Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Shabbiha: Assad’s Mercenaries!

As Deraa, Banyas, Hawla, Lattakia and Douma remain under siege, protesters make another attempt at taking their message to Central Damascus. 

Today in Damascus: a small protest of 200 students broke out on the campus of the College of Sciences in Damascus. Some say that the protests were triggered by assaults by two men, who later turned up to be policemen, on veiled female students and ripping off their veils, in an act reminiscent of what security forces did in the 1980s. Others say that the protests and the attacks on veiled students are unrelated, although both are confirmed to have taken place by eyewitness accounts. Security forces managed to disperse the protesters rapidly, but only after beating one of them to death with their batons. The development serves to underscore of organizing protests in central Damascus (and by comparison Aleppo), where heavy security presence, preemptive arrests and interrogations allow for nipping protests at the bud.

Violent crackdown championed by Assad’s security forces seems to be fomenting some individual acts of dissention among army troops, and testing their loyalties. We can now confirm that some executions have indeed taken place in the ranks of the army when some officers refused to shoot at protesters. Multiple eyewitness reports also lend credence to the involvement of the Shabbiha Gangs in operations in Banyas and Lattakia. They might also be involved in the crackdowns in Homs and Deraa, but that is yet to be confirmed.

Of the army officers known to have been killed is Lieutenant Rami Qattash from Aleppo, who was executed by the Shabbiha in Banyas along with 10 members of his unit for refusing to fire on protesters. Also Lieutenant Murad Hajjo from Madaya Town near Damascus. Hajjo had informed his parent that if he was called for duty, that if ordered to open fire on protesters he would refused to do so. Upon receiving his body this afternoon, his family and the local community rose up and set fire to the local police station

The Shabbiha are smuggling rings whose membership is derived mostly from the Assad clans and their allies within the Alawite and local communities along the Coastal region. They are well-armed, and many have been trained by Hezbollah in Lebanon, and/or the IRG in Iran. Their loyalty is without question to the Assad family. Whether they prefer Maher over Bashar or vice versa is not an issue at this stage, as the relationship between the two brothers is not as adversarial as many would like us believe. There could number as much as 10,000 individuals by some community, with entire community fearing them and/or relying on their “business.”

In normal times, the Shabbiha might have constituted a headache to their ruling cousins, with their ways, and independent streak: they were not necessarily taking their marching orders from their cousins. But now, it’s a different story: they are assets, better than any mercenaries money can buy. They are probably why the Assads have not needed so far to get support from Hezbollah militias and IRG.

Dealing with the Shabbiha will prove to be problematic for protesters all over the coastal areas, as they are capable of creating a situation similar to what drug cartels are doing in Mexico and many places across Latin America. In fact, there are reported connections between the Shabbiha and the cartels, after all, Hasheesh, opium and heroin are some of the main items that the Shabbiha smuggle these days. In fact, it’s this exact situation that seems to have helped fuel the fires of protest in coastal towns.

At this stage, the Shabbiha seems to have shifted the focus of their operations from Lattakia to Banyas. The shootings that took place in Banyas are largely attributed to them by all eyewitnesses interviewed. But the inhabitants of Banyas surely knew what sort of dangers they will face by taking to the streets in these circumstances. It is in expectation of Shabbiha involvement many Banyas inhabitants wore white shrouds during the protests over the last few days.

The city has reportedly witnessed more Shabbiha attacks today, despite being sealed by army units. But this comes as no surprise: the inhabitant managed to capture three of the Shabbiha in yesterday’s attacks.  They also confiscated their cars and took photographs of the plates.

 As we noted yesterday, the inhabitants of Banyas also rescued an injured soldier who in a videotaped confession said that had been shot by the security forces (Video Below). 

Banyas, Soldiers confession: “Why did you shoot at us?” “They shot at us?” “Who?” “Security forces… when we stopped shooting, they shot us from the back.”
Banyas: Interview on Al-Hiwar Channel with the brother-in-law of Rami Qattash, the officer who was executed in Banyas for refusing to fire on protesters. The in-law and the sister are in Kuwait and they were informed by relatives of the development.

Deraa Videos

Deraa – Hiraak: a banner showing the martyrs from that particular city
Deraa, statement by protester as protesters shout “The People Want to Topple the Regime”: “I am 21 years-old, this is the first time that I saw something like this. This is the first time I feel alive… until when are we expected to wait for reforms? Enough, the people have risen and they will not back down…” Chants: “Allah, Syria, Freedom and nothing ore” “Hurriyeh Hurriyyeh: Freedom Freedom”
Deraa – Ankhel: independence flag spotted at beginning of the video (1:30 seconds), as well as current flag. Many are calling for the adoption of the independence flag as the flag of the protesters. Protestors express supports of all Syrian towns, and carry banners saying “No to Sectarianism, yes to Freedom). People are asked if they want to withdraw their membership from the Baath party, all raise their hands and shout Allahu Akbar.
Deraa, army checkpoint: officers tell protesters say what you want, just inside the city limits.
Deraa Tseel: Funeral. Tseel is one the smallest towns in Deraa, and yet, it, too, has a martyr now. A return to the status quo ante is impossible in Deraa.
Deraa: Military checkpoint between Nawa and Jassem

Douma: a teenager imprisoned on Friday, released on Saturday, showing signs of severe torture. If this can be done in less than 24 hours in captivity, one can only imagine what’s happening to those spending longer spans. 

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