As-Suwayda - The

case of the kidnapping of the 8-year-old Syrian child, Fawaz Al-Qatifan, on November 2 last year, at the hands of a criminal gang in Daraa Governorate (southern Syria), revealed the double pain that Syrians experience in regime-controlled areas, where dozens of civilians are kidnapped every month.

And behind these crimes are gangs who engage in kidnapping, along with many other businesses, with the aim of obtaining money from civilians and the families of the kidnapped in exchange for their release.

These gangs use methods of pressure on the families of the kidnapped, such as threatening to kill the kidnappers, torturing them, or filming video clips of them in which they appear in a critical physical and psychological condition without food or drink.

For one reason or another, most of the members of these gangs remain free without accountability, legal prosecution, or serious tracking from the relevant regime authorities.

64 documented kidnappings

The kidnappings are mainly concentrated in the governorates of As-Suwayda and Daraa in the south of the country. As-Suwayda governorate witnessed the kidnapping of 64 civilians, including 4 children, in 2021, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The report indicates that most of the documented kidnappings were aimed at obtaining a ransom, while some were for personal and revenge reasons.

Kidnappings were also recorded on the Damascus-Suwayda road among arrivals to the province from other regions, with the aim of robbing their vehicles and personal belongings of money, mobile phones and computers.

Madian, 46, a human rights activist from As-Suwayda Governorate, told Al Jazeera Net, "Most of the gang members were former conscripts in militias such as the National Defense, and security services such as the Military Security in As-Suwayda. They started forming regional gangs, relying on their weapons that they received at the beginning of their affiliation with those militias and agencies.”

Madian points to the inability of the concerned authorities to maintain control over the behavior of these gangs due to the protection of the security services on the one hand, and the fact that many of their members possess special cards proving their affiliation with these agencies, on the other hand.

Daraa governorate is witnessing an unprecedented state of lawlessness that benefits a group of gangs that carry out kidnappings, the latest of which is the 8-year-old child Fawaz al-Qutayfan, whose kidnappers demanded a ransom of $140,000.

Last Saturday, the people of the town of "Sahem al-Golan" in Daraa arrested a gang of two people who kidnapped a young man on January 29, and forced his relatives to pay $10,000 for his release.

Despite the lack of accurate statistics on the number of kidnapped people in Daraa governorate, kidnappings have been recurring at an increasing rate since the regime and its allies took control of the area, as a result of the security chaos and the deteriorating living conditions in the governorate.


ransom in dollars

Kidnapping gangs mostly rely on asking for the ransom amount from the families in US dollars, despite the difficulty of providing it after the regime’s government prevented dealing with other than the Syrian pound in its areas of control, and tightened penalties for violators according to a presidential decree.

On the reasons for the gangs’ pursuit of the dollar ransom strategy, Madian told Al Jazeera Net, “In the first place, the dollar makes it easier for gangs to move the amount of money more freely; Easily moved or hidden.

According to the activist, kidnapping gangs - in As-Suwayda at least - often have other activities and businesses besides kidnapping, such as smuggling fuel across the border, buying and smuggling weapons, buying narcotics, and other goods that are sold and bought exclusively in US dollars, and obtaining ransoms in dollars makes it easier for them to do so. Activities and business.

In addition to the enormous psychological pressure experienced by the families of the abductees during their detention, which may last for months, they face great difficulties in securing the ransom amount in US dollars.

Most of them resort to borrowing or mortgaging their real estate properties of lands and apartments in order to save the amount in Syrian pounds, then convert it into dollars within months, with the fact that they are forced to buy dollars at more than its exchange rate at times, according to Madian.

According to local press reports, most of the documented cases of kidnapping for ransom in Syria in 2021 were released after the gangs received the money, or with the intervention of dignitaries and mediations to release the kidnapped.

The regime-controlled areas are witnessing a widespread insecurity as a result of the spread of armed gangs protected by the political parties and the conflicting military forces in the country for 10 years.

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