alhamadee
Khaled grew more interested in the politics of the revolution and talked with some of the defectors. He sold his vegetable shop, joined the newly established Free Syrian Army (FSA) and used the profits he had made from selling his business to buy weapons for the defectors.
Friends and relatives joined his small volunteer fighting force and he was appointed a regional leader because of the courage he had shown in defending his countrymen during peaceful demonstrations. They became a small efficient fighting force, traveling by night wherever they were needed. He and his men slept wherever they could, and never had time to change their clothes.
Thus, Khaled led what became one of the most famous groups of the FSA in Hama province. His men defended protestors from government military attacks in Hama, Homs, and in the Damascus countryside. When regime forces at checkpoints in Hama opened fire on protesters, Khaled’s unit fired back. They killed many government soldiers as a revenge for the deaths of the martyrs who were then falling in big numbers.
This way, Khaled became the subject of conversation and excitement among men and women and children in Apamea. He was looked upon now as a real hero who could defend civilians and retaliate for the strikes of the regime army. He became more famous even than many professionally trained government soldiers who defected to join the FSA.
A sniper hides in a wheat field
Two months ago, regime forces swept into the village of Sahel Algab near Apamea and killed many residents. Of the 15 residents of the village who died, most were women and children.
Near a small house where Khaled had learned that there were many civilian dead, a sniper crouched in a wheat field. Khaled and his comrades planned to recover any injured survivors and retrieve the corpses for a proper burial – Mousab Alhamadee
Khaled’s unit quickly joined a small number of FSA rebels to defend the village. The situation was very dangerous because the regime was now using helicopter gunships to reinforce the government forces with rocket fire.
Then, on May 12, Khaled’s unit entered Tamana’a and stopped the shabiha (regime militiamen) from killing more villagers. Suddenly, the shabiha pulled out of the village. They had set an ambush that was apparently planned to kill Khaled.
Near a small house where Khaled had learned that there were many civilian dead, a sniper crouched in a wheat field. Khaled and his comrades planned to recover any injured survivors and retrieve the corpses for a proper burial.
The sniper waited until he saw Khaled and pulled the trigger.
A bullet in Khaled’s head was enough to make the vegetable seller from Apamea another victim of the Tamana’a massacre.
Khaled’s death was a great shock. Men and women cried loudly at the news of his death. Even those who didn’t know him personally wept and considered his death a great loss for Apamea and for Syria.
His funeral in his hometown Apamea was huge. His father now cares for his wife and two-year-old daughter and the FSA continues to pay them his $50 a month salary. The men he led have now become known as the Battalion of Martyr Khaled Nasrullah and Khaled’s brother has assumed its command.
From a vegetable businessman to a revolutionary hero: this is the way change overtook Khaled and must someday overtake Syria at large.
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David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.