I used to go to another village to work every day, but one person was kidnapped, then killed on that road, so now I cant go to work because its not safe, she said.
In Latakia, one 25-year-old resident reached by phone said members of the militia often engaged in kidnapping and robberies to fund their activities.
Any rich person is a possible prey, said the resident, who asked to be identified only as Khalid for security reasons. Even if you fund them, you might get kidnapped by them. They get security IDs or assignment papers so they dont get stopped or searched at checkpoints.
He said that one of the most active units of the militia, called Liwa al Jbal, or the Mountain Brigade, was led by Hilal Assad, one of the presidents cousins.
If you want to volunteer, you go to Hilal Assads people, he said. They test your rifle, then you go to the mountain to fight with the army.
One benefit of volunteering for the militia, he said, is remaining in your home area rather than being assigned to some far-off province to fight. The militia also provides IDs, which are honored at checkpoints, along with a sense of prestige.
Many people volunteered because its a powerful position, he said. There are many teenagers in the militia. They are untouchable.
Khalid said the impunity with which militia members operated had angered other residents, but theres nothing anyone can do about it.
Alawites are scared of being exterminated. They are let down by the president, and believe the future will be terrible, he said, explaining why the militia is tolerated.
Jonathan S. Landay in Washington and a special correspondent in Beirut who isnt being named for security reasons contributed to this article.