Fadi Saad

Plunder and the Shabbiha’s black markets

Pro-Assad militias are supplementing sparse income with goods stolen from pro-rebel homes

A thief is a thief.
A pro-regime soldier poses on a sofa in a recaptured rebel district of Homs.

No one will ever know what went through the mind of one young man when he realized that the leather jacket being offered to him for SYP 2,000 at a Shabbiha roadblock in Homs was the same jacket he’d bought for SYP 20,000 before the revolution.


He barely allowed himself to shed a couple of teardrops but did not re-purchase his jacket despite the reduced price, barely a tenth of its value.


Elsewhere, the mourning mother of a deceased Syrian Army officer walked behind her son’s coffin, deploring the fact that “he died before he could complete his house furniture.”


The young man whose jacket was stolen hails from a wealthy, well-known Homs family, whereas the regular army officer comes from a poor family. This “martyr,” as many army supporters refer to him, used to plunder the houses he raided with his group in Homs and other rebel cities.


Somewhere between these two personal accounts lies a Syrian tragedy par excellence. As death and injustice are commonplace and civilians routinely slip into poverty, some resort to plundering for survival. (This experience is by no means the first or the last: Indeed, poor Syrian Army soldiers and rebellion-aspiring officers did the same thing during the Lebanese war, as they “excelled” in inventing new acts of plunder and robbery, pilfering everything from bathroom ceramics to church chandeliers.)


A Shabbiha market known to the regime


Poor young men in the National Defense Army (i.e. the Shabbiha) use this as another means of making a living. Some are even joining this organization, which is designated as a terror group by the US government and the EU, to equip their homes using furniture stolen from the houses of those accused of supporting the revolution. Once their homes are furnished, they leave the Shabbiha unless they are gunned down by the Free Syrian Army first.


Robberies are an everyday problem. Sometimes, the loot is enough to cover Shabbiha members’ expenses, which is especially significant given that the Syrian state is sometimes unable to pay their salaries.


The Syrian war led in some regions to the emergence of a market for stolen goods of all shapes and sizes, including electrical appliances, fridges, furniture, and even stolen cars. Anything is available on these markets or with other sellers who promote these items at half price.


The stolen goods market in Homs is based in what used to be known as the “Gold Market.” At first, it involved the National Defense Army and later included army personnel; however, it was subsequently curbed when some officers within the Syrian Army rejected the plundering campaigns.


City Center, a major shopping mall, was cleaned out before it was burned to the ground. In 2012, the warehouses of a Homs company were completely stripped dry, leading to the loss of about 16,000 electrical appliances – washing machines, fridges, and air conditioning units – with an estimated value of SYP 400 million. In Damascus, the Shabbiha and regular army robbed the largest furniture market in the Arab world in the town of Saqba.


Aswaq al-Sana (the year’s markets) is a term coined by the Al-Arabiya TV channel to refer to these markets. Mohammad, a Syrian activist, lambasts the markets: “This is the so-called year’s market. These are the furniture of all our houses, stolen before our very eyes by officers and troops who protect our homes.”


“Some of these thieves are affiliated to state agencies or operate under their protection,” argues Khaled M., a local resident familiar with the markets.


“I have seen them and I have names and license plate numbers,” says another activist, Sari Hassan.


Where are the stolen goods going?


Some of the plundered goods are sold in the mountains and along the coast, but a high proportion – as high as 70% – of those residing in these areas refuse to buy such goods. An Alawite sheikh in Homs forbade residents to purchase goods from that market, but a high proportion of those buying such goods are doing so secretly and keeping silent about it anyway.


Some houses in the Alawite village of Mahroussa, which is affiliated to Mesyaf, are stacked with stolen goods. Aleppo villages are similarly loaded with bounty obtained from the Shabbiha, which was stolen from the city’s markets and from upscale families in Aleppo. This suggests that class tensions are the key cause behind the rampant thefts taking place in Syria, especially in Aleppo and Homs.


The Shabbiha take everything and when their houses are no longer big enough to store their stolen wares, they bring sofas over to decorate existing roadblocks. The sight of a Shabbiha member sitting on a sofa is all but too familiar in many areas of Homs and Damascus.


This article is a translation from the original Arabic.

A thief is a thief. (Facebook image)

“'This is the so-called year’s market. These are the furniture of all our houses, stolen before our very eyes by officers and troops who protect our homes.'”

  • petero

    called al sonna,s market not -called year’s market. . it,s bad new market in Homs

    October 23, 2013