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I met the followers of Syrian rebel commander Abu Sakkar who was filmed cutting out government soldier's heart and eating it

An edited screen shot from the video
An edited screen shot from the video
Syrian soldiers prepare an anti-aircraft gun near field of wheat close to a radar position in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa valley (AP)
A Free Syrian Army fighter holds his weapon as he prepares himself for advance, close to a military base, near Azaz (AP)
This citizen journalism image shows members of the free Syrian Army hiding behind scrap metal during an attack against Syrian government forces (AP Photo)
A Free Syrian Army fighter aims his weapon at government forces during clashes in Aleppo (AP)
A Syrian soldier aims fire at rebels in Damscus (AP)
Syrian rebels have declared the airport in Damascus a legitimate target (AP)
Rebel fighters in Syria run for cover through smoke from an explosion (AP)
Syrian refugees in a border camp (AP)
Syrian rebles watch a missile strike near Aleppo (AP)
Free Syrian Army members fighting in the city of Aleppo (AP)
Syrian rebels on the attack in Aleppo (AP)
Trucks pass a mountain of garbage in Aleppo, where there has been heavy fighting and shelling between the Syrian Government and rebels (AP)
The damage caused by an explosion at the Syrian interior ministry in Damascus (AP)
Free Syrian Army fighter puts up a FSA flag after heavy clashes at a military academy besieged by the rebels in Tal Sheer (AP)
A Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover in Azaz (AP)
Free Syrian Army fighters walk amid the ruins of a village (AP)
Syrian rebels gather around a fire in Aleppo (AP)
Rebels and troops loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad have fought at two air bases in northern Syria (AP)
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrians inspecting a damaged car at the scene of a car bomb exploded in the capital's western neighborhood of Mazzeh, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April. 29, 2013
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrians inspecting a damaged car at the scene of a car bomb exploded in the capital's western neighborhood of Mazzeh, in Damascus, Syria, Monday, April. 29, 2013
A video image shows an explosion during heavy fighting between rebels and Syrian government forces in the Barzeh district of Damascus (AP)
An Assad supporter holds up a picture of the president (AP)
A Syrian woman sits on the ruins of her house following an air strike in Aleppo (AP)
Muddy boots belonging to Syrian refugees are seen at the entrance of a tent in a refugee camp near Azaz, north of Aleppo province, Syria (AP)
A woman walks through the mud in a refugee camp in Syria (AP)
A Syrian villager, Abu Ibrahim, 73, writes the name of his granddaughter on her grave after she was killed in an airstrike by the government (AP)
Flames and smoke rising from burned cars after a huge explosion that shook central Damascus (AP/SANA)
A Syrian woman stands amid the ruins of her house
The UN's peace envoy to Syria has warned there is 'no end in sight' to the civil war (AP)
Smoke rises from burned cars after a huge explosion shook Sabaa Bahrat Square in Damascus, Syria (AP/SANA)

BY KIM SENGUPTA

Abu Sakkar, the man who has introduced cannibalism into the Syrian civil war, was, until quite recently, seen as someone in the mainstream of the revolutionaries trying to overthrow Basher al-Assad; something of a hero even for his part in the defence of Baba Amr when the district in Homs came under onslaught from regime forces.

Indeed his khatiba, or brigade, Omar Al-Farouq, had won praise for taking a stand against the Islamist extremists in rebel ranks who are becoming more of a worry to Western governments than the Damascus regime. They had arrested and executed a commander, Mohammed al-Absi, leader of a group of foreign jihadists, who was suspected over the kidnapping of a British photographer and was affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra, an organization since prescribed as a terrorist organization by the Obama administration.

 

I had spent some time with members of Al-Farouq in Syria. What was clear was that they were not among the more wild eyes, calling for the a medieval caliphate or prepared to pledge allegiance to al-Qa'ida, as alp-Nusra has done. On a number of occasions they talked earnestly at length about the problems the country will face post-Assad and how difficult it would be to repair the fractures between warring communities.

 

What was also clear was that they, like most other khatibas on the ground, have little regard for the Free Syrian Army, the supposed umbrella group for rebels. The declaration of its 'Supreme Military Council', after the widespread opprobrium for the opposition over the cannibal footage, that they will Abu Sakkar “dead or alive” is highly unlikely to come to anything.

 

Khalid al-Hamad (Abu Sakkar is his nom de guerre) was not always a bloodthirsty man of violence. People in Baba Amr remember him taking part in marches in the very early days of protests which declaimed sectarianism among the opposition and urged the need for an united front to achieve the reforms being denied by the regime.

 

The question remains what turned al-Hammad into Abu Sakkar, the man who proudly  appears in a video mutilating a corpse, shouting “I swear to God we will eat your hearts and your livers, you soldiers of Bashar the dog ….” and then sink his teeth into a body part in his hand?  What made someone who had once cautioned against blaming the Alawites - the minority community from which the ruling elite are drawn - for the regime's actions into their virulent hater? His address to camera ends “We will eat your heart and livers! Oh my heroes of Baba Amr, you slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them!”

 

In his public pronouncements since the video appeared Abu Sakkar, while correcting early reports that he ate a piece of heart, pointing out it was lungs, also claimed that the dead soldier's cellphone contained a film clip “ of a woman and her two daughters fully naked and he was humiliating them and sticking a stick here and there…. You are not seeing what we are seeing and you are not living what we are living. Where are my brothers, my friends, the girls of my neighbourhood who were raped? May God bless them all.”

 

Haitham Mohammed Nassr, a former al-Farouq fighter, who is currently in Turkey, acknowledged that the video footage was extremely damaging to the cause of the opposition, but insisted it should be put in the context of the crimes being committed by the Shabiha, the Alawite pro-regime militia.

 

There have been reports that members of Abu Sakkar's own family were raped by regime forces. “I do not know any family who has not suffered. We do not want to add to the dishonor of our women by publicizing this. He (Abu Sakkar) should not have done what he did, doing that was haram (wrong in religion) and unwise. But it was a message to the Shabiha. They film young men and women being tortured to try and frighten the people and this was meant as a warning to them.”

 

There is little doubt that brutality with which the regime responded to peaceful protests in Baba Amr and elsewhere in Syria was the catalyst for the armed uprising which followed. But surely that does not explain such levels of viciousness from both sides? “Everyone has been changed by this war; when you are there, when all you are seeing are fires, bombs, bodies it is very difficult to remain normal” said Mr Nassr. “We all want Basher to go, the longer this goes on the more violent people become, it will be difficult to have a normal society after all this, whatever happens.”

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Syrian rebel commander Abu Sakkar filmed cutting out government soldier's heart and eating it

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