Kidnappings on the rise in Daraa… Regime’s authority is absent

A street in Tafas city - May 27, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Halim Muhammad)

A street in Tafas city - May 27, 2023 (Enab Baladi/Halim Muhammad)

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The rate of kidnappings has increased recently in Daraa governorate in southern Syria amidst security chaos in the region due to the clear absence of the Syrian regime’s authority, which controlled the provinces of Daraa and Quneitra in July 2018, and inaction by the local factions in the region.

Kidnappings are spread across the entire geography of Daraa province, with most of them taking place to extort money, sometimes reaching thousands of dollars, according to some local residents.

Ongoing kidnapping incidents

Despite the announcement of a coordination meeting on November 4 in the city of Tafas in the western countryside of Daraa, which included local factions to confront kidnappings, thefts, and smuggling of drugs, the region is witnessing an increase in kidnappings.

The latest kidnapping occurred on December 12, when unknown persons kidnapped Mohammed al-Sabti, a local resident, from the livestock market in the town of Muzayrib in the western countryside of Daraa.

Local new website “Daraa 24” reported that al-Sabti’s body was found near Lake Muzayrib in the western countryside of Daraa province.

Horan Free League pointed out that al-Sabti was kidnapped by unknown persons last week. He is originally from the region of Lajat in eastern Daraa and resides in the town of Muzayrib.

A day before al-Sabti’s kidnapping, near a checkpoint of the regime forces north of the city of Dael in the central Daraa countryside, Ahmed Naserat (50 years old) and his son Mohammed Naserat were kidnapped and taken to an unknown location.

Ahmed Naserat, a local resident, owns a clearance office in the free zone on the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Moreover, the fate of Mahmoud al-Attieli, a resident of the town of al-Ghariyah in eastern Daraa, remains unknown after nearly a month of his kidnapping.

The kidnappers released a resident of the Lajat region in the eastern countryside of Daraa after a ransom of $50,000 was paid, according to the news website “Allajat Press.”

The website noted that the kidnappers exploited the young man’s poor health condition to pressure his family to pay the ransom.

On December 6, the body of Khaled al-Zoubi, who was kidnapped earlier in the month, was found. According to the “Daraa 24” website, the kidnappers had contacted his family to pay a ransom.

Daraa 24” documented the kidnapping of ten people during the past November, including two children who were later released, as well as three other people who were also subsequently set free while others remain missing.

Security chaos

Areas in the countryside of Daraa are witnessing a state of security chaos in the absence of established legal authority, leading to a conducive ambiance for kidnappings and armed robbery.

The Syrian regime’s presence is restricted to its military sites in the eastern countryside of Daraa, which are under the control of the Air Intelligence in some areas and the Eighth Brigade affiliated with the Military Security in other areas.

State security forces control the northern countryside of the province, and their activities are limited to their military bases.

The western countryside is devoid of any military presence of the regime after the withdrawal of the Fourth Division from Daraa in October 2021. There are local groups from the region affiliated with the Military Security.

Media activist Ahmed Masalmeh believes that the Syrian regime distanced itself from controlling the region, making it a security failure where its cells, including those belonging to Hezbollah and Iranian militias, are active. Masalmeh does not rule out the affiliation of some kidnapping gangs to the Syrian regime’s apparatuses and work under its supervision, according to what he reported to Enab Baladi.

For his part, one of the tribal elders in the eastern countryside of Daraa, Abu al-Fidaa al-Sukari, told Enab Baladi that the increase in kidnapping incidents indicates an indirect participation from the Syrian regime based on turning a blind eye and monitoring targets.

Al-Sukari added that the kidnapping of Ahmed Naserat and his son did not occur far from a regime checkpoint; it was only 100 meters away, and no intervention was made to prevent the kidnapping.

He pointed to a reduction in kidnapping incidents between Daraa and As-Suwayda governorates after local factions previously attacked the regime’s agents and a new wave of protests that kept the regime’s hands off the region.

On November 30, the Men of Dignity movement in As-Suwayda announced the release of Omar Hassan al-Sweidan, a resident of the town of Giza in the eastern Daraa countryside.

The movement said in a statement on its Facebook page that it clashed with the kidnapping gang, forcing it to retreat to the eastern countryside of Daraa.

Local groups

On November 4, representatives of local factions met in the city of Tafas in the western countryside of Daraa, including representatives of the Eighth Brigade of the Military Security, Emad Abu Zariq of the Military Security, and representatives from Nawa and al-Jeidour areas. The objective of the meeting was to coordinate and unite efforts to fight the Islamic State (IS) cells, drug trafficking, kidnappings, and theft.

On November 28, groups from the towns of Nawa, Jassim, and Inkhil raided kidnapping gang hideouts in the farms of Barqa and al-Dali and arrested a number of suspects.

Two days later, a group affiliated with a member of the Central Committee that was formed after the “settlement” agreement, leader “Abu Murshed al-Bardan,” raided a gang involved in road blocking and armed robbery of residents.

Motives behind kidnappings

When following the course of kidnapping operations in Daraa, it appears that kidnappers demand hefty ransoms at the beginning, negotiations between the kidnappers and the victims’ families then commence. They take place through phone calls from foreign numbers so they cannot be traced, while it is possible to reach an agreement and reduce the requested amount.

The most controversial kidnapping story was that of a child named Fawaz al-Qatifan in early 2022, who was released after his family paid a ransom of $140,000.

Activist Ahmad Masalmeh spoke to Enab Baladi about several motives for kidnappings, the most notable being money through extorting the kidnapped victims’ families.

He added that some resort to kidnapping operations to collect the price of a smuggling trip to migrate out of the country.

Abu al-Fidaa al-Sukari, one of the tribal elders in the eastern countryside of Daraa, told Enab Baladi that most of the kidnapping gangs are drug addicts and resort to these operations to finance their addictions.

The Syrian regime has not been able to fully control the region since July 2018, making its presence merely symbolic. The regime’s forces are unable to raid or hold the kidnappers, drug traders, or even police stations accountable. Its presence is confined to its headquarters without the ability to enforce laws.

 

 

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