Syrian Kurds have demanded the Turkish government be held responsible for a video surfacing showing Turkish-allied Free Syrian Army (FSA) combatants mutilating the body of a female Kurdish anti-jihadist fighter, stepping on her breasts, and taking selfies with her.
The woman has been identified as People’s Protection Units (YPJ) fighter Amina Omar. Omar used the nom de guerre Barin Kobane, after the Kurdish border town made famous after the Islamic State assailed it in 2014.
The NGO Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) obtained the video, allegedly from one of the individuals present at the desecration of her corpse. SOHR reported that Kobane reportedly died fighting in Bulbul, in the northern Afrin region, where the FSA has launched attacks against the YPJ and the Kurdish all-male YPG unit at the urging of the Turkish government.
Turkey considers the YPJ/YPG terrorist organizations despite their outsized role in defeating the Islamic State in Syria, including in its “capital” Raqqa. The YPJ are allied with the United States and have largely avoided fighting with any groups other than Sunni jihadists, including the Syrian national army of dictator Bashar al-Assad.
“The footage,” explains Kurdish outlet Rudaw, “captured on a mobile phone, shows the woman’s body spread out on a concrete floor surrounded by gunmen in military fatigues. Her bloodstained clothes have been partially removed exposing her breasts and genitals, parts of which appear to have been cut off.”
The men can be heard shouting “allahu akbar” and calling her a pig. One man remarks, “She’s beautiful, man.”
Only partial clips of the video remain online.
WARNING: GRAPHIC IMAGES
— Baxtiyar Goran (@BaxtiyarGoran) February 1, 2018
— Breakingg.news.world.TV (@kurdishhnews) February 1, 2018
Kobane’s family and loved ones held a memorial service for the woman, though they could not hold a traditional Kurdish funeral without the body. The Agence-France Presse reports that thousands attended the funeral. YPJ officials said Kobane was among four women killed and “mutilated” in the fighting.
“We hold the Turkish government responsible for this heinous act. We salute the soul of the free resistance (fighter),” the YPJ said in a statement, according to Reuters. Local Kurdish officials said they had evidence to believe Kobane was captured alive “and later paraded in several villages outside Afrin” before fighters mutilated her body. One local government statement blamed “the Turkish fascist government … and its mercenaries” for the crime, Rudaw notes.
AFP cites relatives who identified Kobane as saying she began fighting in 2014 against ISIS and participated in the liberation of her namesake town in 2015.
“They all have their burials, except my daughter Barin,” her mother told AFP. “They tore up her body. She doesn’t get a funeral. Oh, my daughter.”
Free Syrian Army leaders condemned the video, according to the New York Times, stating that they “will not hesitate to hold accountable those who prove to be involved in this incident, if it is verified, in accordance with Shariah law and our principles.” The Times notes that over 10,000 FSA fighters are participating in “Operation Olive Branch,” the Turkish government invasion of northern Syria.
The FSA initially denied participating in the military effort. A spokesman for the group told Breitbart News in mid-January that their fighters, who have primarily targeted Assad’s army, were not part of the fight against the Kurds.
The Turkish government has not commented on the video.
The FSA has long been a controversial group, touted by the Obama administration as “moderate” rebels seeking only the overthrow of Assad. In 2014, the rise of the Islamic State gutted the Free Syrian Army, as several of the coalition factions that formed the group pledged allegiance to “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and joined the jihad. The Obama-era quest to find “moderate” elements within the FSA and arm them against Assad was largely a failure, as the U.S. and CIA trained and equipped many fighters who ultimately ended up joining jihadist insurgencies. The FSA itself continues to claim to adhere to the sharia today.
While President Barack Obama led the effort to arm the FSA, he received bipartisan support for the effort. Senator John McCain, in particular, supported the group, taking photos with group leaders.
The Trump administration has chosen to distance itself not from the FSA, but the YPJ. The YPJ is one of many militias forming the U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF). Speaking to reporters, Pentagon spokesperson Eric Pahon said Tuesday that support for the SDF does not necessarily mean support for the Syrian Kurds.
“You are talking about the YPG and the SDF as an umbrella unit but it is not that simple. … They are a federation fighting under one command and one cause. If pieces of that fracture [and] move out, we are not cutting our support for the SDF as a whole, it will be those individual pieces,” he told Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.
“We cooperate with those units that are working to defeat ISIS. The units that have moved out or moved to Afrin are not US-supported units,” he added.