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31463Graphic: Syria- “Hizballah Execution Video”: Con firmation,regime releases 49 female prisoners

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  • Cort Greene
    Oct 24, 2013
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      Wednesday, 23 October 2013

      The “Hizballah Execution Video”: Confirmation of Shia Militia Involvement

      A guest post by Phillip Smyth of Jihadology.net.  Videos and images should be considered graphic.

      Figure : Photo of those executed by Hizballah and posted to social media.

      On October 8, 2013, the news website, NewLebanon.info released a video claiming to show members of Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Shia Islamist Hizballah, executing what appeared to be wounded men they pulled from the back of a van. The slain men were reported to be Syrians, possibly captured rebels.

      The video caused controversy with the public and activists alike in Lebanon, Syria, the broader Middle East, and the West. Hizballah has been silent on the issue, but one spokesman said the organization would address the issue. Despite accusations Hizballah had pulled-off the killings, along with audio recordings demonstrating the executioners with Lebanese accents talking about Iranian Revolutionary religious concepts (an important underpinning for Hizballah’s ideology), there was still enough plausible deniability available for Hizballah and other Shia militia groups to argue they had no part in the killings.

      Nevertheless, after analyzing Shia militia social media pages, I did come across the proverbial, “Picture worth a thousand words” in relation to the execution video: A photo featuring the same men who had been killed in the grainy execution video, were in fact the dead men in another photograph. This picture was uploaded to a prominent pro-Shia militia Facebook page which promotes the “Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyah” (“The Islamic Resistance”). This term regularly describes Iranian-backed Shia Islamist groups with militia apparatuses established in Iraq and Lebanon. It was also of a higher definition than the video recording. Adding to the photograph’s credibility was the fact that it was posted on October 1, 2013; Seven days before the video was released.

      One of the dead men, the first to be dragged from the van in the video and wearing visible red boxer shorts is in the photograph. Another man, in a white T-shirt covered in blood, was summarily executed in the video. For the photo, he was placed in the pile of the other dead. The man in the striped sweater was taken out of the van at 0.48 and was then shot in the head twice. His destroyed cranium is easily spotted in the photograph and the video.

      Figure : The man in the red boxer shorts. (video capture)
      Figure : The black shirted man lying dead over the legs of the man in the red boxer shorts. (video capture)
      Figure : The killed man in the white blood-stained T-shirt. (video capture)
      Figure : The dead and executed men lying in the same position as the hi-res photo above. (video capture) 
      When one follower of the page asked why such a graphic image needed to be posted, the admin responded, saying this would be the fate for anyone who wishes “to abuse Sayyida Zaynab”. Another outspoken member of other pro-Shia militia Facebook sites responded that the dead bodies were the result of, “self-defense”.

      The admin for the page claims to be located in Tehran, Iran and the page he administers says it is based in Iraq. The administrator is also a prominent poster of graphics which promote the cause of Iraq’s Kata’ib HizballahAsa’ib Ahl al-HaqKata’ib Sayyid al-Shuhada, and Lebanese Hizballah—all Iranian-backed suppliers of foreign Shia fighters to Syria. These graphics have been widely circulated in these circles, suggesting a more formal link between the administrator and these organizations. 

      After processing around eighty Facebook pages (posts from August 15th-October 23rd ) which promote pro-Shia militia in Syria material, only this Facebook page posted the photograph. When measured against more directly controlled Assad groups on social media, the same photo could not be found. Most interesting was the lack of any type of watermark which would demonstrate the photograph was taken from another website or source. 

      However, photographs of the executed had circulated elsewhere prior to the release of the video and to this particular photograph posted on Shia militia social media. On September 23, 2013, the same dead men were part of a post placed online by Bousla.net. At that time, it was claimed they were part of the Salafi rebel organization, Liwa’a al-Islam, and were ambushed in the rural East Ghouta region outside of Damascus. Furthermore, it was reported in the article that elements ofLiwa’a Zulfiqar, a Syrian based Shia militia whose fighters primarily come from the aforementioned groups in Iraq, and work in conjunction with Lebanese Hizballah, led the attack. Elsewhere, onLiveLeak, the pictures were republished and it was added that the executed individuals were, “near jordanan border the place where the cia saudi arabia and jordanian intelligence finance and train rebels [sic]”.  

      Figure : Three of the photos published by Bousla.net which clearly showing the executed men in the video.
      Most intriguing about the video and photo posts in news media (as opposed to social media), were the two sources to which this material was leaked. Both market themselves as “independent” Lebanese (as opposed to Iraqi, Iranian, Syrian, or other Arab outlets) news providers, have little original content, and do not have much of a share of an already packed Lebanese media market. Ironically, Bousla.net, the original poster of the images of those executed in the video, published a piece claiming the video was a fabrication and that Lebanese Hizballah had no role in the killings. Bousla.net also drew no connection between the original photos and the video.

      Figure : The banner photograph for the Facebook page featuring the execution photo in question. The title reads, “Al Muqawama” (“The Resistance”). The logos for (left to right) Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, Lebanese Hizballah, Kata'ib Hizballah, and Kata'ib Sayyid al-Shuhada are shown on the poster with the golden dome for the Sayyida Zaynab shrine in Damascus. Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is shown prominently in the left.  
      The dates these photographs were posted, their higher resolution (when compared to the video), the source(s) which published the information, and the utilization of the same bodies, conclusively establish that a Shia Islamist militia—most likely involving Hizballah, was behind the killings. The publishing of the photographs and the leak of the video of the killings further symbolize a new and carefully coordinated social and traditional online media campaign to show Syria’s rebels that Iranian-backed groups will resort to brutal means to win in Syria. 

      Syrian regime releases 49 female prisoners

      The Syrian regime has released 49 activist female prisoners in exchange of the release of the Lebanese Shiite pilgrims who were kidnapped by Syrian rebels, Syrian activists reported.


      Among the freed prisoners is young blogger Tal al-Mallouhi, who was imprisoned in late 2009 after writing a blog calling on President Bashar al-Assad to expedite reforms in the country.


      However, well-informed source told Al-Arabiya that Mallouhi was released because her imprisonment term ended.


      Mallouhi--who hails from Homs--used to write social commentary and poetry on her blog before her arrest.


      Syrian authorities accused her of being a US spy and on February 15, 2011 sentenced her to five years in prison.


      Female detainees in Syrian prisons are set to be released as part of a deal between Turkey, Lebanon and Qatar that saw Lebanese pilgrims kidnapped in Syria’s Azaz returned to Beirut while two Turkish pilots held hostage in Lebanon were freed.


      On Wednesday, Syria freed 16 women detainees while over 100 others are still detained as part of the deal are awaiting release.


      The nine Lebanese Shiite pilgrims who were abducted in Syria’s Azaz last year and two Turkish pilots who were kidnapped in Lebanon in August arrived in Beirut and Istanbul respectively on Saturday.


      In May 2012, eleven Lebanese pilgrims were abducted in Azaz in the Aleppo district while returning from a pilgrimage to Iran, two of whom were released in following months.

      10 Questions for Brown Moses

      NOW talks to the pioneering blogger of Syria’s armed conflict

      Higgins at his home in Leicester, England.

      Eliot Higgins, better known as Brown Moses, is a British blogger who attained international recognition in early 2013 when his analysis of publicly-available YouTube videos led to the unearthing of a classified Saudi operation to arm Syrian rebels through Jordan with weapons purchased from Croatia. His blogging subsequently assisted Human Rights Watch in compiling evidence of cluster bomb use by the Syrian regime, and is now often cited in leading international newspapers. In April, Higgins helped NOW identify the brigade that launched the first lethal Syrian rebel rocket attack on Lebanese soil. After raising funds from private donors including the Avaaz activism platform, Higgins launched Arabic versions of his blog and Twitter account in June.


      NOW: How would you summarize the Syrian conflict at present?


      Eliot Higgins: Pretty much a meat-grinder for both sides, with no end in sight.


      NOW: What in particular are you researching at the moment?


      Higgins: Aside from working on a new website, I'm currently on the lookout for evidence of a new, larger fuel-air explosive bomb that might have been used in the conflict recently.


      NOW: Earlier this month, there were reports of preparations for an imminent battle between rebels and the regime and/or Hezbollah along the Lebanese-Syrian border near Arsal. Have you seen any video evidence to this effect?


      Higgins: Not so much video evidence, but there's plenty of reports of both sides preparing for fighting commencing at any moment.


      NOW: Have you learnt any Arabic since you began covering Syria?  You must have picked up some words here and there.


      Higgins: Mostly I've learnt to recognize place names, and the names of various groups in Syria.  As with anyone following Syria, the first word you learn is takbeer, followed by Allahu and akbar.


      NOW: Some journalists, e.g. Patrick Cockburn, have criticized the practice of treating YouTube videos as evidence in reporting on Syria. How easy would it be to produce a fake atrocity video that would fool you?


      Higgins: I think it's important to stop thinking about videos from Syria as individual and separate pieces of evidence, but in many cases a video is just part of a body of evidence, and a lot of my work is about exploring the evidence that might surround a video.


      NOW: What aspects of the Syrian conflict do you feel are most overlooked or poorly covered in the mainstream media?


      Higgins: I think there's a huge amount of things really. It's a very complex conflict, and only a small amount of it gets any sort of in-depth reporting.  This is in part because of the difficulties faced by reporters on the ground in Syria.  


      NOW: What are the most shocking, moving, and/or amazing videos you’ve seen from Syria?


      Higgins: Apart from the many horrific injuries and deaths, I'd say videos where people are handling UXO [unexploded ordnance], for example, one where a small group of children start kicking an unexploded 240mm mortar, or the various videos showing them handling unexploded cluster bombs. Some of the DIY weapons I've seen have been quite impressive, such as the Hell Cannon, or the Molotov cocktail launcher (that didn't seem to catch on).


      NOW: What is the most frustrating part of your work?


      Higgins: Videos and channels constantly being deleted from YouTube.  Fortunately there are some organizations systematically archiving all the videos for future reference.


      NOW: If the Syrian conflict ended tomorrow, what would you do instead?


      Higgins: Well I started the blog writing about the UK phone hacking scandal, and it looks like that's going to be big news again, so that would keep me busy.


      NOW: Have you ever been/would you ever come to Lebanon?


      Higgins: I've never been, and I certainly have nothing against going to Lebanon.