The tendency to “blackmail” has proliferated in the Syrian community since 2011, by the two sides to the “conflict,” as the Syrian regime coerced businessmen and merchants to fund its militias and fill the pockets of the directors of the security branches throughout the Syrian governorates. In the opposition-held areas, organized gangs mushroomed, specialized in kidnapping well-established people or members of their families, demanding ransoms of hundreds of thousands of dollars to release them.
When the northern countryside of Homs signed a reconciliation agreement with the Syrian regime early in May, the blackmail process returned to the area for the benefit of the security branches and the military detachments which relocated themselves in the area’s rural towns and villages, targeting, in particular, former relief workers, local councils’ members, capital and money exchange offices owners.
Security Checks as a Source of Livelihood
In the past a few days, the military detachments, spreading in the northern countryside of Homs, summoned the staffs of the relief organizations, the local councils, war merchants and exchange offices to blackmail them under the allegation of conducting a security check, according to which they demanded varied amounts of money in accordance with the positions of the summoned personalities.
A former employee of a relief organization, on the condition of anonymity, told Enab Baladi that “the Political Security Branch summoned me. An officer investigated me in a manner indicating that he wants a sum of money, as he said: ‘You used to be paid in dollar and have stored a lot of money.’”
The employ added: “I answered him that we have signed a reconciliation deal. He said: ‘I want a tip, and you have to pay five thousand Syrian pounds.’ He asked me about people who used to work with me and ordered me to notify them that they have to pay a visit to the branch with the tip needed to conduct the security study.”
The amount of money required by the security branches from the people of the northern countryside of Homs vary, about which the employee said: “Each has [to pay] according to his/her level of education and the size of the salary he/she gets from the organization. The Project managers are asked to pay massive sums of money, which reached a million Syrian pounds. They refused to pay it and negotiated as to pay about 400 thousand Syrian pounds per person. Others refused to pay at all, and they are still summoned by the branches.”
As for the people who went to northern Syria with the displacement convoys without their families, one of their relatives has been detained and they paid extravagant amount in return for their release.
Civic sources from rural Homs said that the regime has arrested the wife of an employee of the “Ihssan Relief and Development” after he left to Northern Syria. He paid a million and a half Syrian pounds to release her.
Possession of Weapons
Following Assad’s forces control over the area, patrols were activated in search of weapons hid at the houses and farms of fighters who moved to Northern Syria; the security forces exploited these errands to blackmail those who stayed and forced them to pay money on the allegation that they are “burying” weapons in their farms.
“Abu Mohammad,” a citizen from the village of Deir Ful said: “The security patrols have inspected all the area and the positions of al-Nusra Front and the factions; they found a big amount of the hidden weapons. But what happened is that the security forces took the identity documents of certain people on the allegations of hiding weapons or for knowing where they are hidden; they linked giving back the identity cards to their owners to paying 20 thousand Syrian pounds.”
According to “Abu Mohammad,” some feeble people and “Shabiha,” the regime’s thugs, filed lawsuits against some of the well-established people and merchants accusing them of robing their houses, and they refused to cancel the suits till massive amounts of money were paid.
The Syrian regime’s security forces arrested a merchant in the area of al-Houla as they found a hidden weapon near his farm. The area’s people believe that the forces have placed the weapon there to arrest the man and blackmail his family, which was forced to pay 15 million Syrian pounds in return for his release.