A graphic video allegedly showing a Syrian rebel cutting out the heart of a dead pro-government fighter and biting into it has sparked outrage, reviving concerns about the makeup of opposition forces as Western nations bolster support for fighters on the ground.
The rebel has been identified as Khaled al-Hamad, nicknamed Abu Sakkar, a commander with the Farouq Brigades, based in the central city of Homs and one of the most prominent and organised groups fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad.
The mutilation of corpses is considered a war crime.
The video shows a man bending over a body and cutting open the chest with a knife before standing to face the camera with an organ in each hand.
"I swear to God we will eat your hearts and your livers, you soldiers of Bashar the dog," he declares, before lifting the dead man's heart to his mouth and biting it, to shouts of "God is great."
The authenticity of the footage could not be independently verified.
The chilling scene points to the increasingly sectarian nature of the Syrian conflict, which has been marked by revenge killings along religious lines, and highlights complications in efforts to assist fractured opposition military groups.
British Prime Minister David Cameron announced during a visit to Washington that his government would double military support to rebels; the Obama administration in February announced its first cautious foray into providing direct non-military assistance to opposition forces.
Human Rights Watch said a longer version of the video, which it has obtained but which has not been publicly circulated, includes a slur against Alawites, the minority sect to which Assad belongs.
"Oh my heroes of Baba Amr, you slaughter the Alawites and take their hearts out to eat them," the commander reportedly adds, in a reference to a former rebel stronghold on the outskirts of Homs.
The New York-based rights group said it had identified the man as Abu Sakkar by comparing frames of the video with others showing what appears to be the same man participating in the shelling of Lebanese Shiite villages and bragging about having killed Hezbollah fighters.
The Syrian Opposition Coalition said it condemns the "horrific and inhumane act," which it said contradicts the values and principles of the Free Syrian Army (FSA).
"The FSA is a national army above all, formed to defend civilians and deliver the Syrian people from the mentality of revenge and crime. It completely rejects the ill-treatment of the wounded and the disfigurement of the dead," the group said in a statement.
It vowed to investigate and said that if the video is confirmed as genuine, the perpetrator will face justice.
- Washington Post