A disturbing video which shows a Syrian rebel commander cutting the heart out of a soldier and biting into it shows that the country’s civil war has rapidly descended into sectarian violence and revenge killings, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
According to the New York-based organization, the video shows the founder of the rebel Farouq Brigade Abu Sakkar cutting into the torso of a dead soldier. The footage has sparked outrage among both the opposition and supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
While the man who is allegedly Sakkar is cutting open the soldier’s liver, the person filming says, “God Bless you, Abu Sakkar, you look like you are drawing [carving] a heart of love on him.”
After he cuts out the corpse’s liver and heart, he is filmed holding the organs in his hands and speaks into the camera: “I swear to God we will eat your hearts and your livers, you soldiers of Bashar the dog.” Off-screen cheers shouting “Allahu akbar (God is great)” can be heard in the background.
RT presents three screenshots of the video, but refrains from actually publishing it for obvious reasons.
At the end of the video – the content of which cannot be independently verified – the man is filmed putting the corpse’s heart into his mouth, as if taking a bite out of it.
Human Rights Watch emergencies director Peter Bouckaert says that he had seen an original, unedited copy of the video and that Sakkar’s identity had been confirmed by rebel sources in Homs. He said that Sakkar had been seen in other videos wearing the same black jacket which he is wearing in the last video clip, and with the same rings on his fingers.
Bouchaert said that in the edited version of the film, Sakkar tells his men to “slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them,” before biting into the heart.
“The mutilation of the bodies of enemies is a war crime. But the even more serious issue is the very rapid descent into sectarian rhetoric and violence,” Bouckaert said.
It’s not the first time Sakkar has made an appearance in violent videos. Previous footage showed him firing rockets at Lebanese Shia villages on the Syrian border and posing with the body of a soldier purportedly from the Lebanese Shia militant Hezbollah group, which is helping Assad’s forces.
The Syrian uprising against Assad is led by the majority Sunni Muslims. Assad, whose family has ruled for over 40 years, draws most of his support from his own Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam.
The Syrian conflict, which began in March 2011, has resulted in the deaths of over 70,000 people, according to UN estimates.