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Scamming The Bereaved: A Grim Side Business In Syrian Death

How much does hope cost? For many Syrian families the price was counted in tens of thousands of dollars — which many were willing to pay for signs that a missing friend or relative was still alive in Syria's vast prison system.

A trove of pictures from a Syrian police defector proved otherwise. There are 11,000 victims, documented in high resolution, the bodies carefully cataloged with coded numbers inked on every corpse.

The revelations have disrupted a widespread business in Syria — one that tells a disturbing story about a society at war.

It was a business I kept hearing about on trips to southern Turkey. Syrians told me stories about security police who offered scraps of information about the missing ... for a price.

Families paid to find out where someone was held, for extra food, for better treatment — for prisoners who were already dead.

Click the audio link above to hear more about extortion and war brokers; see below for more information on the photos that revealed this fraud.

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Deborah Amos covers the Middle East for NPR News. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Weekend Edition.