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article imageEyewitness account of war crimes in Syrian conflict Special

By Greta McClain     Sep 23, 2012 in World
Damascus - Approximately 3 weeks ago I began talking to a man filming the aftermath of a Syrian military strike on the city of Douma, posting it on a live video stream website. Known only by his screen name, "syriastruggle", I have continued communicating with him.
Over the course of the last couple of weeks, we have been "meeting" via numerous Internet chat rooms and through three video stream websites. At a pre-determined time and "location" of his choosing, we "meet" and he provides updates on what he is witnessing first hand. The location of the "meetings" chances regularly in hopes of preventing Syrian officials from "locating and identifying" him, he says.
He has been sharing video documentation and some photos of what he is seeing in Damascus and the suburb of Douma. He will provide commentary on the video for me and answer any questions I have. Although he has expressed frustration with a lack of attention and action by the United States and EU countries, he appears to harbor no ill will. In fact, when he first learned I was from the United States he asked how many times I have been to Grand Canyon. When I told him I have not yet had the pleasure he seemed genuinely shocked, telling me I "must visit" because "the beauty cannot be told."
I have verified most of what he has told me as I could, using various news accounts and searching through video on various live video stream sites and on YouTube. Some of the accounts however I could not verify with other independent sources. He has placed his trust in me, and I am placing my trust in him regarding those particular accounts.
This is an account of the stories he has shared with me. Videos and photos documenting what he is seeing are included.
Many of the photos and video footage is graphic. Viewer discretion is advised.
I spoke with "syriastruggle" late Friday evening. He apologized for being late for our "meeting" and he told me that he and a friend had traveled to Al Qadam after hearing a mass grave had been found and had difficulty returning to Damascus due to "sniper fire". He told me there were approximate 20 bodies found in the grave and that the Syrian government was claiming that opposition forces had "murdered" the people when they refused to join the opposition. This is a portion of our chat:
DJgmac: It is good to see you, I was beginning to get worried
syriastruggle: very sorry to be late was in Al Qadam and snipers made it hard to return
syriastruggle: my friend and i went after hearing of mass grave
syriastrugglel: assad people saying opposition killed them but some have shackles on their wrists. where we normal people get shackles? democracy fighters have trouble getting guns and bullets
DJgmac: I had not heard of any mass graves. When did they find it and how far is it from Damascus?
syriastruggle: we heard today and think they found today. not a long way 10 km maybe
syriastruggle: about 20 people in grave
DJgmac: So some of the opposition killed these people? Where they police or soldiers?
syriastruggle: no no no!
syriastruggle: democracy fighters did not do this! some had shackles on, we have no way of getting those. some were tied, but assad try to make democracy fighters look like terror group. his people did this.
syriastruggle: people who live there tell me soldiers started shooting and shot people as they were running. some grabbed people off the street and put shackles on them and took them off. people say they hear gunshots little while later. soldiers kill them and bury them, have news come as they uncover the bodies and then say democracy fighters did it
According to ZeeNews Syrian troops discovered a mass grave containing 25 dead bodies in al-Qadam on Friday. The bodies had been found handcuffed and "eye-folded".
A body found in a mass grave in Al Qadam is exhumed
A body found in a mass grave in Al Qadam is exhumed
syriastruggle
Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), the state-run news agency, announced the following on its website: A unit of the armed forces on Friday uncovered a mass grave including the bodies of 25 citizens who had been kidnapped earlier and killed by the armed terrorist groups in al-Qadam area in Damascus. The bodies were found bound and blindfolded. The armed forces units completed clearing al-Hajar al-Aswad area in Damascus from the terrorist groups.
Press TV stated: "the bodies had their hands tied and their eyes masked, suggesting execution style killings, which are carried out by “armed terrorist group” fighting against the Syrian government."
During another "meeting" with "syriastruggle", he told me how government forces have targeted farms in and around Damascus. At times helicopters will fly over and shoot cattle, mortars will be launched into groups of feeding cattle, other times military forces will go in and mutilate and slaughter cattle, some of which are tired up or in a corral or barn and have no way to escape. Here is a video he took after one such slaughter.
WARNING: IMAGES ARE GRAPHIC AND MAY BE DISTURBING TO SOME PEOPLE
Other videos showing similar slaughters are located on YouTube. One such video shows several men dressed in military style uniforms rounding up animals and then shooting them.
He has shared stories of the military attacks on the funerals of civilians killed in the violence. This YouTube video shows one such attack.
He has also told me stories regarding attacks on neighborhoods in and around Damascus. One particular account involved a mortar round hitting a building that contained a make-shift classroom. Thankfully the children had already left for the day, but as he stated, the building was clearly not a "military" target.
A mortar attack in a Damascus neighborhood left this hole in the ceiling of a make shift school clas...
A mortar attack in a Damascus neighborhood left this hole in the ceiling of a make shift school classroom.
syriastruggle
Other building in the area were also damaged. In one photo, a young boy is seen stepping out from the "safety" of a building to survey the damage.
A neighborhood in Damascus.
A neighborhood in Damascus.
syriastruggle
One of several building damaged after Syrian military forces launched an attack on a neighborhood in...
One of several building damaged after Syrian military forces launched an attack on a neighborhood in Damascus.
syriastruggle
A friend of "syriastruggle" documented damage to the building in which the classroom was located.
A June 30, 2012 Daily Kos report states: "Syrian government forces pushed their way into Douma on Saturday after weeks of siege and shelling." The report goes on to say approximately 83 people were killed, most being civilians.
A CNN report earlier this month states: "Other attacks, such as the fighter jet attack that struck a house close to the hospital on the last day of our mission, didn’t seem to be targeting any legitimate military objective."
In another attack on a neighborhood about a mile away, "syriastruggle" said soldiers launched mortar rounds and began firing into apartments with their rifles.
I child cleans debris off the roof of his home after Syrian military launched an attack on a neighbo...
I child cleans debris off the roof of his home after Syrian military launched an attack on a neighborhood in Damascus.
syriastruggle
Bullet holes can bee seen in the side of this apartment in Damascus.
Bullet holes can bee seen in the side of this apartment in Damascus.
syriastruggle
The civilian casualties of these attacks continue to rise. "syriastruggle" shared videos of those that have been killed in the continuing violence, and those that have been injured. The first video shows a young girl who was killed by flying shrapnel during a mortar attack in the neighborhood where she was playing. The second video shows a man who was injured by debris after a bomb was dropped near his home. He was trying to get to an open grocery to buy food for his family. WARNING: THE FOLLOWING VIDEOS ARE GRAPHIC AND MAY BE DISTURBING TO SOME PEOPLE
This video was filmed by a friend of "syriastruggle". He was documenting a mortar attack by Syrian military helicopters on an apartment complex in Douma. In the video you can see remnants of a mortar shell. You can also see part of a mortar shell that struck a bedroom in the apartment complex. He told me that 16 people were killed in the attack. All but 4, who were elderly men and a teenage boy, were children and women. I could not find any independent sources to confirm this attack or the casualty count.
According to "syriastruggle", members of the Syrian military will grab men off the street, take them to a deserted area within Douma, make them strip naked as a form of embarrassment and then execute them. The two individuals in the pictures are friends of "syriastruggle". To protect their identity, he blacked out their faces, as well as the genitalia.
Man who was allegedly kidnapped by Syrian soldiers  forced to take off all their clothes and then ex...
Man who was allegedly kidnapped by Syrian soldiers, forced to take off all their clothes and then executed.
syriastruggle
Man who was allegedly kidnapped by Syrian soldiers  forced to take off all their clothes and then ex...
Man who was allegedly kidnapped by Syrian soldiers, forced to take off all their clothes and then executed.
syriastruggle
I was unable to locate any other sources making this same claim. This video however does show soldiers beating handcuffed civilians in Homs, Syria, one of which appears to be an elderly man. WARNING: THE FOLLOWING VIDEOS ARE GRAPHIC AND MAY BE DISTURBING TO SOME PEOPLE
This video shows a man who was beaten and tortured, allegedly by Assad forces, at a check point in Homs.
"syriastruggle" suggested I watch a video posted on YouTube. It shows what appears to be a Syrian military sniper shooting into a residence. You can hear other soldiers laughing and celebrating when the sniper motions that he has killed one person.
During my conversations with "syriastruggle" over the last few weeks, he has emphasized the need for documentation of the atrocities that are occurring in Syria on a daily basis. He agreed to share his stories, these videos and pictures with me in hopes of "igniting" the "consciousnesses" of people around the world so that "relief [can] be brought to the people of Syria who only want democracy". If that cannot happen, his wish is that some day, Assad and military officials can at least be held accountable for the crimes they have committed against the citizens of Syria. This has not been an easy story to write and many of the stories and images he has shared will likely stay in my mind for years to come. Hopefully however, by helping "syriastruggle" share his story, his and the hopes and dreams of the Syrian people will be realized.
More about Syria, Damascus, Douma, Bashar alAssad, Civil War
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