Kidnappings, extortions rock Turkish-rebel held Afrin 

Afrin in northern Syria has witnessed kidnappings and extortions in recent weeks, with videos emerging of allegedly tortured residents at the hands of armed groups. 

In two separate incidents last week, a masked gang kidnapped a professor from Afrin, according to The National, and one video shows the torture of a Kurdish resident, whose hostage-takers demanded $25,000 ransom. 

The news comes amid an insurgency by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, who are fighting Turkish-backed rebels that took over Afrin in mid-March. 

A “Turkish diplomatic source” told The National the allegations are “unfounded” and said earlier incidents “were promptly investigated and necessary measures were immediately taken by the Turkish Armed Forces.”

The video of the Kurdish resident, reportedly sent to his family along with the ransom demand, shows him screaming as torturers beat him with a large stick. 

Since the Turkish military’s Olive Branch operation into northern Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said olive farmers have faced extortion from Turkish-backed rebels. Plantations that don’t pay a levy to rebels have seen its olive trees burned down, according to the Observatory. 

Afrin is home to 13 million olive trees, and the burnings “came against the backdrop of the seizure of most of the olive plantations in Afrin by the factions of Operation Olive Branch,” the Syrian Observatory said in a report.

Amnesty International has denounced Turkey and said the country has ignored abuses by its Syrian-backed forces. In recent weeks, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rallied international support to prevent a Syrian offensive in Idlib, aiming to prevent the killings of civilians. 

“It’s Turkey’s responsibility to end these practices and violations [in Afrin,” Leen Hashem, Syria campaigner for Amnesty International, told The National. “Turkey has been calling for the protection of civilians in Idlib, so why do we not see that in Afrin?”