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Turkish-backed rebels leave trail of abuse, criminality in Syria’s Afrin

The serene topography of the Syrian enclave of Afrin belies the power vacuum and violence now afflicting many of the territories under the control of Turkish-backed forces in the war-torn country’s northeast.
Turkish-backed Syrian fighters of the Sultan Murad Turkoman brigade are pictured during a military show in the Afrin region in the rebel-held northern countryside of Syria's northern Aleppo province on Nov. 17, 2020.
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During 17 days of captivity, Leila Mohammed Ahmed witnessed, helplessly, 10 young women take their own lives after being raped by members of the Sultan Murad Brigade, a Sunni rebel faction which operates under the banner of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA). The 63-year-old Kurdish woman from Afrin, the majority Kurdish enclave in northern Syria that has been occupied by Turkish-backed forces since January 2018, relayed to Al-Monitor the suffering of her fellow detainees in a telephone interview. “Some used belts to hang themselves, some pens or other sharp objects which they jabbed in their throats. Then there were the poor girls who just banged their heads against the wall until they collapsed,” Ahmed said.

Ahmed’s story is not uncommon. Across Turkish-occupied territories, a pattern of violence and criminality has been established. Turkish-backed opposition groups that once were dedicated to political causes are accused by residents of becoming criminal syndicates that kidnap for money and exploit citizens’ resources for their own gain.

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