Syrians have gotten used to kidnapping incidents – the disappearance of friends and loved ones that usually ends up with murder. Just a few of those detained have been lucky enough to escape and live to tell their stories.
Fares, 28, is one of them. He returned to his family in the Masaken Barzeh neighborhood in Damascus just over a month ago, after being kidnapped and blackmailed for 48 hours. Syria Deeply met Fares in his home and spoke to him about his ordeal.
Syria Deeply: Please share with us the details of your kidnapping and who carried it out.
About a month ago, my family and I had our house raided by four people who were in military uniform and holding rifles. They called for me by name, claiming I was wanted by the security apparatus. Naturally, my mother started screaming and I tried to get away because I hadn’t done anything. One of them held a gun to my head and threatened to shoot my mother if I made a move. That’s when I calmed down. I left the house and got in a car with them. They blindfolded me.
I was beaten and humiliated from the moment I got in the car. A few minutes later, we arrived at an army checkpoint. They took off my blindfold and threatened me again if I mentioned anything to the soldiers manning the checkpoint. We passed the checkpoint and the soldiers didn’t even search us. That’s when I realized I was on my way to the Esh al-Warwar neighborhood. They blindfolded me again and when we arrived at our destination, they put me in a room where I was kicked in the gut for trying to escape earlier. After about an hour, I heard a familiar voice. He was laughing and asked them to kill me if I didn’t get the money. I knew the man because he is our neighbor, Abu Allam, who lives across from us and who is a regime supporter. I was dead sure about his voice – that’s when I realized this was an organized kidnapping. They called my family and forced me to say that I was scared and that they would kill me if [my family] didn’t pay one million Syrian pounds. After half an hour of negotiations over the ransom, they agreed to receive 600,000 pounds.
Syria Deeply: Why do you think they picked you out?
My family is one of the very few left who are well off and who stayed in the Masaken Barzeh neighborhood despite the war. We own a well-known store in the neighborhood and they picked me because they knew they could blackmail me and get some ransom money.
Syria Deeply: How did the exchange go? Were you released immediately after?
In spite of the agreement they had with my family, they kept me for two nights cuffed to chair in a locked room. I still remember the threats and beatings I endured every time they entered the room. They wanted to humiliate me. Then, at noon, they dropped me off at a corner in the Esh al-Warwar neighborhood after my brother delivered the money.
Syria Deeply: Why didn’t you report your kidnappers [to the police]?
We can’t report anything against the Esh al-Warwar committees. Everyone in the neighborhood knows that there’s no point, despite their looting and blackmail. I also can’t press charges against my neighbor, Abu Allam, even though I’m sure he played a part in the kidnapping. I don’t want to hurt my family again, and if I report the incident and they catch wind of it, then they will take their revenge, if not kill me.
Nader, another Masaken Barzeh resident, agrees with Fares. He too was kidnapped only two weeks ago in a very similar fashion. Upon his return to his home one night, a car with three drunken popular committee members chased him and forced him at gunpoint to get in the car with them. He was gone for only two hours before his father paid 200,000 pounds in ransom to return Nader alive.
“The residents know who carries out the kidnappings and looting. Abu Allam is a well-known figure among the residents. He’s the one who watches and picks out [who will be kidnapped]. As for me, I thank God for returning me safely to my family as I know there are many others who were kidnapped from our neighborhood from whom we haven’t heard. The hardest thing is the humiliation I had to endure and knowing I am unable to get back what’s rightfully mine.”
As the kidnapping incidents spike in the Masaken Barzeh neighborhood, the area has become a ghost town at night. According to Nader, residents now close their shops before 7 p.m. in order to avoid becoming the popular committees’ next victim.