BEIRUT: New footage posted on the Internet appears to have been filmed by a Syrian rebel who points the camera along the barrel of his gun as he executes 10 unarmed prisoners.
The grisly video, posted on YouTube Thursday, shows 10 men wearing T-shirts and camouflage trousers lying face down next to a building and a lookout tower. Even before the shooting, two of the men are not moving and one has blood coming from his torso.
“I swear to God that we are peaceful,” begs one of the men to the camera, which is being held by the gunman. Cowering, the man gets up to plead with rebels. As he approaches a rebel off-screen, a shot is heard and he returns holding his bloodied arm.
“We swear to God we are Sunni,” another says while someone off camera chants “execution, execution!”
Another of the victims repeats that the men are “Sunni from Deraa” before the cameraman points the camera along the barrel of his Kalashnikov assault rifle and shoots the men.
“God is great. Jabhat al-Nusra,” he says, referring to the secretive Jabhat al-Nusra – Arabic for “the Support Front” – an Islamist rebel unit with links to Al-Qaeda that has claimed responsibility for several suicide bomb attacks around the country.
The gunman gets on the back of a pickup truck and the camera pans to show the man who had been shot in the arm still moving. More shots are fired and his body spasms.
The authenticity of the footage could not be independently verified. Comments accompanying the video said it was filmed in Ras al-Ain, a town on the border with Turkey where pitched battles have raged in recent weeks.
Syria’s uprising started with peaceful protests which were harshly suppressed by troops and has evolved into a civil war in which foreign jihadi fighters have joined ranks with defecting soldiers and armed civilians.
Separately Friday, a regional military commander for Al-Nusra in the northern Hasaka region told the Associated Press his men do not fear death and they are determined to form an Islamic state.
“Thanks to our strong faith we do not fear death, because we think that if you are killed at the hands of this regime, then we will be martyrs and we will go to paradise,” Sheikh Abu Ahmad said.
“We want Shariah [Islamic law] to be applied because it’s the right path for all humanity,” he added. “All these constitutional laws couldn’t realize the people’s happiness.”
It’s difficult to gauge how much power Jabhat al-Nusra has in the uprising. Although Abu Ahmad said only a tiny fraction of the group’s fighters are foreign, others have estimated that its fighters come from Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, the Balkans and elsewhere. Many are veterans of previous wars who came to Syria for what they consider a new “jihad,” or holy war, against Assad.
The fear of Islamic extremism resonates deeply among Syria’s many ethnic and religious minorities.
The Assad dynasty has long tried to promote a secular identity in Syria, largely because it has relied heavily on its own Alawite base in the military and security forces in an overwhelmingly Sunni country.
Islamist rebel groups in Aleppo province, including the two largest, Liwa al-Tawhid and Al-Nusra Front, have rejected the National Coalition of opposition forces acting to unify Free Syrian Army rebels in return for greater Western support. The rise in Islamist sentiment has worried Western powers mulling arming the rebel opposition.
In Aleppo’s eastern district of Shaar, where Islamist fighters have a strong presence, demonstrators booed the rebel Free Syrian Army Friday in videos posted on the Internet by activists.
“The Free [Syrian] Army are thieves, we want an Islamic army,” the demonstrators chanted angrily as they marched through the streets.