Brits ‘Involved In Syria Executions And Torture’
Footage obtained by Sky News has implicated British citizens as being involved in acts of torture in Syria.Videos and images posted on social networks by fighters who have travelled to the country from the UK suggest they may have taken part in beatings and even executions.
The revelations come as the second round of Syria peace talks begin in Geneva.
The material was uploaded onto the accounts of two men from London, thought to be fighting in Islamist rebel groups that have some links to Jahbat al Nusra.
Jahbat al Nusra is the only jihadi outfit operating on the ground in Syria that is explicitly endorsed by al Qaeda’s global leader.
One video, apparently taken on a mobile phone, was posted to Facebook on January 30 this year .
It shows a prisoner, apparently from the Free Syrian Army, being beaten for insulting Allah.
The FSA prisoner is heard shouting his innocence as he is bound to a car tyre and beaten across the legs with what appears to be a metal baton.
As he writhes around on the floor, one of the men stamps on his head.
Repeatedly he cries in Syrian Arabic dialect that he is not a “kuffar”, a non-believer, and that he is a “mujahid” – a Muslim fighter like them.
As the beating continues he begs them not to kill him.
Towards the end of the video, the baton breaks in half, and is held up to the camera by one of the captors.
The Facebook video post is accompanied by a chilling description by the British citizen who uploaded it.
“Some FSA are starting to feel they run things! This FSA scum never thought we wud [sic] jump out at them and pick them up after saying some abusive words to our brothers…”
“Two then got ahead of themselves and swore at Allah, at this point there was no stopping us LOL although we where [sic] told to jus leave them.”
The post then goes on to say the group’s “Amir”, or leader, told them to “take them all and show them a lesson!”.
The social media account has been verified as belonging to a British citizen by experts from the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) at King’s College London, a leading research unit on foreign fighters in Syria.
The account username is a pseudonym, and as yet there is little detail on the man’s true identity, but ICSR researchers have been able to establish he has travelled from London and is currently in rebel-held areas in northwestern Syria.
The ICSR monitors hundreds of social media accounts in a large-scale project to track the latest developments in the Syrian conflict.
It estimates that amongst the hundreds of foreign fighters on the ground right now in Syria, at least 40 are from Britain.
Sky News has withheld the user names of the social media accounts in order to protect their families in the UK from any possible backlash.
Shiraz Maher, a senior research fellow from King’s College, said the video marked a worrying development in the Syrian conflict.
“The footage is quite remarkable, it shows the torture of an individual who is himself a Syrian rebel. So this is rebel-on-rebel violence, which is something we’ve been hearing quite a bit about, but we’re seeing the involvement, allegedly at least, of British citizens for the first time.”
Other British fighters, thought to be friends with the man who posted the video, also use social media to send updates from Syria.
One man, also believed to be from London, recently tweeted a photograph showing three blindfolded and handcuffed men.
“Got these criminals today. Insha’Allah they will be killed tomorrow. can’t wait for that feeling when you just killed someone”, he wrote.
In the days following he then posted a photograph of a hand covered in blood on Facebook – the caption reads simply “My first time!”.
That photograph has since been used as a propaganda image on jihadi social media pages, with the caption “in the name of Allah”.
Researchers from the ICSR have since made contact with this man, and asked him questions about these posts.
He claims the men shown in the Twitter photo he posted were not killed, but sent for further interrogation.
When asked about the torture video posted by his friend, he claimed it was nothing to do with British citizens, and that torture was against Islamic law.
“They stress that they are in Syria purely for humanitarian reasons and that they’ve gone there to help the Syrian people overthrow the tyranny of the Assad regime. In that context, they do admit to fighting, but they don’t really understand a lot of the concern or fear back home,” said Mr Maher, who conducted the communications.
It is an argument that resembles one made by other British fighters in Syria when they were interviewed by Sky News in December.
Sky’s Chief Correspondent Stuart Ramsay obtained a series of interviews with an exclusively British fighting unit, who claimed they were committed to the overthrow of President Bashar al Assad and the establishment of an Islamic state, but said they had no connection to al Qaeda.
However, the recent posts on social media accounts seen by Sky News suggest that despite their claims, some British citizens have indeed been involved in, or witness to, serious acts of violence.
Last week a British citizen was said to have carried out a suicide attack in Aleppo, a development seen as deeply worrying by UK authorities.
The Home Office has already instigated the use of royal prerogative powers, such as stripping dual nationals of citizenship, for people returning to the UK after fighting in Syria.
But many of those contacted by the ICSR have said they have no intention of coming home, and that they are intent on achieving what they perceive as martyrdom in a religious war.