The Situation in Sweida is Heating Up

The Situation in Sweida is Heating Up
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Proliferation of kidnapping gangs with intimate knowledge of Syria’s security apparatus.

More than 1.3 billion Syrian pounds paid in ransoms to kidnapping gangs.

Suwar Magazine has documented gangs which operate in broad daylight.


A terrible trinity of hooliganism, fear and kidnapping surround the city of Sweida, and are pushing it to the brink of total collapse. The above are just some headlines that summarize the overall situation in the city inhabited by Syria’s Druze minority. Hooliganism in the conventional sense is not the main cause of terror in Sweida, but the calm before the storm that threatens to tear down city.


It was not surprising that the Syrian regime’s Prime Minister Imad Khamis, canceled his visit to Sweida, which had been scheduled for August 10, 2017. This was because the security delegation sent to investigate the general situation in the city the day before the visit was held by a group of young men near the Baath party building in the city, prompting security forces to intervene and release the delegation. This situation, among others, reflects the chaos in Sweida city, which is still considered far from the frontlines of the war.


The Guillotine

The residents of Sweida city have always maintained good relations with the surrounding area. Sweida walks a tightrope between different powers. Sweida Governorate borders Jordan to the south, opposition-held Daraa Governorate to the west, and the contested areas of Rural Damascus Governorate that surround Damascus city.  Sweida has been held by the regime throughout the war. The city distanced itself from the war, preferring to maintain its neutrality. However, those who call themselves the leaders of the revolution are convinced that the city stands on the brink of exploding into widespread violence due to the escalating crimes that are choking the city. 


From the city’s western borders with Daraa, kidnappings and attacks on villages are increasing dramatically. From the east, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continues to attack villages inhabited only by women, children, the elderly and a few young Syrian men fleeing military service. All the while the Syrian regime rules Sweida city as well as its main areas.



Bermuda Triangle

The city of Sweida is in a state of organized chaos. There are kidnapping gangs using mafia-like tactics with knowledge of Syria’s security system. In addition, there are those who want to use this instability to increase their social influence over the city’s 350,000 residents. Therefore, and for all the aforementioned reasons, the city has become the Bermuda Triangle of Syria, from which those who manage to leave are considered lucky.


According to Suwar Magazine’s sources the amount of ransoms paid in the city has exceeded 1.3 billion Syrian Pounds. These amounts are increasing on a daily basis. Not a single day passes in the city without a documented kidnapping incident of a young man or girl, many of whom belong to wealthy families. The ransom demand starts at 10 million Syrian Pounds per person but often increases significantly. For example, in the case of 15-year-old Shadi al-Tawil his captors demanded 100 million Syrian Pounds. However, his family refused to pay. Afterwards the kidnappers, who were from the village of Mjadil in the northwestern countryside of Sweida, threatened to hand the child over to Bedouin tribes. Information confirmed that the child is in the hands of the Bedouin. In response, the child’s family seized cars owned by persons affiliated with the captors’ family, the Shilghin, in the city of Shahba. A number of Shilghin family members were also kidnapped, but were later released after the residents of the villagers of Mjadil expelled the kidnapping gang.


Willful Blindness

According to Ghassan Abdelhay, a lawyer, there are two types of kidnappings. The first is led by separate gangs in which rich family members are the targets for financial extortion. The second occurs with these gangs working with the kidnapping gangs of Bedouin tribes living on the outskirts of the city or in collusion with persons from the city of Daraa, to extort money. In rare cases there are also deals to negotiate the exchange of prisoners with the Syrian regime. Abdelhay believes that these types of kidnappings reflect the tragic situation to which communities in Sweida and Daraa as well Bedouin in surrounding areas, have descended. People have started to devalue the principle of good relations.


Sweida is witnessing a fateful battle to preserve its identity and family ties. Although the city's inhabitants are known to be tolerant and committed to noble traditions, they have now begun to wonder why these gangs have emerged from their city in the first place; why the families behind them are trying to cover their shameful acts; and why the Syrian regime is turning a blind eye to this chaos.


The Kidnapping of Soldiers

The arrest of the political activist Gobran Murad more than two months ago has particularly disturbed the city of Sweida; Murad, who participated in multiple military operations alongside Syrian rebels, was arrested by the Syrian security authorities in the city. The arrest of Murad led to discontent among the pro-revolutionary parties in Sweida. In response, they abducted soldiers and officials working in Sweida. This incident marks an important turning point, reflecting the severe lack of harmony between the regime and the city’s residents.


The case further developed after the Sweida police headquarters was attacked. The security forces usually react harshly to such behavior; however, in this case they have remained silent. Instead, they publically broadcast through their media that directives from Damascus had recommended dealing with the matter wisely and quietly and to avoid the use of force.



The SnakeHead

Activist Allam Abudaqa believes that there is clear collusion between the regime,  especially the military security branch of its security apparatus headed by Brigadier General Wafiq Nasser who is also known as the SnakeHead, and the social groups that seek to ignite the city so that it can only be secured under the Syrian regime’s command. Abudaqa explains, “The SnakeHead is the actual ruler of Sweida, and these are all just his games and manipulations.  Everyone knows that whatever happens in the city occurs with his knowledge and according to his plans. The aim is to force people to remain silent and support the regime by provoking terror, sedition and chaos.”


Two Central Issues

Despite the many kidnappings in Sweida, the city has been deeply stirred because of two kidnapping incidents in particular. The first was the kidnapping of the former Secretary of the Arab Socialist Ba’ath party branch in Sweida, Shibli Jnood, in September 2015. He was kidnapped while he was on the way to his office in the city and was later found dead. The second was the kidnapping of Dr. Samah Qutaish from the Sweida hospital, in May 2017.


In the case of Qutaish, her abductor was found to be a young man from Sweida named Alaa Nakad. The abduction was carried out with the participation of a group of young men and women working as kidnappers. The arrest of the offender had ended the speculation. However, Suwar Magazine was unable to obtain further details regarding the penalty imposed on the kidnappers. The case of Shibli Jnood’s abduction remains a mystery. His car was found burned in Salkhad, 35 kilometers south of Sweida. Jnood’s private doctor Atef Malak was arrested on charges of having examined soldiers twice at the request of his captors, but the question that hasn’t been answered yet is, who were the kidnappers of the former Secretary of the Arab Socialist Baath party branch in Sweida?


Torching of Houses

Generally, the Bedouin living in Sweida are the first to be accused of kidnapping or robbery. These accusations are not far from the truth according to the activist Omar Balan, who confirms that many documented incidents show that the Bedouin are the perpetrators of such crimes, especially in areas in the western countryside of the city in the villages of Araa and Dama.  


Last July, members of the al-Muhaithawi family were killed on the road between the villages of Baka and Zebin in the south of Sweida city near the Syrian-Jordanian border. According to the narrative, they were killed in a taxi while they were on the way to visit a patient with cancer in Sweida Hospital. But the road was blocked with stones and they were shot. The attack killed the taxi driver and four women, one of whom was pregnant. This heinous crime stirred the family of the victims and they decided to take revenge. Consequently, they burned Bedouin houses in the village of Zebin without discrimination as to whether they were the participants in the killing or not.


Kidnapping Gangs

As a result of the security chaos in Sweida, random acts of hooliganism have developed into organized gangs of robbery, looting, and kidnapping. They rob people's properties and kidnap them in return for ransoms. These gangs have become famous, with well-known names and leaders. These are the names that Suwar Magazine has managed to document:

Raed Baraka, the leader of the “Easar Al Jabal” gang.

Hadi Garzaldin of the Shahba gang.

The gang of Mohammed Saleh, Naseem Al-Zaher and Safwan al-Hamidi.

The gang of Rajwan al-Shami, Reyanbuzin Aldin, Safwan Slam Azam, Mustafa Azzam and Enad Azam.

The gang of Rajawan Abu Zinaldin, Ali al-Shami, Yaser al-Tarodi, Wadia Abou Hsan, Munir al-Hamidi, Kamil Alabdullah and Fadi al-Mihithawi.

The gang of Danny Anis Amer, Nawras Zidan al-Aour and Saleh Akef al Aoar.


In addition, the following names of people participating in gangs have been documented: Riad Abu Sharhan, Siraj Gharaz al-Din, Wissam al-Taweel, Wissam al-Khatib, Omar Dannoun, Bahaa al-Sharani, Raad al-Sharani, Enad al-Jabr, Hayel al-Jaber, Nader Shaaban, Alaa a-Harfoush, Saqer al-Khateb, Shadi Elbeh, Thaer Jad Saymoah, Rashad Jayed Shilghin, Thaer Jayed Shilghin, Ataala Jayed Shilghin, Sharef Basam Shilghin, Rafea Reyad Shilghin, Gibran Ismail Shilghin, Imran Mohsen Shilghin.


The Assad Regime’s Message

These gangs work under the auspices of the Assad regime’s security apparatus, especially the military security branch that dominates Sweida. These gangs have attacked police stations and security centers in order to release detainees. A number of activists confirmed to Suwar Magazine that the Assad regime’s security apparatus is responsible for these acts; they are charged with creating problems and dividing people in the city. Residents have expressed their deep resentment of the State's disregard for people’s intelligence, as most of the kidnappings and counter-kidnapping incidents usually occur at the regime and the National Defense’s checkpoints without being detected. Furthermore, the establishment of temporary checkpoints under the command of the regime, especially on the Damascus-Sweida highway and within the administrative boundaries of Sweida city, are aimed at stealing cars and kidnapping people in broad daylight by criminals who are well-known by the Syrian regime.


Does the regime want to show Sweida’s residents that the alternative to the regime’s control in the city will be these thieves and criminals? It is ironic that the Assad regime works with this ridiculous mentality. It is playing with people’s lives in cooperation with a few thieves from the city.


New Relationship Patterns with Neighbors

The city of Sweida had maintained close and solid relations with its neighboring city Daraa, from which the Syrian revolution was launched in March 2011. The relationship continued to be governed by the principle of solidarity. In addition, Sweida had offered a great deal of support to Daraa in the early days of the revolution, including food and medicine that were provided for free to the besieged city. However, a deep and substantial change has taken place since the beginning of these kidnapping crimes and the bombing of the villages in the western countryside of Sweida. Extortion has become more common, with cycles of kidnapping and counter-kidnapping. For example, in exchange for an abducted member of a family in Sweida, the family would kidnap some from Daraa who lived in Sweida. The abducted are held as hostages, while financial bargains among both sides take place with sponsorship by networks and individuals suspected of being involved in the kidnappings.


The relationship between Sweida and its neighbor Daraa is no longer based on friendship or respect. The good relations between the two cities have been lost. The seeds of division and sedition have been planted, particularly after the Bedouins called their armed allies forces in Daraa for help. This prompted al-Nusra Front to attack the village of Dama in the western countryside of Sweida in August 2014 to support the Bedouins in their confrontations with the residents of Sweida. In turn, this incident prompted the residents of Sweida to repel the attack.


Denunciation only through Statements

The civil and religious communities of Sweida illustrate their disapproval of all the events happening in Sweida only through statements that urge the perpetrators to stop the ongoing criminal acts. Since the assassination of Sheikh Wahid al-Balous, a prominent political and spiritual leader of Syria's Druze community in September 2015, the people of Sweida have realized that the regime might turn its rifles and tanks on them to suppress any attempts by the city to participate in the revolution, as it did in the summer of 2000. At that time, the regime settled a dispute between Sweida residents and Bedouins by force, sending soldiers to the area.


The Bar Association in Sweida has denounced the kidnappings, thefts, murder and all other unlawful acts that are constantly threatening the security in the city and the safety of its people. In a statement issued in August 2017, the Bar Association criticized the recent incidents and organized kidnapping, killing, robbery, theft, smuggling, drug trafficking and all types of abuse that are happening in the city. In front of authorities, it has also criticized the proliferation of unauthorized weapons, and the disorganized formation of armed factions without unified leadership, which has damaged the reputation of the State.


At the same time, the head of the Spiritual Committee of Unitarian Druze Muslims in Sweida issued a statement stressing the need to strip away religion and social veneer for all those who violate the law. They also stressed the need for State institutions to act according to their role in stopping organized crime, kidnappings, killings, theft, smuggling and arms trafficking. In addition, the Committee has demanded the issuance of orders to control all irregularities and to hold accountable those officials responsible for corruption in all its forms.


Flames from Embers

The situation in Sweida is heating up, and the only one to blame is the Assad regime which sponsors looting and kidnapping through it security apparatuses. The naive games run by Brigadier General “SnakeHead” Wafiq Nasser are no longer capable of fooling the city’s residents. If people publicly expose the truth they will be arrested, and if they keep their silence the regime’s collusion with its affiliates and gangs will continue to increase and choke them.



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