Syria rebel 'heart eater' says ready to face trial if Assad does

BEIRUT Fri May 17, 2013 8:34am EDT

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian rebel commander who rose to international notoriety for footage of him cutting out and eating the organ of a slain soldier said he was willing to face trial for his actions if President Bashar al-Assad was also sent to court.

A video released on Friday showed the commander in Syria's central Homs province, known as Abu Sakkar, praying in a field and taking questions from a cameraman.

"I am ready to be held accountable for my actions, on condition that Bashar and his shabbiha (militias) are tried for crimes they committed against our women and children," he said.

"I send this message to the world: if the bloodshed in Syria does not stop, every Syrian will become Abu Sakkar."

A video of Abu Sakkar, a founder of the well known Farouq Battalion in Homs, went viral earlier this week. It showed him cutting into the torso of a dead soldier and taking a bite out of one of his organs.

The video caused outrage among both supporters of Assad and opposition figures. But many in the opposition have since expressed anger that the video has sparked a greater outcry than similarly horrific videos of rebels and activists being tortured to death.

Asked by the unseen interviewer why he mutilated the soldier's body, Abu Sakkar said the man's phone contained video clips of him raping women, burning bodies and cutting off the limbs of captives.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a pro-opposition group which has documented and published dozens of execution and torture tapes from both sides, said it was frustrated by what it said was a disproportionate response.

"The Observatory condemns such acts no matter the perpetrator and has regularly released videos like Abu Sakkar's or executions by the (al Qaeda linked) Nusra Front," Rami Abdelrahman, the group's head, said by telephone.

"But we have also sent dozens of videos of summary killings, of men being tortured to death, of children's bodies burned or shot in the head. The international community seems to ignore the inhumane treatment of Syrian opposition (activists) and children but cries injustice over the abuse of the corpse of an Assad soldier."

PSYCHOLOGICAL WARFARE

The uprising against four decades of Assad family rule began as peaceful protests but turned into a bloody insurgency after a fierce crackdown by state forces and pro-Assad militias.

Videos of torture and execution have become increasingly common tools of psychological warfare and intimidation on both sides of a conflict that has killed more than 94,000 people, according to the Observatory.

The United Nations says at least 80,000 have died.

The violence has become increasingly sectarian. Majority Sunni Muslims have led the revolt while minorities, particularly Assad's Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, have largely backed the president.

Human Rights Watch monitors said that in the unedited version of Abu Sakkar's mutilation film, the commander tells his men to "slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them", before biting into the soldier's heart.

Abu Sakkar has been seen in previous videos firing rockets at Lebanese Shi'ite villages on the border and posing with the body of a soldier purportedly from the Lebanese Shi'ite militant Hezbollah group, which is helping Assad's forces.

Reuters could not independently verify the videos or rebel reports, as access to the country for independent media is restricted by the government and security constraints.

(Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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