Common Dreams | 20 July, 2016
A Syrian rebel group once deemed “moderate” by the U.S. was captured on film beheading a child in Handarat, near Aleppo, in a gruesome video that circulated on social media on Tuesday.
The Daily Beast reports: “There are two clips from the unsavory events. One shows five militants surrounding the boy. In the second, one of them stands over him on the truck and cuts the boy’s head off with a dull knife, raising it over his head.”
In the video, the rebel group accused the boy of being a fighter for the Jerusalem Brigade, a Palestinian militia fighting alongside regime forces, Al Jazeera reports. The news outlet adds that the Jerusalem Brigade issued a statement shortly after the video’s release identifying the boy as 12-year-old Abdullah Issah, saying he was not a fighter and condemning the grisly attack.
The group, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki, was reportedly receiving funding and weapons from the CIA until at least December 2014 and using American weapons until 2015.
“Even if they no longer get U.S. aid, [the beheading] still shows the moral pitfalls of what we’re trying to do in Syria,” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a terrorism expert and senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the Daily Beast.
“Details conflict about which groups, exactly, comprise the ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels funded by the U.S.-led coalition,” the Daily Beast adds, “but critics have long warned that fluid dynamics and shifting allegiances on the ground make it difficult to predict which groups will be aligned with U.S. interests.”
“Yet the Zenki movement was on the white list as recently as December 2014,” the Daily Beast continues, referring to a McClatchy report from that time, which noted that the Obama administration’s crackdown on U.S. aid to rebel groups in Syria would not affect the Zenki movement in Aleppo. As many as 1,000 Zenki combatants were still receiving aid in December 2014.
The Daily Beast also reports that the “Zenki movement used American TOW missiles well into 2015, supplied by an allied forces center that’s reportedly staffed with CIA officials.” (A TOW missile is a “tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided” missile manufactured by Raytheon.)
The Zenki movement issued a statement Tuesday that blamed the beheading on “individual errors.”
Pressed to respond to the video during a press briefing Tuesday, State Department deputy spokesperson Mark C. Toner said, “I can only say that it’s an appalling report, and obviously, we’re very concerned certainly if it’s accurate. We’re trying to get more information and more details.”
If the Zenki movement is proved responsible for the beheading, the spokesperson continued, “It would certainly[…] give us pause about any assistance or, frankly, any further involvement with this group.”
Earlier this month, Amnesty International issued a report that detailed allegations of summary executions, torture, and other war crimes at the hands of U.S.-backed groups—including Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki—in Syria.
The human rights organization said that al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, Nureddin Zinki [or Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zenki], the Levant Front, and Division 16 were committing “war crimes and other violations of international humanitarian law with impunity,” reported Al Jazeera.