Savage Online Videos Fuel Syria’s Descent Into Madness

A video shows what appears to be a shocking atrocity from the battlefields of Syria

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Narciso Contreras / Polaris

A rebel fighter fires at enemy positions of Assad forces as skirmishes break out on the front lines in Aleppo, Syria, on April 9, 2013

The video starts out like so many of the dozens coming out of the war in Syria every day, with the camera hovering over the body of a dead Syrian soldier. But the next frame makes it clear why this video, smuggled out of the city of Homs and into Lebanon with a rebel fighter, and obtained by TIME in April, is particularly shocking. In the video a man who is believed to be a rebel commander named Khalid al-Hamad, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Sakkar, bends over the government soldier, knife in hand. With his right hand he moves what appears to be the dead man’s heart onto a flat piece of wood or metal lying across the body. With his left hand he pulls what appears to be a lung across the open cavity in the man’s chest. According to two of Abu Sakkar’s fellow rebels, who said they were present at the scene, Abu Sakkar had cut the organs out of the man’s body. The man believed to be Abu Sakkar then works his knife through the flesh of the dead man’s torso before he stands to face the camera, holding an organ in each hand. “I swear we will eat from your hearts and livers, you dogs of Bashar,” he says, referring to supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Off camera, a small crowd can be heard calling out “Allahu akbar” — God is great. Then the man raises one of the bloodied organs to his lips and starts to tear off a chunk with his teeth.

Two TIME reporters first saw the video in April in the presence of several of Abu Sakkar’s fighters and supporters, including his brother. They all said the video was authentic. We later obtained a copy. Since then TIME has been trying to ensure that the footage is not digitally manipulated in any way — a faked film like this would be powerful propaganda for the regime, which portrays the rebels as terrorists — and, as yet, TIME has not been able to confirm its integrity. Abu Sakkar has not commented on whether the man in the video is indeed him because he is currently fighting on the front lines in Syria, according to fighters under his command. The video became public on May 12 when it was posted online by a proregime group and is indeed now being used as propaganda by regime supporters (and has already been shared 1,115 times on Facebook and has over 46,000 views on YouTube). These 27 seconds of footage provide a glimpse at how brutal the Syrian war has become — and a startling example of how technology appears to be fueling that brutality.

(PHOTOS: Chaos and Killing in Syria: Photos of a Slow-Motion Civil War)

War is rarely anything but violent, but in Syria, where more than 70,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict since it started as a peaceful uprising inspired by the Arab Spring more than two years ago, the savagery has reached ghoulish proportions. And it seems that soldiers on both sides of the war are committing what appear to be crimes of war at least in part so that those acts can be viewed on the Internet. The ubiquity of camera phones and social media are enabling a mixture of propaganda, intimidation and boastful exhibitionism. In this, the first YouTube war, videos have driven the conflict even as they document its horrors.

Many videos from the Syrian battlefield, including the one that shows the man slicing out the dead soldier’s organs, also show the sectarian hatred that many fear is driving the war in Syria, especially the tension between the majority Sunni population and the minority Alawites. Assad is an Alawite; most rebels are Sunni. “Look at the heroes of Baba Amr,” shouts the man believed to be a rebel commander in the video, referring to a ferocious battle fought in 2012 between the rebels and regime forces near Homs, “slaughtering the Alawites and eating their hearts.” The anonymous blogger who posted the video on YouTube, attributing the video to al-Qaeda-affiliated Syrian rebel states: “These are the freedoms they want to import to our country.” The man in the video has been identified by another proregime group as Abu Sakkar, who commands the Al Farooq al-Mustakilla Brigade, a 60-man fighting force that is active in and around Homs, about 97 km north of Damascus and near the Lebanese border.

Videos like this prompt a troubling question: How do countries who want to support Syria’s rebels make sure they’re not unintentionally aiding rebels who might commit war crimes? Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar are already providing the rebel forces with military aid, and the U.S. is helping with nonmilitary aid. There is an ongoing debate in Washington about whether the U.S. government should provide further aid to the rebels, possibly including weapons. Eating an enemy’s liver may be an extreme example of what appears to be a rebel atrocity, but there is enough documented evidence of extrajudicial killings, torture and desecration on the part of the rebels that it would be near impossible to know for certain who, exactly, are the “good” guys, says Peter Bouckaert, director of emergencies for the New York–based group Human Rights Watch. “In this context, where different rebel groups are fighting alongside each other, and sharing weapons, it’s difficult to control where the weapons end up. It is very likely that some of the weapons will end up in the hands of the likes of Abu Sakkar.”

(MORE: Syria’s Opposition Hopes to Win the War by Selling Oil)

Brigadier General Salim Idris, head of the Syrian Military Council (SMC), which oversees — according to its leadership — about 90% of the rebel forces, says such violence is unacceptable, and that no soldier under the council’s command would be allowed to get away with such actions. “Look, it is very clear that these kinds of behaviors, this cutting of bodies, is not allowed. If there is evidence that fighters from the FSA are doing something against human rights or international law, they will be brought before the court,” says Idris, referring to the Free Syrian Army, an umbrella name for the anarchic consortium of defected government soldiers, volunteers, jihadists and opportunists that make up most of the opposition fighting force, and nominally pledge allegiance to the SMC. Idris, who has not seen the video, but was told of its existence, questions the value of videos as proof, pointing out that they can be digitally manipulated. Furthermore, he maintains that the SMC has a watertight command-and-control structure in place that prevents these kinds of atrocities. He suggests that if they are happening, they are being perpetrated by the fighting groups not under his jurisdiction. Then he lashed out against Western journalists who focused on the human-rights abuses of the rebels, when “the regime is massacring women and children with knives. Where is international law when it comes to 200,000 martyrs and millions of refugees?”

The video featuring the man believed to be Abu Sakkar is symptomatic of the blend of brutality and technology on the Syrian battlefield. According to several rebels interviewed by TIME, fighters from both sides no longer simply brag about their exploits on the battlefield; they film them and share them, competing in gruesome games of one-upmanship. This trading in trophy atrocities, played up for the camera and passed from phone to phone, has a desensitizing effect, says Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition U.K.-based organization that tracks fatalities and human-rights abuses in Syria. When a 13-year-old boy is filmed beheading a man and when footage of rape, torture and amputations are passed like trading cards, it escalates the cycle of honor-driven revenge, as each atrocity, so publicly shared, demands a response from the opposing side, according to Nadim Houry of Human Rights Watch. “When people see these acts of brutality and mutilation, it leaves deep scars, and there will be a temptation to replicate it in revenge,” says Bouckaert. “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. Quite a few fighters in Syria interpret that literally.”

(MORE: Syria’s Survival: Heads of U.N. Agencies Make Joint Plea to International Community)

Rahman says violent videos are showing up with increasing frequency. “I’ve seen hundreds of videos like that from both sides,” he says. “They cut off limbs and heads. They cut out hearts and livers, ears and tongues. They cut off private parts and put them places. It’s abnormal. It’s inhuman what is happening.”

The apparent rise of such incidents — or at least their documentation — is an indication that the Syrian conflict is going in a very dark direction. And it could get worse. Many Syria scholars say the regime — and the war — could last for years.

There are no good options for the international community. Western intervention on behalf of the rebels could exacerbate sectarian tensions. Foreign boots on the ground could incite an Iranian response in support of the regime, which it backs, sparking a wider regional proxy war. Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has encouraged all jihadists to join in the fight against the Syrian regime; further instability, with its rich recruitment pool and increased lawlessness, is the terrorist group’s ideal incubator. And as more horrific videos emerge, the rebels may find it harder and harder to persuade the international community that they represent the best bet for a country descending ever further into chaos.

— With reporting by Rami Aysha / Tripoli

68 comments
RobertGuin2
RobertGuin2

This tragedy is partly the responsibility of all of the civilized, democratic world.  We should not stand by and allow 80,000 civilians to be murdered by a dictatorship.  Time to give the rebels real aid, not bandages.


charlesfrith
charlesfrith

Time Magazine is probably the most famous CIA propaganda front going back to Henry Luce and Gordon Wasson. If this story is coming out now it's because the CIA want the US people to feel something not because it's the news. We've been watching these videos and protesting at NATO  pumping Syria with Jihadists for two years now.

GhaNemHomsi
GhaNemHomsi

It is nice to show this atrocity. At same time we hope TIME will allocate equal reporting on the atrocities Assad forces are committing (mass massacres of civilians, rapes, burning detainees alive, stabbing young men to death, and the list continues)...

relcontraire
relcontraire

This tragedy is partly the responsibility of all of the civilized, democratic world.  We should not stand by and allow 80,000 civilians to be murdered by a dictatorship.  Time to give the rebels real aid, not bandages.

CemBoyraz
CemBoyraz

They are not freedom fighters, they are terrorists who train by America. We saw the same scene in Libya. Nobody can change the political structure of any country by using terrorist.

JohnDahodi
JohnDahodi

America under Hillary Clinton and Obama's watch has created this mess, unrest, killings and destruction in Syria. It was really a worst move by the White House, similar to Bush-Cheney's Iraq WAR. We will be sucked in to this quagmire for a long time and there is no light at the end of the tunnel right now. Obama and his team is scratching their heads to resolve the issue by hooks or crook but Russia will not allow them to go away so easily. The Jihadis will get latest arms, ammunition and training ground in Syria for a long time and are busy to take full advantage of our stupidity.

Afrozemerchant
Afrozemerchant

The best thing to do for America and its allies in this uprising of the Taliban in the garb of rebels against Asad is to stay neutral,you cannot pick a lesser devil and cry later when the same people you helped come here to America and kill innocent people,let them sort out there problems while making sure no side uses biological weapons in this civil war.

piratefish
piratefish

sunsandmoons doesnt know what he is talking about. At least 40 per cent of european jews have DNA showing direct descent from middle east persons. Further, the Khazars were a multi ethnic tribal empire  that included many jews who had moved to the Black sea coast from the middle east. And jewish law makes no distinction between blood descendents of the original Hebrews and converts. Most Israelis and arans are genetic brothers and sisters.. thasts the reality.


piratefish
piratefish

How come TIME is spreading this obvious pro ASSAD propaganda film. Oh, its because our govt really supports the criminal ASSAD but cant openly say so.

WaltThomson
WaltThomson

look for this guy to be living in the US real soon,,,

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

With all the crap that will be blown in the wind should these rebels win perhaps it is best if Assad wins after all... 

ysprefer
ysprefer

This is the Arab Spring, in deed the spring is coming, with the blood of innocent people serve the interest of hyporatic Europeans; This is the fault of the people of the Syria who belive the spring boasted by America, and the greed of the rebels that made all this happen.

This shall be lesson for the rest of the world, do not be foolish.  Some days before a dozen good citizens in the western province of China is murder by a small group of terrorist, suspiciously fueled and supported by western powers, while Chinese government stress on stability and solve this accident properly, the western media, says, "investigate this accident by a independent third party agency". The interst of China, shall only be guarded by its own people, not only the government, but every patriotic Chinese people, will not permit the western province of China becoming a chaos, and used by people with ulterior motives.

Slowekistan
Slowekistan

Freedom bells are ringin'! 

When you are free you are free to make mistakes. Soon all of Syria will be free. Go rebels, go democracy!

panget904
panget904

Quagmire is what it is. We should not provide anything but bags of rice.

JohnWHargisSr
JohnWHargisSr

So, where is the video? Why report on a video and not produce it?

MelissaCarn
MelissaCarn

MADNESS?! THIS IS DALMAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASCAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

ElleEmsey
ElleEmsey

The video you describe is horrific.  Unfortunately, it is a symptom - the result of two years of unremitting atrocities and war crimes committed by the Asad regime and its followers against the Syrian people.  The only way to stop this violence is to remove the criminal regime from power.  Stop focusing on the symptoms, and cure the cause.

YehudaElyada
YehudaElyada

Like any other commentator below, I'm not in a position to know who the perpetrators of these atrocities are. But I do know what happened in Syria 40 years ago, during and after the Yom Kippur war with Israel in the Golan Heights. The then President of Syria, Bashar Assad's father, Hafez, decorated Syrian army "heroes" who committed similar atrocities on Israeli prisoners of war - a fact that was proudly broadcasted on the Syrian government TV. It's long time overdue for the ruthless Arab "commanders" to internalize the understanding, that promoting inhumane behavior – eating the heart of an enemy or planting bombs in marketplace or spraying Sarin on civilian population – will unavoidably boomerang to hit the original party who breached the walls of civilization to glorify war crimes.

fedupwithlies
fedupwithlies

Here is a link to increasing aid to rebels. Whoever posted it made the ironic connection that the US wants to increase aid to FSA while considering cuts to Social Security.  By the way there is no such thing as "non-lethal aid" to an army. The pretty lady says "an important distinction".

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD7kT2hpYbo

All armies run on their bellies. Without food, water, transportation, fuel, and combat pay [I suppose this is what is meant by "non-lethal"] the FSA would cease to exist, peace would return to Syria.

Stop foreign  wars. Save America!

DrinkerOfTheRye
DrinkerOfTheRye

The Muslim world rightful protested the obscure video, “Innocence of Muslims.”, as repugnant and violating their sacred beliefs, these video, not so much.

ScallywagNYC
ScallywagNYC

The new video follows an earlier propaganda roost which saw the releasing of an image of a rebel soldier holding a government pilot’s decapitated head. It is believed like now, the releasing of said image was done with the intention to demoralize government initiative as the neither side is willing to to cede concessions. If anything the images are believed to have become part of the arsenal of warfare and retaliation as gridlock continues and the consumption of images is orchestrated to affect shock value.

http://scallywagandvagabond.com/2013/05/video-syrian-rebel-commander-cuts-out-and-eats-heart-of-government-soldier/

SelenaRodriguez
SelenaRodriguez

The 'rebels' are just more Islamic extremists. There is NO good guys in this, so let them fight it out. Why would on arm the Bloods against the Crips? They are both human trash.

Baian666
Baian666

The rebels fall in to two basic groups: foreign Islamic extremists who want to set up Sharia in Syria thus depriving all of many human rights and freedom of choice AND illiterate peasants from the Syrian countryside who wish to ransack prosperous urban centres suck as Aleppo and Damascus for material gain. Do not support these 'Rebels', it will come back to bite the West. Why does David Cameron insist on arming Al Qaeda to kill Christians, moderate Muslims and other minorities??

Baian666
Baian666

The rebels fall in to two basic groups: foreign Islamic extremists who want to set up Sharia in Syria thus depriving all of many human rights and freedom of choice AND illiterate peasants from the Syrian countryside who wish to ransack prosperous urban centres suck as Aleppo and Damascus for material gain. Do not support these 'Rebels', it will come back to bite the West. Why does David Cameron insist on arming Al Qaeda to kill Christians, moderate Muslims and other minorities??

fedupwithlies
fedupwithlies

Lets keep it simple.

Have there been more or less deaths in Syria since the "freedom movement"? It's just a repeat of history. US --- slavery, genocide of the native American Indian, Spanish War,  Mexican War, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Vietnam, Cambodia,  overthrow of democracy in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan. I am so sick of the lies.  billions spent to kill people around the world, and the horror and the death. And then to add insult to injury they say that the financial problem in the US is  Social security and teacher unions!

Where is the sanity. When will we wake up. Stop  foreign entanglements. Stop the wars. Stop supporting the ZIONIST [not our good and faithful jewfish friends]. save America!!

Who are the real enemies?  -------   Israel, Turkey, SAUDI ARABIA, and the banking elites.

God have mercy on every honest soul.

Sincerely,

FedUpWith the Lies

RenatoKlaric
RenatoKlaric

@GhaNemHomsiEverything you listed I can list back at you for happening in America every day (except mass massacres obviously which is just sensationalism like most of the news these days and false reporting because of the lack of facts).

If you're referring to the Houla massacre, who said that those were government soldiers? I repeat myself, why would the government go to a village that supports Assad to kill it's own civilians, there is no gain in that. Only plausible answer is that it was done by someone who wanted to instigate the war and make it seem like the government did it.

Please have a read of the following article, no need to read it all, this is just to get an opinion on how other people see and what information they collected outside of American area of influence: http://www.fair.org/blog/2012/06/14/was-houla-massacre-a-manufactured-atrocity/ 

That site includes quotes from BBC and other sources (with links) which put light on some matters for those who haven't been following this from the start to the end. So please read it and give your opinion.


In my opinion people who are able to do things like in this video (eating human organs) are nothing else than psychopaths and canibals (and terrorists).

Seraphson
Seraphson

@relcontraire Are you sick in the head? Do you have zero reminiscence of how helpful "aiding rebels" worked out in the past?  This has nothing to do with helping anyone. "Promoting democracy" is the new-age euphemism sold by government and bought up by fools such as yourself.

DaleRuff
DaleRuff

@relcontraire  the 80,000 killings are on both sides.  Al
Quada led rebels, who massacre civilians and blame on govt, or a govt dictatorship?  

According to you, the rebels have killed no one.

relcontraire
relcontraire

@JohnDahodi 

John, don't you think the great arab movement for democracy is a long term good?  Should we not be aiding this movement, rather than sitting on the sidelines?

relcontraire
relcontraire

@Afrozemerchant 

We can help moderation and democracy by choosing who we help.  Right now we are doing nothing, which is going to allow the islamists and extremists take control.  The Syrian people do not want that.  They are crying out for help from the democracies.

21stcentury
21stcentury

@piratefish 

Americans are tired of war and won't pay to stick their noses in someone else's civil war.


artoakheart
artoakheart

@JohnWHargisSr 

Because it's horrible & shocking, and they haven't established that it isn't a fraud yet? Did you read the article, or are you just looking for snuff porn?

phaedrious
phaedrious

@ElleEmsey The rebels who committed this cannibalistic atrocity, and his brigade in general, are composed of foreign elements; mostly Iraqi, Saudi, and Libyan jihadis. Some even have legitimate links to al Aqaeda. Gotta love where our tax dollars flow. :'(


keverich1
keverich1

@YehudaElyada  

The difference of course...Israeli soldiers deserved it.

 Cheers buddy, and don't try to drag us into your wars.

feezo
feezo

@Baian666 mannn where do you live, under a rock? Get your facts straight before you divulge in oral diarrhea

ellemenno
ellemenno

@fedupwithlies What a simple and just plain wrong analysis. The U.S. has been trying to undermine the revolution from the start. 

"In the US left, petty-bourgeois democratism sometimes results in opposition to some of the popular uprisings. The people and trends involved may take part in a number of struggles against racism, war, and poverty, yet they sneer at the struggle against dictatorship in such places as Syria and Libya. They regard themselves as the truest and most staunch anti-imperialists, but they are championing non-class anti-imperialism, a stand which is anti-imperialist only in pretense, because it is detached from the mass struggle in the countries of dictatorship. Non-class anti-imperialism is more concerned with how a democratic struggle might affect the momentary power balance between the big powers, or even the sales of some oil company, than whether the masses of a country are free or how to encourage the class struggle. The non-class anti-imperialists have more faith in benevolent despots (at least many of them seem to persuade themselves that these despots are benevolent, although the legions of victims of these regimes might dispute that) than in the people these despots rule over.

In a way, the non-class anti-imperialists are still fighting the Cold War. They didn't understand in the past that both US capitalism and Soviet state-capitalism were both enemies of the working class. And today, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the East European bloc, they don't recognize that not just the big powers of the West, but Russia, India, and China are imperialist countries, and that siding with one imperialism against another is a betrayal of the struggle against world imperialist system. So they side with any regime which is, or was historically, a bit closer to Eastern imperialism than Western imperialism.(3)"

21stcentury
21stcentury

@RenatoKlaric @GhaNemHomsi 

You must be quite delusional to compare what's going on in Syria to life in America, but then watching videos online all day can do that to you. 


Ed123
Ed123

What's the alternative?

If you see a crime your first instinct should be to stop it not to idly witness it and wonder if the victim is worthy of you help.

For evil to triumph... Good folks be quite

DaleRuff
DaleRuff

@relcontraire @JohnDahodi , the Sunni jihadists are not a movement for democracy, but they are doing the fighting.  The democrats were long ago pushed out.................by the terrorists.

Ed123
Ed123

Stop living under a rock. 50 years of Martial law and this is the only pathetic explanation you have?

Where are the good Samaritans?

Meanwhile the butcher of Damascus says to himself the people love me

21stcentury
21stcentury

@Ed123 

Surely you're not suggesting that only One Side is Evil. Best not to take part in someone else's civil war. Humanitarian aid is another matter as is the occasional interruption of intrusive foreign powers giving arms to the warmongers.


relcontraire
relcontraire

@xhidden99 This is a sad exchange.  YehudaElyada, don't stoop to the level of this sad person