A Syrian rebel who was filmed apparently cutting out and eating the organs of a soldier has defended his actions as revenge for regime atrocities, Time magazine reported on Tuesday.
The gruesome video threw the spotlight on war crimes allegations against the opposition, and put the mainstream rebel leadership and its backers on the defensive.
Washington said it was the act of a lone individual unrepresentative of the armed opposition as a whole, but the UN human rights chief demanded an investigation into a growing number of allegations of “very serious violations by opposition fighters.”
Time said it had talked by Skype with the fighter in the video, who it identified as Khalid al-Hamad.
Al-Hamad claimed he was driven to the gruesome acts by footage on the dead soldier’s mobile phone, showing him “humiliating” a naked woman and her two daughters.
The US news weekly said that al-Hamad described participating in other acts of mutilating regime forces, including militiamen known as shabiha.
“I have another video clip ... In the clip I am sawing another shabiha with a saw. The saw we use to cut trees. I sawed him in small pieces and large ones,” Time quoted him as saying.
The magazine said al-Hamad, a Sunni like much of the opposition fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, expressed hatred of members of the leader’s Alawite sect.
“Hopefully, we will slaughter all of them,” he told the magazine.
“They were the ones who killed our children in Baba Amr and raped our women,” he said, referring to a neighborhood of Homs.
The video, in which al-Hamad leans over a uniformed body, cuts out organs and then holds one up to his mouth, has prompted an outcry around the world.
The opposition National Coalition swiftly condemned al-Hamad’s action, saying it “contradicts the morals of the Syrian people, as well as the values and principles of the Free Syrian Army.”
US Department of State spokesman Patrick Ventrell said Washington had “raised this gruesome act in our recent conversations with leaders of the Supreme Military Council.”
They “assured us that they do not support such actions and that this is not representative of the vast majority of the armed opposition,” he added.
However, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay demanded a probe into the growing number of allegations of torture, summary executions and other abuses by rebel fighters.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Tuesday that three captured army officers had been summarily executed in the northern city of Raqa by fighters of the al-Nusra Front.
The group, which has pledged loyalty to al-Qaeda, is not part of the Free Syrian Army, but it is a major fighting force on the ground.
Pillay described what was shown in the video as a “truly atrocious act” and called on rebel commanders to “do everything in their power to halt such gross crimes.
“They must investigate this incident, along with other alleged very serious violations by opposition fighters, including acts of torture, and a succession of apparent summary executions and extra-judicial killings,” she said.
Pillay renewed her calls for the UN Security Council to task the International Criminal Court with investigating allegations of war crimes against rebel as well as government forces.
“I have repeatedly called for the case of Syria to be referred by the Security Council to the International Criminal Court, so that legal proceedings can begin against people believed to be responsible for serious international crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, irrespective of whether they are on the side of the government or are in opposition to it,” she said.