14 May 2013

When I met the Syrian rebel who ‘ate soldier’s heart’ – Mani

The Syrian rebel apparently pictured “eating a soldier’s heart” was captured in a Channel 4 News report last year. Filmmaker Mani recalls Abu Sakkar joking that he would “cut his throat”.

Rebel fighter Abu Sakkar caught on camera in August 2012.

In 2012 Mani spent time inside Syria’s rebel military operations following the elite Farouk brigade as they tried to break President Assad‘s stranglehold on the country. Today it has emerged one of the men he caught on camera is the rebel fighter accused of cutting out and then “eating” a soldier’s heart. Writing for Channel 4 News, Mani describes the time he spent filming Abu Sakkar:

When I saw the graphic video that appears to show a Syrian rebel fighter mutilating the body of a soldier I realised I knew the man.

He continually cracked jokes – often dark ones… I never felt 100 per cent safe with him. Mani

I had met Abu Sakkar in Baba Amr in Homs in February 2012. The city was being shelled heavily by the Syrian army then and he was a fighter with the Farouk Brigade. We met only briefly but his face stayed with me.

Abu Sakkar’s real name is Khaled al Hamad and he’s from Baba Amr. The district was heavily shelled and blockaded. Many civilians died and the others were forced out.

Abu Sakkar is Sunni and was a street vendor before the war.

In August last year I met him again when I was doing a report in Talbissa for Channel 4 News. The Farouk Brigade had been pushed out of Homs by the Syrian army who had besieged the city. Soldiers surrounded the city and the Farouk Brigade were attempting to liberate it.

When I met up with the group to film them, I recognised Abu Sakkar straight away. He’d become a well-respected fighter, but was not a senior Farouk leader.

He continually cracked jokes – often dark ones – but this initially didn’t disturb me, as black humour is common during war. Sometimes he unnerved me. I never really knew if he was joking or not. Unlike most of the other fighters I was with on that trip, I never felt 100 per cent safe with him.

‘If I wasn’t careful he said he’d cut my throat’

He would often joke he was a member of al-Qaeda, and that if I wasn’t careful he’d cut my throat. He said this repeatedly. There was an element of bravado in his talk, he would always say it in front of the other fighters. Sometimes he would laugh afterwards, sometimes not. It was disturbing.

But after several days I felt a little safer in his company. I had come to the conclusion that his aim was to provoke. He liked getting a reaction from me, and from the other fighters.

What I do remember is that he would talk often and movingly about the plight of Syrian civilians. He was evidently very disturbed by his expriences in this war, and was angry at what he saw as the unrelenting slaugher of his people by Assad’s government.

I have travelled to Syria several times since the conflict began and spent much time with the fighters of the Farouk Brigade. As this war continues, these men have hardened and their level of hatred is beyond our understanding.

When I saw that video, I was shocked by what I saw, but sadly not wholly surprised.

Mani is an independent filmmaker who works with Channel 4 News