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Syria Snapshot: The Sniper's Story

In Wednesday's LiveBlog, we posted an audio from France24, reportedly of a member of a special unit of the Syrian security forces. The man describes orders he and his colleagues received before they were sent to suppress anti-regime protests in a suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus on 29 April.

The full testimony:

My name is Abu Hussein and I’m part of the Syrian Defence Ministry’s special security force.

First of all, I would like to apologise for not disclosing my full identity, as well as for the quality of the sound. I had to take these precautions because of the risk I’m taking by delivering this account.

I would like to direct this message to all Syrians, but in particular to my colleagues in the Syrian armed forces. We know what our orders are, and we obey them without for a single second questioning their lawfulness or the consequences that arise if we enforce them.

I would like to tell you about what happened on April 29, 2011, and the orders we received that day before we were sent to Barzeh, north of Damascus.

We were gathered on Friday morning in front of the police academy, about one kilometre from the city centre. Our group included 200 men from my special security force and about 100 policemen. We were then joined by another hundred or so military troops. I learned after talking to them that they were part of the fourth army division [a section believed to have close links with the Presidential Guard set up by Maher al-Assad, Bashar’s brother]. Among the soldiers, there were five snipers, 15 RPG [rocket propelled grenade] shooters and about sixty men armed with Kalashnikovs.

Once we were all there, the Colonel began detailing our plan of attack. The police would come in first. Armed with truncheons, their role would be to stop protesters from reaching Barzeh’s main square. Afterwards, the Special Security forces were due to join them, armed with sticks and clubs. The soldiers were to come in last. They were ordered to shoot into the air if protesters came within 500 metres of them. They were then ordered to aim for the legs if the crowd came within 200 metres of them. He then specifically ordered that nobody should shoot without being directly ordered to, and should never shoot to kill.

Nevertheless, after the meeting, the officers were pulled aside for a talk with the unit chief. When they returned, one of them told me that the officers of the fourth division had received different orders. Each officer was to be accompanied by a volunteer sniper [usually a member of a militia or a mercenary]. They were also ordered to position themselves in places from which it would be easy to shoot. They were ordered to aim for the head as soon as they saw a protester. Their goal was to terrify people so they wouldn’t leave their houses.

What most struck me after talking with several army officers was the authorities’ clear intention of pitting the army against protesters. Police live with their families, but army recruits live secluded in their barracks, where they are completely brainwashed by their superiors. They are told that the protesters are trouble-making rioters who are manipulated by foreign agents. Soldiers’ families need to warn them that the state is feeding them lies – otherwise their children will have too much blood on their hands.

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