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An Anatomy of a Mortar StrikeWide-Area Impact Report

Case study: Mortar and other inaccurate weapon use on the Jordanian/Syrian border

This report is part of a series of case studies that make up an analysis of the wide area effects of certain explosive weapons and the concern about their use in populated areas. The report – Wide-Area Impact – can be read hereA video of mortar use on the Syrian-Jordanian border can be seen here. An infographic covering this form of weapon can be seen here. An overview of the weapon type in consideration can be read here. A map of the strikes can be seen here. A review of mortar use on the Syrian-Jordanian border can be seen here.

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                       Abd al-Mon’em Sami Horani

At 1pm on the ninth day of Ramadan in 2015 – 5 June – a mortar hit the al-Horani coffee shop in the centre of Ramtha. The blast killed Abd al-Mon’em Sami Horani, a 23-year-old Jordanian student. Known to his brother and five sisters as Abood, the young man, who had an ambition to be a civil engineer, died at the scene. His cousins, Ahmed (18), Mousa (21) and Issa (13) were all injured in the blast. Another civilian – a woman walking on the street – was reported injured in the stomach but was not identified. There was no obvious military target near the shop – which lies in a market district some 4.5 km from the Syrian border.

The young men had arrived at the shop on Wehde Street that day to sell ice cream, orange juice, dates and dried apricots to their customers. Abood was working there with his cousins for a small stipend.

When the mortar landed it struck a pole on the roof of a block of shops opposite the cafe, its blast channelling down the road into the coffee shop, spreading fragments behind, in front and to its sides at a distance of almost 100 metres.

Abood died from significant trauma to his chest and head. His death significantly impacted the community.

Locals reported as many as 15,000 people attended his funeral. His brother, Mo’tasem, 27, said of Abood that “he was an ambitious young man, he didn’t go out much, he just went to school and came back and studied really hard to become a civil engineer. Everyone who knew him said he was polite, timid and never violent. He was very independent.”

Abood’s brother, a nurse for Doctors Without Borders, was deeply affected by the impact of the death. “I’m in denial – I don’t believe he has left and I expect to see him wherever I go. I feel like I’m living in Syria now – not another city. First, I was helping refugees now I don’t know if I want to. I am confused – who dropped the mortar? The regime? The Free Syrian Army? Some other group? I want revenge for my brother’s death. I always think of that. The conflict has taken my brother from me.”

The blast also had a deep impact for others on the site.

Mousa Yousef Yaseen Horani, Abood’s cousin, was thrown up into the air by the blast. The explosion fractured his hip and punctured his bladder, piercing his intestines. He walks with a limp now and does not know whether this will be a permanent affliction.

Today, Mousa is angry that his treatment was insufficient: he claims it has caused as much harm as good.

He claims, too, that he was given too many sedatives and is now addicted to pain medication. He finds it hard to sleep.

His family also say that they were only given psychiatric help after demonstrating at the hospital. His anger and expectations echo sentiments shared by other victims of explosive weapons in this area – that the government has done insufficient to help and that he should be either given a job by them or even – as Mousa said – asylum in another country.

Issa Yousef Yaseen Horani, the youngest cousin, was hit in the leg by a mortar fragment. His bleeding was so profuse that, his family members alleged, the hospital did not have enough blood units. Volunteers stepped forward and 35 units were obtained. He has scarring on his leg but his wounds were not life changing.

Ahmad Yousef Yassen Horani was hit in the head by the shrapnel and in his arm. His injuries were not life threatening. The damage to the grocery shop was relatively superficial. A refrigeration unit was destroyed and shrapnel marks can still be seen in the shop and on the roof of the shops opposite where the weapons first landed.

The shop reopened for business relatively soon after the attack happened.

Relatives of Abood spoke – as did many affected by mortar strikes – of the issue of compensation. There was some degree of Jordanian governmental financial aid offered for Abood’s death. The government supplied water and coffee for the mourners at his funeral, of which there were many. They also supplied one meal and tents, though the family complained they were of poor quality. 10,000 Jordanian Dinars was also given, though the family claimed that they rejected this as they saw it as blood money.

Overall, people are very critical not only of the Syrians behind the mortar attacks but also of their own government, even though the evidence suggests that the Jordanian government assisted victims in a variety of ways. This, perhaps, reflects not so much shortfalls in the government’s intervention, but in the very powerlessness that accompanies any mortar attack out of the blue.