Aleppo Hit by Crime Wave

Spate of murders and armed robberies are linked to economic downturn.

Aleppo Hit by Crime Wave

Spate of murders and armed robberies are linked to economic downturn.

Thursday, 23 April, 2009
Serious crime is on the rise in Syria’s industrial capital, Aleppo, against a backdrop of soaring unemployment resulting from the global financial crisis.

Residents are calling for the authorities to tackle increased job losses and inner-city deprivation – factors they say are behind the crime wave.

Since the beginning of the year, local armed gangs have committed a series of high-profile crimes – most of them in broad daylight – in the northern city’s fashionable and upper class neighbourhoods.

Twenty-seven people have been murdered since January 1, according to a March 26 report in the pro-government newspaper Al-Watan.

Around 20 armed robberies occurred in the heart of the city in the first three months of the year, reported the pro-government website Syrian Days.

In February, armed men raided a popular downtown market, shooting and killing a local merchant. That same month, burglars robbed a local factory, and a 15-year-old boy shot and killed five members of his family in their home before taking money and gold from the house.

In March, two armed men raided a store selling gold trinkets, killing one customer and injuring another. Also in March, a former member of parliament and his wife were shot to death in their upmarket home by robbers.

Most of the perpetrators of these crimes have been arrested, according to local media reports.

Meanwhile, public officials and news organisations have called on law enforcement agencies to step up security and have also urged city officials to find ways to fight growing unemployment.

They believe job losses are stirring local anger and unrest, driving some to commit crimes just to make ends meet, a police officer told Al-Watan on March 26.

An Aleppo-based political analyst, who preferred not to be named, said the increase in crime has its roots in larger social and economic problems.

“The city of Aleppo is surrounded by some of the poorest slums in the country, which has always been a breeding ground for crime,” he said.

“The difference now is that the crimes have become more violent and brazen.”

As well as rising crime, local media have reported an increase in suicides among young people.

“The suicides are also a new development and could be closely tied to depression among those who have recently lost their jobs,” said the analyst.

On the surface, Aleppo seems calm with tourists and youngsters crowding popular restaurants and coffee shops. However, reports of increased violence appear to have made some locals wary.

“My friends and I used to stay out until three or four in the morning, but now we try to get home earlier,” said an engineering student at the University of Aleppo.

Locals say the increased police presence in the city centre does not do much to reassure them.

“Rather than looking for armed criminals, many officers will hang outside popular night spots and threaten to arrest us for drinking if we don’t pay them off,” said the engineering student.

Several other men and women who enjoy the Aleppo nightlife shared similar stories with IWPR.

“Although some officers work hard to combat these violent crimes, the Aleppo police system as a whole is riddled with corruption,” said a local lawyer.

While there are no official unemployment statistics for Aleppo, local media reports note that more than 80 textile factories with headquarters in the city have been shut down while many others are close to bankruptcy.

“Some large factories fired hundreds of workers at a time,” a local merchant said. “The problem extends from the big factories to the smaller ones.”

People used to come to the city seeking work and now there are no longer any opportunities, the political analyst said.

“Many of these problems [with crime] have always existed, but the financial crisis and rising unemployment has brought everything to the surface,” said a taxi driver who lives in one Aleppo’s poor neighbourhoods.

“If no serious steps are taken to improve the situation – not just by finding jobs, but by combating poor living conditions in the slums and corruption among law enforcement – things will only get worse.”
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