Armed robbery, drugs prevail in Daraa

A street market in Tafas town in the western countryside of Daraa - 18 April 2022 (Enab Baladi / Halim Muhammad)

A street market in Tafas town in the western countryside of Daraa - 18 April 2022 (Enab Baladi / Halim Muhammad)

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Daraa – Halim Muhammad

The people of the southern governorate of Daraa move through the streets of their towns and villages with great caution and fear, and many of them do not feel protected even when they are in their homes, which are supposed to be a safe haven.

Cases of theft and security chaos have been prevalent in Daraa for years, but it has witnessed a remarkable increase since the beginning of this year, as armed robbery incidents emerged, turning people’s lives into a daily nightmare, as robbery gangs attacked homes, shops, Internet cafes, and even medical centers.

Fear prevails

“In a minute and without any noise, get out of the car; otherwise, we will start shooting,” Muhannad, 40, told Enab Baladi the details of the robbery he endured in early April when three armed men attacked his car while he was driving in a hurry from his town of Tal Shihab to reach a pediatrician’s clinic at 8 p.m. in Muzayrib village.

“My 5-year-old son started screaming, so I quickly got out of my private car, fearing for his safety, especially since his health was not well.”

The gunmen took Muhannad’s phone, climbed into his car, and continued on their way, leaving behind the father and his sick child in one of the side streets where it is difficult to find an alternative means of transportation within the western countryside of Daraa.

“I didn’t think about losing my car as much as I feared for my child and felt unable to protect him despite my presence,” Muhannad describes the first minutes after the gunmen left the street.

Despite the negative feelings that dominated Muhannad and the crying of his child that did not stop, his sense of responsibility prompted him to carry his son and follow his way to the pediatrician’s clinic in the village of Muzayrib adjacent to his village.

“We were afraid to go out after midnight, but today the Maghrib call to prayer has become a warning that we must stay at home for fear of similar incidents,” Muhannad added.

Qassem, 45, said that two armed people in military uniforms stopped him a short distance from one of the regime’s military checkpoints in Tal Shihab town while he was riding his motorcycle back from work at the Water Establishment.

“The two people said: Our boss wants you, so I got on my bike and followed the road with them towards the army checkpoint, but before reaching it, they asked me to leave the bike under the threat of being killed,” Qassem continued, noting that the two people pretended that they were from the army.

The recurrence of car burglaries prompted drivers of private cars and taxis to refrain from going out at night for fear of losing their cars, which are a source of livelihood for many of them, leaving families who do not have cars without means of transportation, even in emergency cases.

“My daughter’s labor pains started late at night. We tried to contact many motorists we know, but they deliberately turned off their phones for fear of leaving their homes,” the 50-year-old Huda told Enab Baladi via a phone call, pointing out the great damage that the fear of burglaries caused to the lives of the people.

“Although my daughter’s birth was difficult, according to the doctor who is following her condition, the inability to find a driver forced us to contact the midwife who lives in a neighborhood close to us, fearing that more waiting to find a way to take her to the hospital would cause complications that would harm the life of the fetus,” Huda continued.

While the clinic of a doctor in the town of Dael, in the central countryside of Daraa, was crowded with patients, three armed men attacked the clinic and stole the doctor’s and patients’ phones, in addition to a motorbike for one of the patients, amid a state of astonishment and fear,” according to what one of the patients, Umm Muhammad, 45, told Enab Baladi.

According to what Enab Baladi monitored, armed men attacked an Internet café in Dael town and stole all the electronic devices inside.

The robberies were not limited to the threat of death but reached the point of using weapons, as gunmen attacked the jeweler Muhammad Saad al-Din al-Rifai in the town of al-Ghariya, east of Daraa, in July 2021.

Al-Rifai’s attempt to resist the thieves resulted in his killing and the robbery of the shop he owned.

Although theft is not a new phenomenon in the Daraa region, its transformation into robberies at gunpoint has prevented movement at night in the streets of towns and villages, according to the people who spoke to Enab Baladi.

The residents also confirmed that the police in most parts of Daraa do not leave the police stations at night, which has reinforced the spread of fear and allowed for the spread of thefts and armed robberies to increase.

Reasons and motives

Since the Syrian regime took control of Daraa governorate in July 2018, drug abuse and trafficking have spread in new varieties, such as crystal meth or shabwa and captagon, as well as other cheap types, especially hallucinogenic pills.

Daraa residents attributed the state of security chaos, theft, and robberies to the increased spread of drugs.

One of the notables of the town of Tafas in the western countryside of Daraa, Abu Muhammad, 65, said that by following up on theft incidents, it appears that drug addicts are the most likely to commit theft in order to get the drugs.

Psychologist Ahmed al-Ammar, originally from Daraa, confirmed to Enab Baladi via a phone call from his place of residence in northwestern Syria that the spread of poverty and the high rate of unemployment push many people to addiction, stressing that the state of addiction can push the youth to do anything in exchange for drugs.

According to al-Ammar, the lack of security reinforces the tendency of young people to obtain money through illegal means, as ensuring impunity is considered one of the main motives for committing any wrong act.

Burglaries and the law

The former head of the Union of Free Lawyers, Lawyer Suleiman al-Qarfan, told Enab Baladi that the crime of armed robbery differs from the crime of theft legally, as robbery crimes are collective, often in organized and systematic ways, in which weapons are used as a threat.

Article 326 of the Syrian Penal Code stipulates that the penalty for armed robbery crimes amounts to the death penalty or life imprisonment with hard labor.

Al-Qarfan considered the recurrence of armed robberies in Daraa as a dangerous transformation that portends an economic and social catastrophe.

The spread of burglary crimes indicates that the judiciary has reached the limits of collapse, as well as the weakness of the criminal apparatus of the authority controlling the region, according to al-Qarfan.

The lawyer suggested that these incidents were covered by the regime to push the population to flee and to turn Daraa into a drug market that flooded southern Syria since the regime took full control almost four years ago.

Security chaos

Daraa is witnessing a state of security chaos and insecurity, with an increase in kidnappings, thefts, killings, and armed robberies.

The southern province witnessed five kidnappings of children between 2021 and 2022, the most prominent of which was the kidnapping of the child Fawaz Qetaifan, according to the attorney general in Daraa, Bassam al-Omari.

On 10 February, doctor Haider al-Rifai returned to his home in the town of Umm Walad after he had disappeared for nearly 20 days, and communication with him was cut off while he was returning from his clinic in al-Ghariya al-Sharqiah heading to his hometown of Umm Walad after his family paid a ransom of 30,000 US dollars in exchange for his release.

In a previous interview with Enab Baladi, a former leader in the Syrian opposition said that “the authority is now absent in Daraa, as the Syrian regime is unable to prove its control on the ground, and the opposition factions have lost control of the land after 2018,” noting that the current efforts to search for the kidnapped are societal efforts without executive state power.

 

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