The Shabiha are gang-like gunmen employed by the Syrian regime to carry out missions against those who took to the streets and protested against the government. ALARABIYA – AGENCIESA defected brigade called al-Harmoush claimed in a recorded public statement on Wednesday that it killed 80 people in the Syrian regime’s security forces and the Shabiha elements. The Shabiha are gang-like gunmen employed by the Syrian regime to carry out missions against those who took to the streets and protested against the government. The defected brigade also said that its members had killed a number of people from the country’s intelligence services and had freed some arrested students. On Thursday, clashes began in Rastan between another defected brigade called Khalid bin al-Walid and the Syrian security forces and its Shabiha. Assassinated nuclear engineer Meanwhile, a Syrian nuclear engineer was assassinated in a hail of bullets in central Syria Wednesday, the latest casualty in a string of murders targeting academics and scientists, Syria’s state-run news agency and activists said. SANA said engineer and university professor Aws Khalil was shot in the head by an “armed terrorist group” operating in Homs, but activists accused the regime of going after academics in an attempt to terrorize the city’s rebellious population. Khalil is the fourth Syrian academic to be assassinated in Homs since Sunday. The city, a hotbed of dissent against Assad’s autocratic regime, has witnessed some of the largest anti-government protests since the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began six months ago. In the past month, it has witnessed almost daily clashes between Syrian troops and army defectors. There also have been increasing reports of attacks on security forces and police patrols by some who have taken up arms to fight the military crackdown. Mohammed Saleh, an opposition figure in Homs, said Khalil’s assassination Wednesday is part of a string of killings – all in the same manner – of Syrian academics. They include Hassan Eid, chief of chest surgery at the Homs hospital who had treated wounded Syrian protesters in the past months. Also shot dead were professors Nael Dakhil, 54, and Mohammed Aqeel, 49, who was assassinated by bullets that struck his car in the Ghouta neighborhood of Homs. The dead men came from different religious backgrounds – Shiite, Alawite and Christian – and it unclear whether the killings had any sectarian motives. None of those killed were Sunni, Saleh said. Syria has a volatile sectarian divide, making civil unrest a frightening prospect. The Assad regime is dominated by the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, but the country is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. Saleh said it was not clear who was behind the killings, adding there were gunmen operating in Homs and that the situation was fluid. Syria-based activist Mustafa Osso blamed the regime was for the assassinations. “They are trying to sow chaos, fear and terror in the hope that protesters will be cowed into retreat,” he said. A statement by the Al Ghad coalition, an umbrella group of Syrian activists, said it was yet another attempt to crush the Syrian people’s peaceful revolution. “The regime has failed until now to create sectarian strife in Homs and it’s trying again now to do so in a brutal way, disregarding the importance of scientific experts to Syrian society,” a statement said. SANA, the state-run news agency, said Khalil, like the other three academics, was killed by armed terrorist groups which it blames for the unrest in Syria. The killings are reminiscent of assassinations in Iraq following the 2003 U.S. invasion of that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime, when the country was hit by a wave of assassinations that claimed the lives of scores of physicians, professors and nuclear experts in what led to a brain drain from the country.