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Syrian rebels forced to police their own as crime tarnishes reputation

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Far more common, however, are problems with theft. Opposition fighters have been caught looting empty apartments and shops on the front lines and collecting illegal bribes and taxes at checkpoints. 

Recognizing the damage such behavior causes to the FSA's image, the group has taken steps to quickly expand Revolutionary Security. In his neighborhood of Aleppo, Hiba now boasts that Revolutionary Security is stronger than the United States' Central Intelligence Agency. His group has recruited, trained, and inserted spies into FSA units throughout the city to report on anyone who violates the law.

The system has been successful in stopping a number of ill-intentioned FSA fighters and units from committing crimes, say Revolutionary Security members. Those who are caught must go before a judge in a revolutionary court, and, if convicted, usually lose their weapons. Sometimes they are even sent to prison. They say that they’ve seen a marked decline in such incidents within the past month, asserting that criminal behavior dropped when word spread that the FSA was monitoring activity.

Revolutionary Security leaders say one of the biggest challenges to carrying out their duties, which include policing civilians, is their own relatively small numbers.

“When the regime was in control there was the state security, military intelligence, Air Force intelligence, and other organizations. Now we’re doing the work of all these organizations,” says Mr. Hamdu.

Hoping to broaden its influence, Revolutionary Security has dispatched religious scholars to FSA units throughout Aleppo to offer courses about appropriate conduct and values.

Ahmad Zayarati, an Islamic scholar and head of Revolutionary Security’s legal section in one neighborhood of Aleppo organizes such courses and also issues fatwas, Islamic legal decisions, to help govern FSA conduct. He and colleagues are also in the process of drafting a law to ensure that detainees are treated with basic human rights and respect.

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