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Who Are the Shabbiha?

5:16 PM, Apr 12, 2011 • By TONY BADRAN
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However, his cousins continue to exercise their perceived right to ransack at will. In 2006, an infamous security camera video emerged on YouTube showing one of Bashar’s second cousins, Numayr, as he robbed a currency exchange office at gunpoint and in broad daylight. He was briefly arrested, but broke out shortly thereafter and is now said to be living openly in Latakia. This is what the Assads are all about: a mob family operating at state level.

Today, the shabbiha realize that if they want to maintain their privilege, it’s time to serve the larger interests of the regime—as paramilitary mercenaries terrorizing peaceful protesters. Their unofficial status offers the regime a useful instrument—the shabbiha can kill and intimidate while Assad still has plausible deniability. Moreover, insofar as the shabbiha’s indiscriminate, drive-by-shooting-style violence is likely responsible for the deaths of policemen and soldiers (as Syrian activist Ammar Abdulhamid notes), the regime has used the confusion to label the protestors as the perpetrators of violence. Accordingly, shabbiha bloodshed, now attributed to the opposition, has become the Assad regime’s pretext for the full-blown military crackdown now underway in towns such as Banias, besieged by army tanks.

(For videos highlighting the shabbiha, see Ammar Abdulhamid’s post over at the “Syrian Revolution Digest,” here. See also the videos on the “Syrian Revolution” site, here.)

Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

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