Arrested by the Regime, Arrested by the Rebels, Syrian Student Is Fed Up

Says he’s done with war-torn country

Arrested by the Regime, Arrested by the Rebels, Syrian Student Is Fed Up Arrested by the Regime, Arrested by the Rebels, Syrian Student Is Fed Up

Uncategorized October 1, 2013 0

Thomas Hammond photo Arrested by the Regime, Arrested by the Rebels, Syrian Student Is Fed Up Says he’s done with war-torn country by DAVID... Arrested by the Regime, Arrested by the Rebels, Syrian Student Is Fed Up
Thomas Hammond photo

Arrested by the Regime, Arrested by the Rebels, Syrian Student Is Fed Up

Says he’s done with war-torn country


Muhab, a 21-year-old former student and laborer from northern Syria, has been arrested on separate occasions by opposing armed camps in the nearly three-year-old civil war.

Tortured by the regime of Syrian Pres. Bashar Al Assad and later detained and subjected to farcical legal proceedings by Islamic rebels, Muhab—not his real name—fled Syria to neighboring Turkey in late September. A self-described patriot, he nevertheless says he doesn’t ever want to go back to his home country.

Muhab’s experiences a window into an aspect of the grinding conflict that’s under-appreciated outside Syria’s borders. The abductions of foreign journalists and humanitarians have captured headlines, but the detention of thousands of unnamed, everyday Syrians—by the regime and by rebels—is by far more common.

And for Syria’s future, more troubling.

Thomas Hammond photo

Tortured and questioned

Muhab was a college kid studying English literature in the city of Homs when he was arrested the first time. It was Sept. 11, 2011, a few months into the fighting. Muhab was stopped by government agents and asked for his ID.

Like many university students, Muhab had protested the regime’s corruption and brutality. But he had no weapons and was not an opposition fighter or organizer. His father had been arrested—and is still missing to this day—but the student had no reason to be on anyone’s list of wanted figures. He handed over his identification card fully expecting to be waved on through.

Instead the agents seized him. Later Muhab learned that the regime had arrested a colleague of his and, presumably under torture, the detained man had named Muhab as an opposition organizer—a false charge, Muhab insists. The student would soon discover for himself that men being tortured will say anything, however untrue, to end the pain.

He was taken to a local branch of the government’s political security apparatus and kept there for four days. On the fifth day, they began hurting him. They hit him with a rod. They shocked him with electrodes. They demanded to know where he kept his gun, how many government supporters he had killed and exactly what role he had played in orchestrating protests.

“I confessed everything,” Muhab says, even though he says there was nothing to confess. Who knows how many other innocent people were falsely implicated, just as Muhab had been.

After 20 days, he was released. He immediately left Homs and moved to Aleppo, a city near the Turkish border, where he took odd jobs to survive. The war soon followed him, transforming Aleppo into a worldwide symbol of the civil war’s horrors. Muhab stayed just six months before fleeing.

He settled in Al Dana, 20 miles west of Aleppo, and took the only work he could find, assisting a Syrian charity group. Around him, an already terrible war took a chilling turn, as Islamic militants—some Syrian, some from Iraq or other countries—slipped into rebel-held areas and began imposing their harsh interpretation of Islam.

On Sept. 24 this year, the Islamic States of Iraq and Syria, one of the biggest and best organized militant groups, sent men to kick down the doors of Muhab’s employer. The fighters grabbed everyone inside including Muhab—and seized their documents and all their electronic devices.

They were dragged before the local sharia court. They demanded to know what the charges were—and got no answer. The judge apologized for the confusion, explaining that the court had been in disarray since the local emir, Abu Abdullah Al Libi, a Libyan, was killed on Sept. 22. “These troubles will not happen again,” he promised, according to Muhab. The judge released the detainees but kept their IDs, thus limiting their movement.

The next day Muhab returned to retrieve his identification and those of his colleagues. A French fighter tried to re-arrest Muhab, saying the young laborer would be jailed for six months unless he brought his coworkers back to face the court again. Muhab protested. The other charity workers were too frightened to return. As for Muhab—losing her youngest son in addition to her husband would devastate his mother, he said.

A Syrian member of ISIS overheard the young man’s plea, gave him back his ID card and told him he could go. Just as he had fled Homs, Muhab got the Hell out of Al Dana. He met his older brother on the border with Turkey and slipped across through a hole in the fence.

Slumped outside a hotel in a Turkish border town, Muhab says he’s never going back to Syria. “I’m fed up,” he moans. “I just want my country to be safe.” The one-time student of English literature says he’ll find work in Turkey doing … anything. But work, even the most basic manual labor, is in short supply in border regions choked with refugees just like him.

Caught between a murderous regime and the clumsy machinations of Islamic militants, many Syrians have no place to go but out. Syria’s neighboring countries are now home to more than a million refugees, just shy of a twentieth of Syria’s population.

Muhab says if he can’t find a job he’ll reluctantly go back to Syria. “I’ll curl up in my mother’s lap.” And pray for better days.

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