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Hiding in plain sight, Iranian militias disguised to carry out atrocities in Syria

Published: Updated:

Iran-backed militia are using disguises to carry out their war of violence in Syria, local residents have told Al Arabiya as part of a new documentary.

They plant sleeper cells and use bribery and brutal force to build their army and gain a further stronghold across the Middle Eastern war-torn country, according to sources.

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In a new 11-part series, Al Arabiya goes into camps in Syria and Iraq where journalist Rola al-Khatib sits down with former ISIS members and their families, former members of the Syrian government forces and residents in the two countries to tell their stories in the latest “Face to Face” interviews.

In part two of the series, titled ‘Face-to-Face: Horrors of the Iranian militia in Syria’, al-Khatib speaks to those living in the ِal-Shaitat district, now controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces.

Sitting together, a group of Syrian men are solum as they discuss the fate of their friends and relatives in neighboring villages and areas on the outskirts of Damascus and strategic towns on the Syria border, such as the Abu Kamal district, which Iran-backed militia patrol and control, ten years after entering Syria’s civil war.

Syrian government soldiers on a tank hold up their rifles and flash victory signs, as they patrol the highway that links the capital Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria.  (SANA via AP)
Syrian government soldiers on a tank hold up their rifles and flash victory signs, as they patrol the highway that links the capital Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria. (SANA via AP)

One of men identified as Abu Saqr said: “We’re in contact with the people living nearby across the Euphrates due to familial and tribal relations as well as friendships… The situation there is tragic. Iranian militias are in charge there; and the Fatemiyoun and Zainebiyoun which are the products of Iran. No one dares speak over there.”

Abu Saqr also said there’s forced recruitment” where the militias take people“to hot zones where there are clashes. If there aren’t any clashes, they send them on special assignments to the areas east of the Euphrates.”

The militia often hide by wearing disguises such as civilian clothing, he said.

“They disguise themselves in our Arabian attire. They wear ankle length garments so as not to be recognized. If you were approached by five men wearing such garments, you’d think they’re our people from our area.

“T(Then) they take away people’s houses and use them as their headquarters.”

“However, once they find out that the Global Coalition or any other international entity has found the location of their headquarters, and seize your house by force, and use it as a warehouse for weapons.”

Saqr said, for those living in Iranian militia-controlled areas, they “have no life there.”

“We have relatives there who have no life whatsoever. People are forced to be recruited with militias. They’re recruited by force to be turned into mercenaries executing orders that implement foreign agendas.”

Another unidentified man said Iranian miltiaa have “been trying to aggravate the situation” since entering the area more than three years ago.

“(They are) planting sleeper cells, pushing bribes. They kill people,” he told Al Arabiya.

“Nowadays, we have indiscriminate assassinations. They’re not necessarily sanctioned by the state.

“There are assassinations by the state (ISIS), Turkey, and Iran. Iran is doing whatever it pleases in the area. A couple of days ago, the International Coalition struck the Levant Front. They immediately brought down their banners and raised the banners of Syrian Armed Forces,” the man said. “The Syrian Armed Forces has no role in the area at all.”

Syrians wave the Russian and Iranian flags and carry portraits of President Bashar al-Assad as they gather in Aleppo's Saadallah al-Jabiri square on April 14, 2018, to condemn the strikes carried out by the United States, Britain and France against the Syrian regime.
Syrians wave the Russian and Iranian flags and carry portraits of President Bashar al-Assad as they gather in Aleppo's Saadallah al-Jabiri square on April 14, 2018, to condemn the strikes carried out by the United States, Britain and France against the Syrian regime.

A third, Abu Amin told Al Arabiya how ISIS militia had built shrines and congregation halls for themselves in areas. Militias also use terror and threats to force people to convert to Shiism, he said.

“They had their temporary headquarters called Ayn Ali. Ayn Ali is now a shrine,” Abu Amin said. “Some people would even come from Iraq to visit that shrine; it’s a shrine in every sense of the word… They turned so many people into Shias; one of them is a man called Nawwaf al-Ragheb. He used to be my neighbor and the chieftain of al-Baggara, you see? The chieftain of al-Baggara became a Shia. Now he’s leading Shia militias.”

Saqr told Al Arabiya that the militia take the chieftains – the leader of a people or clan - who are influential in their areas and force them to bow down to the Iranian militias’ banner.

“Nobody welcomes Iranian militias; we’re Sunni to the core,” he said. “I’m telling you, I’m absolutely positive that if people wanted to leave this area, even if they were with the opposition- since this isn’t the Iranians’ homeland - they’d pay the Iranians $1,000 to be smuggled into to Lebanon using Hezbollah’s vehicles.”

The Iranian militias help people get into Lebanon and “no one would dare get into their way,” he said. “They only care about the money.”

Read more:

Former ISIS members tell their stories in Al Arabiya’s latest ‘Face to Face’ series

UAE calls for maximizing efforts to diminish ISIS threat in Syria, Iraq, elsewhere

Face to face with ISIS: The women of ISIS