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Syria’s lords of war

Car dealer and amateur astronomer Hatim Ali Staiti became a warlord and now commands a notorious militia known for fighting for the regime.
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For Syrian opposition forces, National Defense Forces militia fighting alongside Syria’s regime are the most heinous of foes. The opposition calls them "shabiha," a term used to refer to unofficial militias that support the Syrian regime.

A shabiha member I met in the Akrama neighborhood of Homs, Syria, told me why he took up arms and joined the militia, on the condition that I not use his name or photo. He cited two events that led him to give up driving a taxi and take up arms. First was the murder of Gen. Abdo Khodr al-Tellawi with his two sons and cousin in Homs' Bab Tadmor district on April 17, 2011, while they were going to the general's home in the Zahra district. Tellawi, whose arms and legs were chopped off, was an Alawite — a religious minority of which embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is a member. 

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