Syria’s rebels have been widely condemned after a video emerged showing the execution of four leaders of a pro-regime militia.
The footage shows a crowd of insurgents wielding Kalashnikov rifles gathered outside a building as four men are hustled down the steps.
They look confused, but also resigned about what is about to happen. One, who appears to be their leader, has blood pouring from a head wound. He is wearing nothing but black underpants.
Amid chants of “Allahu Akbar” (God is greatest), the four men disappear behind the crush of onlookers. The sound of automatic gunfire is unmistakable, and by the time focus is restored, four corpses lie in a heap.
The dead were members of the Berri clan based in the Syrian city of Aleppo which is now the focus of the fighting. They formed their own militia to fight for President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, allegedly as part of the wider Shabiha or “Ghost” organisation accused of indiscriminate killings. They were captured when rebels overran their headquarters and a nearby police station in the suburb of Al-Neirab on Tuesday.
“The Berris used to be just criminals, dealing drugs,” said Louay al-Mokdad, a rebel spokesman. “Then they were let out of prison to join the Shabiha.”
He spoke after their capture, but before their killing became known. The rebels thought they had secured a deal under which the Berri family would stay neutral in the battle for Aleppo. But members of the clan’s militia are accused of ambushing the insurgents and killing as many as 15 men yesterday morning.
Since the uprising turned into civil war early this year, there have been repeated and verified accounts of the rebels executing prisoner. Some of those fighting Mr Assad’s regime now boast openly of these killings.
Gennady Gatilov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, accused the West of turning a blind eye to rebel atrocities.
“The harsh massacre confirms human rights violations are taking place on both sides,” he said. “It would be useful if Western politicians looked at the situation in Syria from this angle too. Everybody must stop violence.”
The video was condemned by Rami Abdulrahman, spokesman of the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, who normally documents the regime’s killings and massacres. “Under no law – international law or Islamic law – should anyone execute a prisoner,” he said. “This is criminal. This is revenge.”
Another video showed rebels desecrating the bodies of policemen, firing bullets into the corpses.
These actions could lead to revenge attacks. According to postings by both pro- and anti-regime activists on Twitter, surviving members of the Berri clan and associated families in Aleppo have pledged to retaliate by taking up arms against the rebel Free Syrian Army. If true, this could yet tip the balance of the battle for Aleppo.