Category Archives: Arabian Peninsula

The Second Frustration of Prince Bin Salman: a Fiasco in Qatar……

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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, known affectionately and otherwise as MBS, has had a rocky period. But that is to be expected for a young man who finds himself suddenly at the helm of a country, purely by the coincidence of birth. In my last post I covered briefly his Yemen adventure. But the adventures were not done.

Last Spring came the Qatar fiasco. Qatar generally stood on the Saudi side in the losing Syrian war. But Qatar supported its own version of Islamic Jihadists, not the Salafist Wahhabis that the Saudis funded and armed (who later became AQIS and ISIS). Yet as long as they were both on the same side against the Assad regime things were mostly fine.

But there has been serious tension between the two Gulf states in the past. In the 1990s the Saudis engineered a coup attempt in Doha to overthrow the father of the current Emir and reappoint his predecessor (his father) who was more to their liking. The coup attempt failed, and Qatar continued to be a thorn on the Saudi side. The Qataris also supported and funded the Muslim Brotherhood, whom the Saudis (and Emiratis) disliked almost more than the Iranians. Then there was  the Aljazeera network, which was too outspoken on regional issues for the Saudi (and Emirat) taste.

So, finally, after several bouts of alternately making up and breaking up, the dark cloud of Donald Trump and his avaricious clan showed up in Arabia. I posted here at the time that Trump’s visit to the Arabian Peninsula in May of 2017 was a most poisonous visit. Apparently the potentates of Saudi Arabia and the UAE convinced Trump that Qatar was a major source of trouble and terrorism; they also bribed him with promises of hundreds of billions of dollars of arms purchases and investments. Somehow they got the impression that Trump was on their side, and that he would condone any action they might take against the smaller Wahhabi emirate.

So, early in Summer 1917, they announced a complete break with Qatar including land, air and sea blockades, with the support of the Egyptian regime which fears the MB as much as they do. The inexperienced new Saudi strongman Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman was told that it will be easy, that the Qataris will fold, but that unlike the case of Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the Americans will not object.


There were signs of trouble from the start with the campaign against Qatar. First: Oman and Kuwait, almost half the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members refused to join the boycott and blockade and the threat of invasion against Qatar and its citizens. Second: Turkey stepped in to shore up its budding military alliance with Qatar. Third: Iran, which shares a huge gas field in the Persian Gulf with Qatar, opened her airspace and sea lanes and land routes to Qatar in order to go around the closure of the Arab routes. Soon plentiful Turkish and Iranian foods started replacing Arab sources of food and other imports. One pathetic Saudi commentator went so far as to absurdly tell the Qataris on Saudi semi-official Alarabiya TV that their stomachs were not used to Turkish and Iranian food products.

So far the Qatar adventure has failed. Qatar’s rulers  have not become Saudi satraps or an appendix like the rulers of rebellious Bahrain.

Another major miscalculation that has backfired and further weakened the Saudi hold and influence on the GCC alliance.

Stay tuned. More to follow….

GCC AND PLIABLE ARAB REVOLUTIONARIES: QATARI-SAUDI MICRO COLD WAR……

MEDIA WARS: CAN SAUDIS AND QATARIS BUY THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF THE ARAB WORLD?………

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

The First Frustration of Prince Bin Salman: Horrors of a Complex War in Yemen…….

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Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, known affectionately and otherwise as MBS, has had a rocky period. But that is to be expected for a young man who finds himself suddenly at the helm of a country, purely by the coincidence of birth.
In fairness, Saudi Arabia and her allies (as well as little Qatar) were well on their way to losing the Northern Tier of the Arab World (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon) when his father Salman became king and started prepping his son to take over. By then it was almost certainly too late to roll back Iranian influence in those three countries.

But King Salman and his son and designated heir thought their first new foreign project, closer to home, would be easy. Piece of cake, as they say. Besides, Yemen is a sort of vulnerable underbelly of the Arabian Peninsula: it could be disastrous if controlled by a hostile power, like Iran. Unfortunately it was a piece of bitter hard Yemeni cake that they tried to swallow in the wrong way. By that time Yemen was engulfed in a complex of multiple domestic and regional wars that included AQAP, ISIS, Southern Secessionists, among others. A war of many fronts.

The Saudis should have known from their own recent experience that the Yemeni cake has always been too bitter and hard for outsiders if mishandled. Late in 2014 the largely autonomous northern Houthi group allied itself to influential former President Ali Abdallah Saleh and swept the corrupt Hadi-Islah regime out of Sanaa and the rest of North Yemen. Soon after that the new Saudi regime took power in Riyadh, with Prince MBS as its Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince. The 30-year old prince had the Yemen portfolio. Unfortunately he has proven that he is no Alexander.


The original goal of Saudi intervention was to put Saleh’s hapless but also corrupt successor General Hadi back in power, along with the Muslim Brotherhood oligarchs of the Islah and Al Ahmar clan. Hadi’s legal term had actually expired before then. So they blockaded Yemen, and started a ferocious campaign of air bombardment that has killed thousands of people and ruined the infrastructure of that poorest of Arab states. The Saudi war is also a war waged by the USA (under both Obama and Trump) as well as Britain against Yemen. Western powers not only supplied the weapons and the ammunition, including cluster bombs, they also help with targeting and midair refueling of Saudi/UAE bombers. Several impoverished African countries, including Sudan, were also bribed and recruited in order to provide mercenary fighters.

The futile genocidal war on Yemen has lasted three years so far, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel for the Saudis and their allies. It has been a drain on the Saudi economy, to the tune of many billions of dollars. The lightly armed Houthis have even taken the war back into southern Saudi Arabia, with attacks and occasional incursions into enemy territory. Only a political solution can end the Yemen war, which is actually a complex network of multiple civil and proxy wars.

(I had predicted early on that the deposed Hadi will never return to rule from Sanaa. He is now basically a captive of his hotel suite in Saudi Arabia).

Stay tuned. To be followed…..

THE WAR IN YEMEN: EXACTLY WHOSE SIDE IS ALLAH ON?…..

MIRACLE OF THE IRGC: SHIPPING WEAPONS TO YEMEN THROUGH WESTERN MEDIA……… 

YEMEN: A GENOCIDAL WAR OF CLASHING FOREIGN MERCENARIES……. 

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

A Bite of History of Jerusalem and Mecca: Donald Trump Bahnhof, DonaldTrumpStrasse, Trump Mosque…….

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“A future train station in Jerusalem near the sacred Western Wall will bear the name of President Donald Trump, Israel’s minister of transportation said Wednesday, calling it an honor bestowed in response to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. “The Western Wall is the holiest place for the Jewish people, and I decided to name the train station that leads to it after president Trump — following his historic and brave decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel,” Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz said in a statement, according to the Jerusalem Post…….”

First- a bit of history: at the beginning of Islam, the small community of Muslims used to pray facing Jerusalem, not Mecca. They did that for some years. At that time Mecca was controlled by pagan Arabs who worshiped idols and statues that lined up the Kaaba. After the Muslims conquered Mecca and its people converted, it became the direction toward which Muslims prayed. Yet Muslims kept their political capital in Madinah (the Prophet did not trust the new Umayyad converts who dominated in Mecca). All that was, of course, long before they conquered Jerusalem and built the Al-Aqsa Mosque under the Caliph Omar.

There is one place outside the USA where Donald Trump is actually popular. The same place Barack Obama was so unpopular: Israel. Then there are a couple of remote places where the populace sees a combination of orange face and orange hair and opines support for their owner. Pockets of Oceania, some former East European allies of the German Reich, pockets in India, etc..

Media report a frenzy in Israel of naming and renaming places and streets after Donald J Trump. In addition to the Western Wall Train Station, there are street-name changes and other renaming. One street used to be Salah-Eldin (Saladin) Street; it is becoming Donald J Trump Street (DonaldTrumpStrasse). That last one probably makes sense, given that the name Saladin is controversial to both sides in the context of the occupied territories: he retook Jerusalem from its last Crusader rulers.


Now I have asked my secret cynical correspondent in the third (and lower) leg of the Middle East tripartite alliance, Saudi Arabia, if there are any similar moves to rename a street or housing development or even a mosque after Donald J Trump. He claims there is no such move, yet. But he hinted that it is likely Trump and Ted Nugent and Sean Hannity may become star attractions at the next Jenadriya Festival (an annual Saudi Desert Hootenanny event).

Cheers

M. Haider Ghuloum

Saudi Arabian Perestroika but No Glasnost: Ditching Wahhabism, the Aramco Dilemma…….

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“Saudi Arabia unveiled a $500bn plan on Tuesday to create a vast economic zone in the kingdom’s north-west, the most ambitious and expensive project in Riyadh’s efforts to diversify the oil-dependent economy. Details of the new city, called Neom, were released as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hosted some of the world’s most powerful investors and bankers at a conference designed to showcase his vision to modernise the conservative kingdom and lure investment to the country…….”

Interesting and unprecedented things may be about to happen in Saudi Arabia, if the ruling crown prince keeps all his promises. Possibly positive things. It will have reverberations across the Arab world.

Saudi Crown Prince MBS seems to be impressed by the example of the United Arab Emirates, especially Dubai. It will be a tough sell in the Wahhabi heartland of Najd in Central Arabia. To diversify the economy also means to diversify the society, and open it not only economically, but also culturally. That is the most closed of Middle East societies.

So far there are signs that the top Wahhabi establishment is falling in line, but that may change: the prince had to incarcerate several mid-level but prominent Wahhabi clerics before he started talking of his version of Perestroika (perhaps not so much Glasnost for now).

A few independent Arab media outlets have been hinting for months that the new Saudi order is impressed with the economic experience of the UAE. At the same time, the substantial Islamist (mainly Wahhabi) opposition in exile has been warning and complaining that the ruling Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in the UAE (an economically and culturally open Gulf state, definitely non-Wahhabi) has too much influence over the Saudi Crown Prince. There might be some truth in that, and it will create a dilemma for the Salafist movement from the Gulf to Egypt. Persian Gulf Salafis, who are practically Saudi proxies, have always been very critical of the openness of the UAE and its social and religious openness.


The domestic impact depends on success in keeping the population content, economically speaking. But times are hard, with oil revenues declining, and the weapons-selling pressures of Donald Trump are strong. Add to that the expensive and stalemated war in Yemen, and the new financial commitments to select remaining “friends” in Syria and Iraq.
So it may require disengagement in Yemen and reducing commitments in the Levant, as well as reducing the huge weapons deals with the Western powers. But then there is a catch in all that too: it might mean ceding the Northern Tier of the Arab world, the Levant/Fertile Crescent, to long-term Iranian influence. The Saudis already seem to have given up on Lebanon, where a Hezbollah-Christian coalition seems to have strengthened its hold on power.

Stopping the bleeding from Yemen will be a tough one: that country is the soft underbelly of the Arabian Peninsula, and a reasonable cause for worry. But war will not solve the Yemen problem, only some kind of political deal that is agreed upon by the Sanaa coalition and the Saudis. That still leaves the problem of Aden in secessionist-oriented Southern Arabia, now largely dominated by the UAE. And I haven’t even mentioned the expansion of AQAP and ISIS in Southern Yemen.

It would be quite interesting to see how the Wahhabi kingdom is transformed into a truly modern state (without the political opportunities of Glasnost).

(P.S: As for selling off the huge state oil company, ARAMCO, we can forget about that for now. My educated fatwa about ARAMCO? It will take much longer than two or three years or even five years to get it ready for privatization. IF it ever happens: I have seen similar films before in our Gulf region.)

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Donald Trump the Peacemaker: New Apostle of Wahhabi Islam and Virgin Drivers……

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“The imam of the grand mosque of Mecca has claimed Donald Trump, the US and Saudi Arabia are “steering the world to peace”, in comments during a visit to New York that sparked an outcry on social media. They are “steering the world and humanity to the ports of security, peace and prosperity,” he added, claiming that the two countries should unite to “combat terrorism” and to “realise security and international peace”. The conference, on ‘Civilisational communication between the United States of America and the Islamic World‘…….”

No doubt the royal princes are now throwing all their eggs into the basket of Donald Trump. George W Bush refused to do their bidding in the Persian Gulf and wage another war after Iraq. Barack Obama mocked their sectarian war demands in his Atlantic Magazine interview. They have tried to get Netanyahu to go to war on their behalf, but he is no fool: he has been all talk and no action as far as my Gulf is concerned.

During the Riyadh Summit/Circus last May, I posted here about Donald Trump as the Sixth Pillar of Wahhabi Islam. I was referring to the extremely deferential way the Saudi leaders treated Donald Trump, knowing his proclivity for praise (and money). His near-anointment as a sort of guardian of Islam (to the cheers of General Al Sisi, Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka). Even the top Saudi clerics in Mecca praised Trump in their speeches during the summit (as they were allegedly ordered to do so).

Now comes the “mother of all praises”. The Imam of the Holy Shrine in Mecca, no less, has opined that the world depends on the Saudi king and Donald Trump for peace. Now, you can’t kiss it lower or better than this. It is very likely that Mr. Trump will believe all this. The Saudi king, like all Arab kings, knows better. They also know his weaknesses: they are buying Trump, and not only with money….


In 2011, a Saudi scholar/cleric wrote a study for the appointed Shura Council about women and driving. In it he warned that if Saudi women were allowed to drive, that would be the end of virginity in the magic kingdom. The men were given a choice: women drivers or virginity. Possibly something in the local water made a woman go wild as soon as she got hold of a car’s steering wheel (rather suggestive, don’t you think?).
Apparently all this has changed, now the Wahhabi clerics believe that Saudi women can drive and keep their virginity….


I suspect President Donald Trump can now publicly take credit for this new driving policy that also allows women to keep their virginity even as they drive cars.
Interesting times we live in, no?

Cheers
M. Haider Ghuloum

Which Saudi King will Visit Donald Trump? What about Sisi, the Big Magical Globe, and Male Exotic Dancers…….

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“Saudi Arabia’s king will visit Washington in early 2018, according to a White House readout on the monarch’s latest call with Donald Trump.The three-sentence statement did not elaborate on the substance of the US president’s conversation with King Salman bin Abdulaziz, other than to note the two leaders discussed “ways to continue advancing shared priorities, including enhancing security and prosperity in the Middle East”. However, it did state that the Saudi monarch had agreed to visit the White House “in early 2018″…….”

My very own global correspondent has added: Saudi King Salman will visit Trump early next year, if he is still king of Saudi Arabia. Otherwise the new king, so far slated to be his favorite son Mohammed Bin Salman (affectionately called MBS in the palace), will do the visit. The timing of the Washington pilgrimage/Hajj in that case will depend on if and when the new king replaces his father on the throne.
It almost like a race: whether the royal visit precedes or follows the new king taking the throne. Some Saudi exiles who claim to know are betting that King Salman will not be king for long: some give him weeks, others give him only a few days from now.

My global correspondent also is not certain if the Saudi King will try to create a certain magic of the Riyadh Summit last May. That would require that he bring along a certain magical white ball (globe), and perhaps Generalissimo Sisi of Egypt as well, as per this following photo and my appropriate comments at the time—>

 

No, not this one below, this was just an irreverent Scandinavian mockery of some serious global Arabian/American magic of the May summit—>

It is also not clear whether the king will ask for a complete recreation of the magic of the Riyadh Summit in May. Complete with the Guru Stephen Bannon, Herr Doctor Sebastian Gorka (PhD), the all-male Arabian exotic sword dancers, and the other more fetching accoutrements.


Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Mystery of the Disappearing Arab Princes in Europe………

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“Saudi Arabia’s missing princes. In the last two years, three Saudi princes living in Europe have disappeared. All were critical of the Saudi government – and there is evidence that all were abducted and flown back to Saudi Arabia… where nothing further has been heard from them………. Sultan refuses, at which point Abdulaziz excuses himself to make a phone call. The other man in the room, the Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Saleh al-Sheikh, leaves too and after a few moments masked men rush in. They beat Sultan and handcuff him, then a needle is plunged into his neck. Unconscious, Sultan is rushed to Geneva airport – and carried on to a Medevac plane that is conveniently waiting on the tarmac……….”
BBC News

The most famous case of a Saudi citizen disappearing abroad occurred in Beirut, many years ago. Nasser Al Saeed was a famous regime opponent and Pan-Arabist. But he was a commoner in exile, who was almost certainly kidnapped and murdered and buried in Lebanon.

Now, under the current father-son rule, even some princes are beginning to vanish across Europe. But then again, does anyone know what happened to the former Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef who was deposed last month, was reported to be under house arrest? He has vanished in the Gulag that has absorbed many ordinary citizens, although he lives under better conditions of house arrest.

Revolutions are known to end up devouring their sons and daughters, from France (Danton, Robespierre) to Russia (Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin) to Iran (uncounted revolutionaries both communist, secular, and theocratic). Now the Saudi case is different: it is a throwback to a much earlier era of plotting kings and princes. An absolute monarchy eating its own sons (sorry, no daughters: verboten).

Cheers

Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

AlJazeera Revived: Israel Becoming Politically More Arab, More Haplessly Repressive……..

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“Israel plans to revoke press credentials of Al Jazeera TV journalists, close their Jerusalem bureau and pull the Qatar-based station’s broadcasts from local cable and satellite providers, Communications Minister Ayoub Kara said on Sunday. Kara accused the station of “supporting terrorism” and said cable broadcasters had agreed to his proposal to take the station’s Arabic and English channels off air. Closure of the station’s office would require further legislation, he added. “Lately, almost all countries in our region determined that Al-Jazeera supports terrorism, supports religious radicalization,”………”

Suddenly, Israel has a lot in common with several Arab oligarchy states, like Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Empire of Bahrain, among a few other states.
Forget about “values”, that is not what all this is about. No more than it is with Donald Trump.
The above Arab states have blocked AlJazeera network, and closed its offices.

They have also imposed an economic blockade of Qatar, at least with tacit approval from Donald Trump. Just as they have also, for several years now, urged America (and Israel) to wage a war on Iran, a sectarian war of choice on behalf of their royal families, as explained by former President Barack Obama. Obama, like Bush before him, rejected the demands of the Gulf princes for a new American war in the Gulf. The princes had to wait for the rabid Islamophobe Donald Trump to revisit the issue and plead their case, with a promised huge price tag of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Trump has thrown in with the Persian Gulf princes and potentates, in both cases: of Iran and Qatar. It remains to be seen if his few sane advisers can talk him out of playing full patsy to the Arab princes, and break with ally Qatar while provoking a new war of aggression in Iran’s own backyard.

Now Netanyahu has decided to move even closer to the Saudi regional position by joining the boycott of Qatari media by ejecting Aljazeera. But this will backfire on both the Saudis and Israel

Oddly, but predictably, the Israeli closure will almost certainly increase the popularity of AlJazeera among Arabs, both in country and in the Western diaspora. For a couple of years the network was losing popularity as it shifted closer to the style of the tightly-controlled Saudi media. That and the growth of competing Gulf-funded networks.

AlJazeera has in recent weeks doubled down on what made some Gulf ruling families angry with Qatar: it has moved back to the more ‘controversial’ model that had made it the top Arab network. That shift, and the little helpful shove from Netanyahu should help propel it back to the position of being by far the top Arab media outlet.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

Miracle of the IRGC: Shipping Weapons to Yemen through Western Media………

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“Using this new route, Iranian ships transfer equipment to smaller vessels at the top of the Gulf, where they face less scrutiny. The transhipments take place in Kuwaiti waters and in nearby international shipping lanes, the sources said. “Parts of missiles, launchers and drugs are smuggled into Yemen via Kuwaiti waters,” said a senior Iranian official. “The route sometimes is used for transferring cash as well.” The official added that “what is especially smuggled recently, or to be precise in the past six months, are parts of missiles that cannot be produced in Yemen”. Cash and drugs can be used to fund Houthi activities, the IRGC official said……..”

Apparently Iranian Revolutionary Guard leaders, soon including Brig General Qassem Soleimani, are always dying to confess to Western media reporters. Amazing how these high ‘officials’ always confess to Western media, divulging the deepest operational secrets of their organizations and their countries.

From Hezbollah of Lebanon to the Iranian IRGC: all it takes is a Reuters or NY Times correspondent based in Beirut or Abu Dhabi, and they all spill the beans. On condition of anonymity of course, and how convenient is that.

But the important question here is: does anybody actually believe this nonsense, except for the already converted? I mean they should try to make it more plausible: shipping weapons from Iran to Yemen through Kuwait and Iraq (who are at the northernmost tip of the Persian Gulf, hundreds of miles away from Yemen)? Isn’t Saudi Arabia the closest border to Yemen?

Oh, and the “drug” angle is also a cute touch, often used in these cases against “the other side”, and it is always worth adding a bit more darkness. Maybe it is all true, but it is still cute…

Meanwhile, over ten thousand Yemenis have been killed, hundreds of thousands have been wounded. They did not get hit by these alleged simple missiles, smuggled through impossible routes. They got hit by more genocidal bombs, cluster of otherwise, imported by Arab princes from Britain and the United States.

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum

The Body Snatchers of Arabia: It Is Not Just ISIS……

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“The families of 14 Saudi Arabian men sentenced to death fear that they are at risk of execution after they were transferred to Riyadh on 15 July. The men were sentenced to death on 1 June 2016 after a grossly unfair trial based on “confessions” they said were obtained under torture


I have been reading Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and other reports that Saudi Arabia plans to execute 14 young Saudi (Shi’a) men by beheading and/or crucifixion. Any day now. The princes have accelerated the rate of executions of Shi’a men specifically as a political tool to stifle protests, and there is fear that other Persian Gulf states may follow their example.

Saudi Arabia has a peculiar way of dealing with those it executes. Especially if they are Shi’a. In fairness, others get executed as well, and not only for staging public protests. Some are considered sorcerers or users of magic and witchcraft. Some of them are even convicted killers, although the method of obtaining confessions is not considered up to acceptable humane standards.

Wahhabis who plan to join terrorist groups are often sent to re-education schools. They are allowed to pretend that they have reformed, given jobs, and even encouraged to take appropriate Wahhabi wives. Their weddings are financed by the regime. But not the Shi’as.

Execution for men is done in public squares, by beheading and/or crucifixion. Nobody knows when someone will be executed, they announce it after the fact. And the Shi’a bodies are never returned to their loved ones.
All civilized regimes announce the date of execution. Even not so-civilized regimes usually return the bodies of those executed to their families. That is a human right.


Saudi Arabia often returns most bodies of those executed, unless they are Shi’a. This has been a consistent policy. Shaikh Nimr Al Nimr, the Shi’a dissident cleric was executed by beheading in January 2016, but his body was never returned to his family. Other Shi’a, Saudi or foreigner, faced the same fate. Years ago about 16 Kuwait Shi’as were beheaded on charges of plotting. Their bodies were never returned to their country or to their families. There have been other cases. And I know the Saudis do not use these bodies as (practice) cadavers for their medical students.

They usually just announce that so many were executed, a day after the fact. The bodies are presumably thrown in some hole in the desert.

The Caliphate of ISIS also does that sort of body snatching…..

Cheers
Mohammed Haider Ghuloum