News / Middle East

Pro-Assad Militias Under Scrutiny After Syrian Massacre

In this citizen journalism image provided by the Kfar Suseh Coordinating of the Syrian Revolution, taken on May 8, 2012, Syrian militiamen known as "shabiha" are seen standing in an alley inthe  Kfar suseh area of Damascus, Syria.
In this citizen journalism image provided by the Kfar Suseh Coordinating of the Syrian Revolution, taken on May 8, 2012, Syrian militiamen known as "shabiha" are seen standing in an alley inthe Kfar suseh area of Damascus, Syria.
WASHINGTON - Syrian pro-government militiamen known as the "shabiha" are facing international scrutiny for their alleged role in the May 25 massacre of more than 100 civilians in the central Syrian town of Houla.

U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous said there are "strong suspicions" that shabiha gangs were responsible for the summary execution of dozens of men, women and children in their homes last week. Houla residents told visiting U.N. observers and reporters that they watched the shabiha carry out the killings.

In Syria, the term shabiha initially referred to shadowy gangs of smugglers around the seaside city of Latakia in the 1970s.

Opposition activists say Syria's ruling Assad family has used the gangs to engage in criminal activities for decades, paying them with government funds and providing them immunity from prosecution.

In the past, most shabiha members came from coastal regions such as Qardaha, dominated by the Assad's family's minority Alawite sect.

Militia expands role

But activists say the focus and membership of the shabiha have changed since the start of Syria's 15-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Hozan Ibrahim, a Berlin-based member of the main opposition Syrian National Council, told VOA that pro-Assad gangs have become a government tool for suppressing protests and killing people in rebellious towns and villages.

Ibrahim also said the government has recruited militiamen from all of Syria's ethnic and sectarian groups. "We can find [majority] Sunnis, Alawites, Druze [in the shabiha] - whoever is loyal to the regime," he said.

The Syrian government denies operating any militias. It also is not clear how gang members are paid.

Ibrahim said businessmen loyal to President Assad pay the shabiha on behalf of the government. Lina Tibi, a Syrian National Council member in Cairo, said witnesses have told her the shabiha receive funds directly from police stations.

"The regime keeps telling Alawites that if Bashar is gone, the Sunni people will kill you," she said. "So Alawite gangs defend themselves through rape and killing."

Government aids militias

Activists say the Syrian government wields great influence over the shabiha.

At pro-Assad rallies, Tibi said the militiamen often chant President Assad's first name, Bashar, pledging to give their souls for him and for his father and predecessor, Hafez al-Assad.

"We also have many videos showing the shabiha having weapons in their hands and police or army standing next to them," she said. "Why don't [the security personnel] take the weapons from them? Because they are working together."

Opposition members say the Assad government also has been encouraging the shabiha to engage in sectarian attacks in the hope of transforming the conflict and weakening the opposition.

Most of the Houla massacre victims were residents of Sunni villages. Survivors blamed militiamen from neighboring Alawite communities.

Ibrahim said the Syrian government has been trying to spread the idea that the uprising is a "real threat" to the Alawites and to all loyalists.

"That's why we see that regime loyalists are very violent in their response," he said.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Anonymous from: America
June 01, 2012 8:31 AM
Imagine a vampire standing over a blood drained dead body that has two holes in the neck. The vampire has blood dripping from his fangs all over the vampire’s chest. The first thing the vampire says is “We need to look for the person that committed this murder.” That is the Assad Regime. They have now gone beyond torturing children. The Assad dictatorship now murders children and babies in the open light of day. Either Assad, his supporters, the Shabiha and the Ba’ath Party must be punished in the fullest possible way or every war criminal and mass murderer in the world will see that they can kill another human being and the world will accept this type of crime.


by: Anonymous
June 01, 2012 4:09 AM
Those men have dark souls.
Will Allah have mercy on them when they die?


by: mikeh from: here and there
May 31, 2012 2:14 PM
Where is the scrutiny? By whom? This is just more empty words from diplomats that have no desire to get their hands dirty.


by: Benesophia from: USA
May 31, 2012 1:52 PM
Seems to me that most of this story is based on information provided by "Activists say..." and "Opposition activists say..."

It is said that "truth is the first casualty of war." Could this be the case here? Should true reporting not include more thorough investigation rather than one sided "unsubstantiated" reports and opinions?


by: Xira from: Austin
May 31, 2012 1:35 PM
Just like our plausible-deniable rape room treatment in our jails?

That kind of 'state use of criminals'?


by: Tamas
May 31, 2012 1:00 PM
Perhaps the U.N. should be talking to the militias instead of sanctioning Assad.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid