Friday, 15 November 2013

Investigating Claims Of Syrian Opposition Members Executing Prisoners

The following video, titled "FSA Terrorists Massacre Imprisoned Syrian Army Soldiers in Quneitra, Golan Heights (18+)", was posted on the YouTube channel Eretz Zen War Vids, claiming to show evidence that Syrian opposition groups executed prisoners.  The video description states
This two-part video shows strong evidence that militants from the "Free Syrian Army" (FSA) massacred Syrian Army soldiers from the Fourth Platoon of Brigade 61 in Harak town of Quneitra province, in Syria's southern Golan Heights area. The FSA terrorists also attacked a UN outpost in that area before getting to the Syrian Army location.
The participating FSA brigades include Grandsons of the Prophet Brigades, Blessing of the Compassionate Brigade, Martyr Salah al-Jolani Brigade, Freedom Martyrs Brigade, and Sibteen Brigade.
Warning: Graphic content (not for shock, 18+, not for faint-hearted, viewer discretion advised, aimed only at documenting crimes by FSA terrorists in Syria)
In this post I hope to take a closer look at this video, but also highlight some of the ways in which the person producing this video could have helped anyone trying to investigate the claims made in the video, for example news organisations who might have wanted to cover it.

When I see a video like this that's been edited, the first thing I want to find it the original source videos, to confirm the uploaded date, original description, and other details.  Whenever I upload copies of videos onto my YouTube channel, I include details from the original video, including a link to the original video (for example here), so even if the video is deleted the original information that was attached to the video is preserved.  In the case of the above video, that information hasn't been included, so that means I have to go find it myself.  That's okay for someone like me who spends all day looking at videos from Syria, but you can't expect a journalist to do that, or even know how to do it effectively, so it's best to make life easy for them.

Fortunately, the person creating the above video took screenshots of the channels they took the videos from, so after asking for help to get the names typed out in Arabic, I put them into YouTube search.  Again, this is a step that could have been skipped if those names and links were just put into the YouTube description.

That came up with two YouTube channels where I found the two videos.  It's always best to find the original channels these videos were posted on, as that's where you'll find all the original information, and if the video has been posted elsewhere by the groups involved (Facebook for example) then you can just paste the video URL into Google, and see where it appears.

The first video, showing the men still alive, was posted on a channel that translates to News Center Free Syria.  Frequently, the channels used to post original videos are named after local areas or opposition groups, so that's the first clue it might not be the original channel the video was uploaded to.  If you then take a look at the list of videos on the channel, you'll also note there's whole variety of different logos on the videos, for example:

This is a pretty strong indication this isn't a channel that posts original videos, so now we need to find the original channel.  Some channels that repost videos use the exact same title as the original video, so that's one place to start, and in the case of this video it's also worth searching for just the name of the town the video was filmed in.  For those of us who don't speak Arabic that means copying the title of the video into Google Translate, then figuring out which word is the name of the town (which in this case translates to "mobility"), then hovering over the English word with the mouse cursor, which highlights the word in the original Arabic text.  Copy and paste that into YouTube search, and away you go.

This will bring up a number of videos, so then it's a case of browsing through the video, looking for ones with matching previews, and seeing which was posted first.  In the case of this video, the first appearance appears to be on the YouTube channel Mhmad Samoor.  Judging from the video descriptions, this channel is posting videos for the local media centre, and generally all media centres have a Facebook page.  So, more copying of Arabic text into Google Translate, and this time we want the name of the media centre.  Paste that into Google, and we get results for Facebook pages with that name.  The results in this case includes this page and this page, both long established pages posting news from the area the video was reportedly filmed in, and both pages features posts made on November 11th featuring the video, (here and here).  So for the first video, we've established the video has been posted on a YouTube channel used by local media centres, the videos have been shared on the Facebook pages of those groups, and what that does is help build the evidence that these videos are authentic.  It seems like a lot of work, but when I'm writing about videos that show significant events, such as war crimes, I'm thinking about getting as much evidence as possible they are authentic.

The second video, showing the corpses of the men in the first video, was taken from the YouTube channel of Liwa Tabaruk ar-Rahman.  They rather handily link their Facebook page in some of the descriptions of their YouTube videos.  Although they don't link the video of the dead men on their Facebook page, they do link other videos from that channel on the Facebook page, dated before and after the video of the dead men.  This gives a great deal of weight to this video being genuine.

At this point we've established the videos are almost certainly genuine, so the question is now, do they match?

The most obvious thing to check is the clothes the men are wearing

1 - Green shirt, black trousers, bare feet.
2 - Black jacket, camouflage trousers, black shoes/socks.
3 - Greenish stripped shirt, blue jeans, blue socks/shoes with white stripes.

4 - Camouflage jacket, blue jeans, bare feet.
5 - Black jacket with a blue trim, camouflage trousers, black shoes/socks.
6 - Camouflage jacket, blue jeans, bare feet.

Of course, clothes can be moved and changed, especially shoes or socks being removed, or jackets being removed or opened, so that should be kept in mind.  Unfortunately in the video of the bodies isn't very good quality, but there's some matches that seem pretty clear

This is clearly a strong match for man number three, same shirt, same blue jeans, and wearing some sort of footwear.  Two of the dead men match the description of two men in the video that wore black jackets, camouflage trousers, and black shoes/socks

However, in the video showing the men alive, one man clearly has no facial hair like the man in the bottom picture

It's also worth noting that one man appears to be absent from this, number 1 in the first video, wearing a green shirt, black trousers, and no footwear.

The video quality isn't great, but among the men there's at least some matches of clothing, but there's also something else that matches in the two videos, pointing towards this being the same incident

In the background of both videos we can clearly see the same debris, in particular two distinct yellow containers, as well as other debris.

It should always be kept in mind during these types of investigations that videos of the same incident may have been posted elsewhere, so it's worth searching for video uploaded using other keywords, such as other names used to describe the location, or names of other opposition groups that were operating in that area at the same time.  In the case of this incident, there was in fact another group operating in the area who filmed the same group of bodies, but much more clearly

The video's narrator doesn't provide too much additional information
Allah Akbar, dead bodies from Assad's dogs inside 4th platoon, aka Khaldoun platoon, after it was liberated by Gurabaa’a Horan Liwa, that belongs to Ahfad al Rassoul (Grandsons of the prophet) group.
But it does give a much clearer view of the dead men, and we can see, as with the video showing the living men, there's two men with camouflage jackets, blue jeans, bare feet.

So it seems certain at least one of the men in the video showing them alive was killed, and also very likely four more of the men were also killed, with the sixth man absent from the videos showing the dead men.

It seems from these videos that these men were killed after they were captured, despite the claims in the Liwa Tabaruk ar-Rahman video they were killed in an ambush.  As there were a number of groups involved in this operation it's unclear which specific group was responsible, but it seems highly unlikely it would have been anyone but one of those opposition groups.

Many thanks to all the people who contributed to this post, including everyone at Storyful's Open Newsroom.  On going discussion of these videos can be found here.

You can also find France 24 Arabic's report on these videos here.

You can contact the author on Twitter @brown_moses or by email at


  1. How come you never did this type of investigation when it involved larger numbers of murdered prisoners in the same Golan Region?

    Was it because a central figure in those murders was "Prominent Daraa Based Activist Nasser Abu Jamal"? Perhaps an internet acquaintance of yours?

    1. No, you're just making up little fantasies now, Charles.

    2. Well why didn't you do a piece on the Golan murders like you did this one?

      You felt it necessary to report on a man who was intimately involved in one of the worst type of massacres of prisoners, and then linked to yet another report describing his every activity in glowing termes - except for his involvement in murder.

    3. I just wasn't aware of it at the time. It might surprise you, but I don't know about every single thing occurring in Syria, but as this post demonstrates, if people send me information related to opposition war crimes I'll look into them, so maybe that's something for you to consider in the future.

      Regarding the other post, I was just highlighting he was dead, and posting the reports confirming it. Seems that post has acted like a rorschach test for some people.

    4. Out of interest, how much direct contact do you actually think I have with activists on the ground?

    5. wooow,,,,

      you are really putting yourself in the side who want to kill the other side!!!

      you are not in the middle at all BM!!

      are you blame man?? one time you say you cant watch the video i gave you because as u said ( not working in UK )!!!!

      and now you looks like you want to tell your followers that like this videos Have no credibility and its Difficult to confirm ( assuming the FSA are angels!!! )

      a hundreds of videos all over the internet showing the FSA killing Prisoners after capturing them!! ,

      here is just some videos you can take your time to wright few pages investigating them!!

      the last four links for a complete family the killed ( berri family ) in aleppo and you can follow 10th of videos for the same crime

      this just a fast search and i can keep posting same of those for hours,

      it is a dirty war over there, both sides are doing crimes and killing each other it is not a wise act that you try to be supporting one side and trying to hide the crimes of the other side, you killing your self by trying to prove any small crime for one side and make it very complicate to prove the clear crimes for the other side!!!

      in war time only the bad ppl who try to get money or to be famous!!!

      you can fill your empty times with more important things than trying to be part of a dirty war!!

    6. He is aware of the war crimes they commit but he was just writing a piece on a specific inncodent, and he did a good unbiased job in my opinion.

    7. I've written about videos show the opposition committing potential war crimes repeatedly, including ISIS executing men in Raqqa, Zaino Barro being executed back in July 2012, and 20 government soldiers being executed at a road side in Aleppo, plus other examples over the past years. In fact, I've probably written more articles about opposition groups executing and torturing people than I have about government forces doing the same.

    8. The thing everybody has missed is how the horror of YouTube is the Geneva convention for Syria. That's what the residents of Aleppo want the west to talk about.

      You helped sell the myth of moderate insurgent ( which was always a stretch) and so your blog was detrimental to the cause of human rights. How much detective work was needed to work out the FSA were separating Christian and Alawite captives from others?

      You spent 99 percent of time on the schoolboy porn aspects of weapons and that's why tabloid journalists like you, because you are like them, very little analysis, no experience of the country, or religions.

      You are apparently now changing the focus of your blog because we are getting closer to the mass grave cycle. When the FSA get to be the nasty Serbs, and the Alawites get to be the victimized Bosnians.

      With the major actor, Islamic Front, (the real Syrian revolution) being manifestly and officially toxic to Alawites, it can only get worse.

      Executions of prisoners for video entertainment was and is almost exclusively an insurgent thing and with that, the nature of their standard day to day activities are exemplified.


      That's what the FSA were typically doing from the beginning in Homs, Aleppo and elsewhere.

    9. June 15th 2012 - Alleged Extrajudicial Punishments By The FSA
      July 31st 2012 - Aleppo - Zaino Berri, Shabiha Leader, Captured And Executed
      September 5th 2012 - Alleged Shabiha Tried And Executed In Aleppo
      September 10th 2012 - Alleged Mass Execution By The FSA And Al-Nusra Front In Aleppo (Which made it to the New York Times -
      "One of the videos, first publicized on Monday on the Brown Moses blog, which curates and analyzes video evidence from Syria, showed at least 20 corpses lying in a crooked row on a bloodstained street curb. The victims wore fatigues but no shoes. Several appeared to have been shot in the head."

      December 31st 2012 - Video Appears To Show A Syrian Army Soldier Executed By Ahfad al-Rasul Brigade For Heresy
      May 14th 2013 - The Islamic State Of Iraq And Al-Sham Executes Three Men In Raqqa In Retaliation For The Banias Massacre
      June 10th 2013 - English Transcripts Of Witnesses Describing The Execution Of A 14-Year-Old For Blasphemy In Aleppo

      So maybe do some research? I've found that to be very productive personally.

  2. Very sound and impressive methodology. This is how to do it if you want to make a difference - and its no point spending a lot of time on this conflict unless our actions can make a difference. BMs approach has less to do with supporting one of the parties - it's got a lot to do with reinventing documentation of war crimes. I've followed Eretz Zen (who added the material in one of his videos) for quite a while, he's a good source in many ways - but is completely overlooked by MSM and most of the online community. He's basically preaching to the converted. If you want to do simple propaganda, that's fine - but if you want to help broaden the picture and maybe bring some justice in the end, you need a different approach. I really hope he takes BMs criticism to heart and uses it constructively to build his reputation. His material is well worth it, as BM has made an excellent demonstration of.

  3. So does the US government actually pay you to give them justification for interventionist war crimes, or are you simply destroying your wife's respect for you as a man for free?

    1. You mean when I do lengthy posts detailing how elements of the Western backed Free Syrian Army are responsible for war crimes?

    2. There you go again 'elements', because that's pro-FSA propaganda, why do you do that?

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