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Friday, August 12, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Opposition: Islamic death squads tracking officers loyal to Assad

NICOSIA — Islamic insurgents are targeting officers loyal to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.


Opposition sources acknowledged that scores of Syrian security officers have been killed in such cities as Dura, Hama and Homs since April. They said Islamic insurgents have established networks that identify and target officers loyal to Assad in Sunni cities.

"There are neighborhood watch committees that receive information through residents on which of their neighbors are believed to work for the police, army or intelligence," an opposition source said. "A decision is then made whether these people are suitable targets."

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The sources said the insurgents have formed death squads that follow and eliminate Syrian officers. They said most of these insurgents were trained by Al Qaida-aligned elements in Iraq and financed by Saudi Arabia, Middle East Newsline reported.

The emergence of the Islamic hit squads took place in April about a month after the Assad regime began the crackdown on the growing protest movement. The sources said insurgents, equipped with weapons and night-vision systems, began to ambush Syrian security patrols as well as individual officers on the highways in the northeast. In all, about 400 Syrian security personnel were said to have been killed.

At first, the opposition to Assad denied the emergence of the Islamic hit squads. Instead, opposition groups claimed that the casualties from the purported Islamic attacks were soldiers shot dead after they refused orders to fire toward protesters.

By July, however, opposition sources acknowledged that Islamic insurgency squads were operating around such cities as Banias, Dura, Hama and Homs. One of the bloodiest operations was the killing of nine Syrian Army soldiers in Banias on April 14. The soldiers were traveling in two trucks ambushed along the coastal highway.

The sources said the Islamic insurgents did not represent the pro-democracy opposition movement. But they said the insurgents were receiving support from Syria's Sunni majority, the main target of the Assad crackdown in which more than 2,000 civilians have been killed since March.

The biggest targets of the Islamic insurgents were said to be the Alawite-dominated Shabiha militia. Shabiha was said to have been responsible for most of the civilian killings of Sunnis.

"The regime has been very careful to keep all of its officers together on bases so they are not exposed to assassination," the source said. "But this is difficult as both the army and security forces are needed to stop the protests in more and more cities."

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