Tensions high between narcotics division and FSA factions in al-Bab in Syria

ALEPPO, Syria — Tension has intensified in the town of al-Bab, in the eastern countryside of Aleppo, after a group of armed men belonging to the Hamza Departmentaffiliated with the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA), raided the home of an official of the narcotics division of the police force and national general securityalso supported by Turkey.

The September 13 raid raised popular anger and sparked angry protests in the streets of al-Bab, with some demonstrators burning tires and demanding that the attackers and the group to which they belong, which is known to traffic drugs in the area, be held accountable.

Muhammad Ghanoum, a journalist based in al-Bab, told Al-Monitor: “An armed group led by Abu Abdo al-Qadri, a prominent leader of the FSA’s Hamza division, stormed on September 13 the home of Sohaib Abu Kasha, an officer in the narcotics division of al-Bab city police.

He said: ‘The group brutally stormed the house before searching it and breaking furniture, terrifying the children and women who were inside the house at the time of the attack. One of the attackers confiscated Abu Kasha’s wife’s mobile phone and searched it. Before leaving the house, another of the attackers told the woman that they had broken into the house in retaliation for her husband’s confiscation of a shipment of narcotics. »

Ghanoum added: “The attackers took advantage of the absence of Abu Kasha who worked on the outskirts of al-Bab town. [on the day of the attack]. Everyone who stormed the house was drunk, and apparently some of them were on drugs.

Speaking to Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, one of Abu Kasha’s relatives said: “The armed gang affiliated with the Hamza division is known locally in al-Bab for its drug trafficking operations and has a very bad reputation. Their brutal storming of the house was shocking and an intrusion and violation towards its owners.

He noted, “The armed gang wanted revenge against my relative, Abu Kasha, because a few weeks ago he confiscated a shipment of narcotics and hashish belonging to this gang. Since then, Abu Kasha has been receiving threats and they eventually carried out their threat by storming his house and terrorizing his family members, wife, children and elderly mother.

Raid news quickly broadcast in al-Bab, sparking protests calling for the arrest of the attackers. FSAs military police In effect arrested four members of the group, including Qadri. Photos of detainees broadcast in the media after their hair has been completely shaved off.

On September 13, members of the security forces and military police affiliated with the FSA offensive and destroy the cameras of journalists and photographers who were present near the military police headquarters in al-Bab, where the gang members who stormed the house were being held.

The vicinity of the military police headquarters also witnessed heavy clashes between members of the Hamza Division and the military police after the arrest of Qadri and his group.

Muhammad Abu Rashid, an FSA military police official in the town of al-Bab, told Al-Monitor: “Those involved in the assault on Abu Kasha’s house were arrested and imprisoned before being transferred to military justice where they will be prosecuted. »

Abu Rashid denied reports of clashes with the Hamza Division over the arrest of those involved in the raid. “Some demonstrators gathered near the [military police] building and some of them fired in the air, while the police did not respond to the shots. Things did not turn into clashes or firefights,” he said.

Since the beginning of 2022, the factions of the FSA are carry out a crackdown versus drug dealers and smugglers in different parts of the Aleppo countryside.

In June, Hayat Thaeroon for Liberation, a formation that includes several Turkish-backed FSA factions, posted a video in which two people accused of drug trafficking and cooperation with the Lebanese movement Hezbollah in the countryside of Aleppo confessed about their drug trafficking activities and their ties to a member of Hezbollah who supplies them with narcotics from the predominantly Shia towns of Nubl and al-Zahraa in rural Aleppo.

According to the recording, Hayat Thaeroon for Liberation also confiscated 50 kilograms (110 pounds) of narcotic pills and bags of hashish which were in the possession of the detainee.

Another one drug seizure occurred in May in the town of Marea, in the northern countryside of Aleppo, and led to the dozens arrested drug traffickers, according to local media networks close to the FSA.

In November 2021, military police raided a drug manufacturing plant in the countryside of Afrin. It was the first drug factory be raided in FSA controlled areas in the Aleppo countryside.

Of them leading members of the FSA were accused of run the factorywhich was financed by their relatives based in Turkey and holders of Turkish nationality.

In mid-June, the Third Legion affiliated with the FSA identified and searched a second drug manufacturing plant near Azaz.

In light of this and the recent incident, it appears that a standoff is brewing between the police narcotics division and certain FSA groups and leaders who are involved in the trade, manufacture and promotion of drugs.

Yet it appears that police operations remain limited to civilians involved in drug trafficking, who are not supported by FSA factions. Meanwhile, high-level drug traffickers and manufacturers are protected by armed factions and are rarely arrested. Some believe that Qadri, a leader of the Hamza division, would not have been arrested recently if his men had not attacked Abu Kasha’s house.

Although he was arrested by the military police – in response to popular anger – many expect Qadri and his gang to be freed soon, without consequences.

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