It sounded like the most far-fetched propaganda claim – a Syrian rebel commander who cut out the heart of a fallen enemy soldier, and ate it before a cheering crowd of his men.
The story turned out to be true in its most important aspect – a ritual demonstration of cannibalism – though when I met the commander, Abu Sakkar, in Syria last week, he seemed hazy on the details.
“I really don’t remember,” he says, when I asked if it was the man’s heart, as reported at the time, or liver, or a piece of lung, as a doctor who saw the video said. He goes on: “I didn’t bite into it. I just held it for show.”
The video says otherwise. It is one of the most gruesome to emerge from Syria’s civil war. In it, Abu Sakkar stands over an enemy corpse, slicing into the flesh.
“It looks like you’re carving him a Valentine’s heart,” says one of his men, raucously. Abu Sakkar picks up a bloody handful of something and declares: “We will eat your hearts and your livers you soldiers of Bashar the dog.”
Then he brings his hand up to his mouth and his lips close around whatever he is holding. At the time the video was released, in May, we rang him and he confirmed to us that he had indeed taken a ritual bite (of a piece of lung, he said).
Now, meeting him face-to-face, he seems a bit more circumspect, though his anger builds when I ask why he carried out this depraved act.
“I didn’t want to do this. I had to,” he tells me. “We have to terrify the enemy, humiliate them, just as they do to us. Now, they won’t dare be wherever Abu Sakkar is.”
Along the way, he lost another brother, many relatives, and countless of his men. His parents were arrested and he says the police rang him so he could hear them being beaten.
“Put yourself in my shoes,” he says. “They took your father and mother and insulted them. They slaughtered your brothers, they murdered your uncle and aunt. All this happened to me. They slaughtered my neighbours.”
He goes on to talk about the man whose flesh he held in his hands: “This guy had videos on his mobile. It showed him raping a mother and her two daughters. He stripped them while they begged him to stop in the name of God. Finally he slaughtered them with a knife… What would you have done?
“If we don’t get help, a no-fly zone, heavy weapons, we will do worse – you’ve seen nothing yet”
Watch 1st Video >>Interview with syrian rebel Leader
Watch 2nd Video >>Syrian rebel explains his actions
Source: BBC News