The author with a sign
8 soldiers and 4 security agency members were interviewed
The people said they participated in the government crackdown
Those interviewed were in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan
Recent reports from five Syrian defectors told Human Rights Watch that they received explicit orders to shoot at protesters.
One member of Syria’s security agencies, referred to locally as mukhabarat, was deployed in Homs, Syria’s third largest city, on April 19, when Syria’s security forces violently dispersed one of the biggest gatherings of protesters attempting to stage a sit-in in the central Clock Tower Square. He told Human Rights Watch that Colonel Abdel Hameed Ibrahim ordered the soldiers to fire on unarmed protesters and that the soldiers complied, killing dozens of people:
The protesters had sat down in the square. We were told to disperse them with violence if needed. We were there with air force security, army, and shabbiha [armed supporters of the government who do not belong to security forces]. At around 3:30 a.m., we got an order from Colonel Abdel Hameed Ibrahim from air force security to shoot at the protesters. We were shooting for more than half an hour. There were dozens and dozens of people killed and wounded. Thirty minutes later, earth diggers and fire trucks arrived. The diggers lifted the bodies and put them in a truck. I don’t know where they took them. The wounded ended up at the military hospital in Homs. And then the fire trucks started cleaning the square.
A conscript who was a member of the Presidential Guard recounted how he was deployed on April 18 to Harasta, a suburb of Damascus, to quell a protest:
They gave each one of us a Kalashnikov [rifle] with two magazines, and there was more ammunition in the vehicles. They also gave us electric tasers. They told us we were being sent to fight the gangs because security services needed reinforcement. We were surprised [when we got to Harasta] because we couldn’t see any gangs, just civilians, including some women and children, in the street, and members of the mukhabarat firing at them. I was in a group with five other soldiers from my unit. We received clear orders to shoot at civilians from the Presidential Guard officers and from the 4th military battalion, although normally we don’t get orders from other units. One of the officers who gave orders was Major Mujahed Ali Hassan from 4th battalion; his military vehicle license plate is 410. The exact orders were “load and shoot.” There were no conditions, no prerequisites. We got closer to the demonstrators, and when we were some five meters away, the officers shouted “fire!” At that moment, the five of us defected and ran over to the demonstrators’ side throwing our weapons to them while running away.
The interviewed defectors reported that they were generally deployed in mixed teams of army personnel and often plainclothes mukhabarat and shabeeha. Two soldiers reported incidents where their units had opened fire on armed mukhabarat and shabeeha wearing civilian clothes after mistaking them for anti-government gangs. A first sergeant (Raqeeb Awwal) said the army opened fire in the coastal town of Bayda on members of security services wearing civilian clothes because they mistook their identity. Other defectors reported that security services later dressed in army clothes to avoid such shootings.
A conscript trained as a sniper was deployed in Izraa, a town of 40,000 near Daraa, on April 25, three days after security forces had shot 28 protesters over a 48-hour period; he told Human Rights Watch:
I was in Squad 14 (Firqa 14) of the 4th Regiment. We were around 300 soldiers deployed to Izraa. I had heard so much about foreign armed groups that I was eager to fight them. But then General Nasr Tawfiq gave us the following orders: “Don’t shoot at the armed civilians. They are with us. Shoot at the people whom they shoot at.” We were all shocked after hearing his words, as we had imagined that the people were killed by foreign armed groups, not by the security forces. We realized that our orders were to shoot at our own people.
A soldier who was deployed for a month in Daraa before defecting on June 1 said:
“We received orders to kill protesters. Some military refused the orders and were shot with a handgun. Two were killed in front of me, by someone in the rank of lieutenant (muqaddam). I don’t know his name. He said they were traitors.”
A sergeant posted in the southern town of al-Hara, near Daraa, described the orders his squad received when the army circled the town:
“Snipers were on rooftops. Their orders were, ‘If anyone goes out on the street, detain or shoot.’ I recall watching a guy go out to smoke outside and then being shot and killed by a sniper.”
All defectors told Human Rights Watch they were led to believe that they were fighting armed gangs paid by outside actors.
“We were told that there are terrorist groups coming into the country with funding from Bandar Bin Sultan [a prominent Saudi prince who served until 2009 as Saudi's national security chief], Saad al-Hariri [a former Lebanese prime minister], and Jeffrey Feltman [US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern affairs].”
Military commanders often communicated this information during daily briefings to soldiers, referred to as “nasharat tawjeeh.”
“Each morning we had guidance briefings. They would tell us there are gangs and infiltrators. They would show us pictures of dead soldiers and security forces.”
A member of the mukhabarat posted in Homs reported that he and his colleagues “received leaflets that there are infiltrators and salafists in the country and that they needed to stop them. In the flyers, they said Bandar Bin Sultan and Saad Hariri had paid those infiltrators.”
Regular soldiers were not allowed to watch television in private to avoid any of them watching TV channels that aired anti-government information.
Officers could watch television but only Syrian state television and Dunya TV, a pro-government channel owned by Rami Makhlouf, a cousin and close ally of President Bashar al-Asad.
Every night they used to summon us in a stadium-like place in the military barrack and make us watch Dunya TV from a big TV screen. It was all scenes from Daraa showing people killed by what they reported as foreign armed groups. Officers would repeatedly tell us that there is a “foreign plot” going on in Daraa.
Watching Dunya TV every night between 20:00 and 22:00, we had the firm belief that there is a foreign conspiracy against which we need to fight and protect our people.