SYRIA

Syrian government employs ‘secret militias’ to quash protesters

 After more than a month of continuous demonstrations across Syria, government-sponsored violent underground militias clamping down on protesters signal a new brutal phase in President Bashar al-Assad’s efforts to hold on to his family’s four-decade rule. Media reports confirm that the Syrian army and police forces have stormed cities and shot civilians, and our Observers claim the government is reportedly paying thugs from mafia groups to terrorise protesters.  

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After more than a month of continuous demonstrations across Syria, government-sponsored violent underground militias clamping down on protesters signal a new brutal phase in President Bashar al-Assad’s efforts to hold on to his family’s four-decade rule. Media reports confirm that the Syrian army and police forces have stormed cities and shot civilians, and our Observers claim the government is reportedly paying thugs from mafia groups to terrorise protesters.

 

Security forces opened fire on demonstrators during an overnight sit-in on Monday, April 19, in Homs, an industrial city near the Lebanese border. According to eyewitnesses, police unsuccessfully tried to disperse a gathering of up to 20,000 protesters during the day, then attacked the demonstrators after nightfall, when the crowd had dwindled to about 2,000.

 

A new amateur video taken on the same night shows gunmen in Homs chanting and celebrating after police successfully crushed the sit-in and regained control of the square.

 

 

Video posted on YouTube.

 

Similar mobs were first seen in the southwestern city of Deraa on April 10, when a crowd intervened in a protest where three people were killed. The city of 75,000 inhabitants has become almost synonymous with the Syrian popular revolt. State news outlets maintain that these militias are not in any way connected to the government and are acting independently.

This article was written with Sarra Grira, journalist at France 24.

"Those in power use these militias to discredit the legitimacy of the revolt".

Mohamad Abdullah lives in Banias.

 

 

Everyone knows that, as opposed to the police and the army, the members of these militias are all Alawis [a sub-current of Shia Islam that the al-Assad family belong to]. They are manipulated by authorities because they know that if those in power fall, they will fall too.”

 

In the beginning these militias didn’t team up with security forces like they are doing now. They purposefully interfered in the protest to stir up chaos. That way, those in power use these militias to discredit the legitimacy of the revolt. Now that they know that this strategy alone will not work, authorities are also using the militias as part of the crackdown.

"They are loyal to the al-Assad family. Without Bashar’s cousins, their power would be threatened".

“Revolt Forurlife” (pseudonym) is a Syrian exile currently residing in Canada.

 

 

We call these militiamen “chabbihas”. Their name comes from the Arabic word “chabah” that means phantom. This is because the mobsters arrive in black Mercedes Benz cars and disappear as soon as the crackdown ends. Chabbihas appeared in the 1980s. They spun out of mafias with ties to all kinds of illegal activity: drugs as well as car and arms trade between Syria and Lebanon.

 

The government had always turned a blind eye to their activities precisely because members of the Al-Assad family are directly implicated, like Noumer al-Assad, one of Bashar’s cousins. Bashar’s eldest brother, Basil, tried to diminish the power of these chabbihas. He was afraid their power was extending and could pose a threat to his power and that of his brother. However, now the family is more united than ever with the militias in order to eliminate the revolt.

 

The chabbihas are completely autonomous. They have their own training camps in the mountainous regions of the country. Not all armed civilians are chabbihas. The Baath Party also has its own criminal militias. The Chabbihas are mainly in the north of the country. They are loyal to the Al-Assad family. Without Bashar’s cousins, their power would be threatened”.