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NIOD researchers discover proof of Syrian massacre

Published on 26 April 2022
What do you do as a researcher when you come across video footage of a massacre that nobody else has seen? When NIOD researcher Ugur Üngör and Annsar Shahhoud, a student of the NIOD Holocaust and Genocide Studies master’s progamme, received video of a massacre committed by Assad’s Military Intelligence against Syrian civilians in 2013, they decided to investigate the video and its contents. Today, international news media publish the results of their two-year long investigation that included tracking down and interviewing one of the killers.

On 16 April 2013, the Assad regime’s Military Intelligence committed a massacre against over 100 civilians (including women and children) in Damascus by driving them to a secluded neighborhood and executing them one by one over a pre-dug mass grave.

Finding the perpetrator on Facebook

The perpetrators videotaped the entire massacre, trophy footage that was never intended to be circulated, but a source close to the perpetrator leaked the video to Üngör and Shahhoud. Nobody else has this footage and there are no other instances of the Syrian intelligence agencies being so clearly on record committing a massacre against unarmed civilians.

Üngör and Shahhoud analyzed the content of the video and set out to find out more information about the events and people it showed. Over a period of 2 years, not only did Üngör and Shahhoud investigate the massacre itself, but they also managed to find the main shooter, who maintains a Facebook profile and openly spoke to them about his 'work' in a series of interviews. They also found and interviewed the commanding officer of the shooter online, recorded the interviews, and found contextual information and evidence for this horrific massacre

Video clips of an execution

What does the video footage show? A brief recap: a total of 27 videoclips show two Syrian intelligence agents in military fatigues taking out blindfolded and handcuffed civilians from a white van standing in a bombed-out residential neighborhood, marching them to a large, pre-dug pit, lined with car tires at the bottom, and executing them one by one by shooting them with AK-47 automatic rifles.

The victims are defenseless civilians, zip-tied by their wrists, blindfolded with duct tape, and clueless about what is about to happen to them. They look well-fed and seem to have been dragged out of their houses or picked up at checkpoints. The victims include women and children.

The perpetrators carry out the executions in routine fashion, speaking little except for barking orders at the victims (“get up”, “get out”, “walk”). One agent is filming, while the other is shooting. There are three perpetrators: two shooters, one cameraman, and a driver (not visible), and more than 100 victims. The two shooters wear different military camouflage fatigues: one of them the classic green army fatigues (Military Intelligence), the other the blue-gray fatigues (the infamous 'Shabbiha' militia).

Read more

Read more about the massacre and Ungor and Shahhoud's story on The Guardian and NRC (in Dutch).

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