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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Syrian Rebel Reportedly Defends Sinking His Teeth Into Dead Soldier’s Flesh on Camera

A man identified as Khaled al-Hamad, a rebel commander who uses the nom de guerre Abu Sakkar, appeared in a battlefield video posted on YouTube in April. A man identified as Khaled al-Hamad, a rebel commander who uses the nom de guerre Abu Sakkar, appeared in a battlefield video posted on YouTube in April.

A Syrian rebel commander who appeared to bite into the flesh of a government soldier’s corpse in a horrifying video clip posted on YouTube this week defended his actions in an interview with Time magazine on Tuesday. The rebel, Khaled al-Hamad, known by the nom de guerre Abu Sakkar, confirmed that he did sink his teeth into an internal organ he had laboriously carved out of the dead soldier’s chest as a colleague recorded the scene. “Our slogan,” he said, “is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”

As The Lede reported on Monday, the extremely graphic, distressing video has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times on YouTube since it was uploaded by supporters of President Bashar al-Assad who called it evidence that the war in Syria is a fight against sectarian extremists from the Sunni sect of Islam.

Speaking to Time’s Middle East bureau chief Aryn Baker by Skype, Abu Sakkar, a Sunni, said that the atrocity was prompted by video on the dead soldier’s phone, which showed the man torturing and sexually abusing three naked women before he was killed. Abu Sakkar also blamed the broader descent into brutality on fighters from Syria’s Alawite religious minority, to which the president belongs. “You are not seeing what we are seeing and you are not living what we are living,” he said. “Where are my brothers, my friends, the girls of my neighborhood who were raped?”

Referring to the pummeling of a rebel district in the city of Homs last year, Abu Sakkar told the magazine that Alawite troops “were the ones who killed our children in Baba Amr and raped our women.” He also held the same sect responsible for a recent massacre said to have been carried out by Assad supporters. “They were the ones who slaughtered the children and women in Bayda,” he said. “We didn’t start it, they started it.”

The rebel commander, who has also been accused by Human Rights Watch of taking part in the indiscriminate shelling of Shiite Muslim villages across the border in Lebanon, said that he had never before tried to eat the liver of a dead enemy soldier. (According to surgeon who screened the video for Time magazine, the organ was not the dead man’s liver but part of his lung.)

Abu Sakkar seemed to confirm that the point of the video was to instill terror in enemy fighters by claiming to have “another video clip that I will send to them. In the clip I am sawing another Shabiha,” using the Syrian Arabic word for a member of a pro-Assad militia notorious for its brutality. “Hopefully we will slaughter all of them,” he added.

The commander said he has been fighting near the border with Lebanon around the Syrian town of Qusayr, a focal point for clashes between insurgent Sunni fighters and Shiite militants loyal to Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant organization. The multi-confessional area is of strategic importance, since it links the capital, Damascus, with routes to Lebanon used by the rebels as well as government strongholds along the coast.

Writing about the atrocity for Foreign Policy on Tuesday, Peter Bouckaert, the emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, observed

Abu Sakkar is just one man, and there are many other armed fighters in Syria who reject such sectarian actions and would be horrified by the mutilation and desecration of a corpse â€" let alone an act of cannibalism. But he is a commander in a decisive battle in Syria â€" hardly a marginal figure.

To prevent further atrocities, Mr. Bouckaert argued that the United Nations Security Council should give the International Criminal Court jurisdiction to indict Syrians for war crimes:

The work of the I.C.C. will be only one piece of the larger accountability effort needed in the wake of this conflict â€" national trials, documentation, truth telling, reparations, and vetting will also be necessary â€" but it is a crucial step, given the pervasive climate of impunity currently plaguing Syria.