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A Shabiha Visits with His Mother

ALEPPO — Um Walid, a widow in her 50s, was finally able to set up a brief meeting for this journalist with her son, Walid, at their family home at the edge of a liberated area of Aleppo.Her son is a member of the shabiha, a pro-Assad fighter who aids the regime whenever needed.

Written by Akil Hussein Published on Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Since the Free Syrian Army (FSA) entered the city of Aleppo 15 months ago, Um Walid, a widow, has been living in poverty off aid provided by pro-opposition civil organizations and charities.

She tells neighbors and aid providers that her other two sons have gone missing. <!–more–>A fourth is disabled and lives with her at home.

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As the revolution shifted from peaceful protests to armed resistance, the shabiha played an instrumental role in supporting the Syrian army. They have been accused of committing violent crimes against civilians, notably in Homs and the rural areas of Damascus. In Aleppo, their role has been to track down and beat up protesters.

Um Walid says that should the FSA know the truth about her sons’ allegiance, they would cut off her aid, or worse.

Whenever she talks to Youssef over the phone, Um Walid tries to convince him to quit the shabiha and come back home. But she does not want Adnan to desert the army, for fear of retribution.

Shabiha Life: For the Money and Drugs

Um Walid called, asking us to come over at 9 p.m. Entering her little room, we found Walid. He secretly visits her from time to time.

The young man was visibly nervous and refused to have his picture taken. His mother was hoping we could convince Walid to give up his job.

He said he first joined the shabiha “when the first protests started taking place. Thugs came around the Telal market where I used to work, and offered money to sales workers and cart owners, most of whom were teenagers, to join the popular committees for 1,500 Syrian pounds [just over $10] for every operation.”

It was, he said, “a nice sum of money … [at the market]. I barely made 400 Syrian pounds [less than $3] a day. They also offered to give us hashish and drug pills, which we previously had to steal [money] to be able to buy. Joining the shabiha meant we had the chance to belong to the [powerful] hashish and tobacco gangs.”

What Walid described fit the many other testimonies that have been reported about the establishment of the pro-regime militias by the regime security apparatus and the ruling Baath party.

Exploiting the Poor to Defend the Rich

The regime generally recruit poor youth to join the shabiha, offering financial rewards to those who enlist.

For Walid, who has been using drugs and hashish since he was 17, this was the opportunity to lead the easy life. Now he would not need to work hard or steal money to be able to pay for his pills and cigarettes.

As he spoke, Um Walid begged her son to clean up and come home. She said he had stolen from her and from other families when he needed money for drugs during his youth.

Walid denied ever killing anyone since he joined the popular committees for which he has helped disperse demonstrations and detain protesters. He seemed unconcerned with their fate after handing them over to Syrian intelligence.

He was confident in the idea that he himself would never be detained, because the checkpoint he now mans is in a government-controlled area far from the front lines. His only goal is to keep getting his fix of hashish and pills, as well as his monthly shabiha salary of 20,000 Syrian pounds [nearly $150].

Walid left the house in a rush, as his mother begged him to stay.

“I’m not happy,” she said. “But I don’t wish for my son to be killed or to be captured by the FSA. There isn’t one mother in the world who would be happy if her son died, no matter the circumstances.”

This article was translated from Arabic by Naziha Baassiri.

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