This week a video surfaced of a young boy (10 to 14 years old) that was beheaded by Syrian rebels. His alleged crime? Being a fighter for Liwa Al Quds (Al-Quds Brigade) and supporting the Assad regime. The Daily Beast recently published an article highlighting the Harakat Nour al-Din al Zenki or the Zenki movement and the fact that they have received US funding and weapons from the CIA. However, by 2015, the financing and support stopped due to the group’s “poor performance” in the fight against ISIS. BBC stated that the men in the video were “handed over to a judicial committee” following the boy’s execution.
The gruesome videotaped murder of a child drew outrage on social media and the promise of an inquiry from the group’s leadership, which has previously received U.S.-made weapons and American funding. The group no longer gets such backing. But it’s also renewed questions about which rebels the American government has supported in Syria’s ongoing civil war.
“Even if they no longer get U.S. aid, it still shows the moral pitfalls of what we’re trying to do in Syria,” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a terrorism expert and senior fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told The Daily Beast.
There are two clips from the unsavory events. One shows five militants surrounding the boy. In the second, one of them stands over him on the truck and cuts the boy’s head off with a dull knife, raising it over his head.
Details conflict about which groups, exactly, comprise the “moderate” Syrian rebels funded by the U.S.-led coalition, but critics have long warned that fluid dynamics and shifting allegiances on the ground make it difficult to predict which groups will be aligned with U.S. interests.
Yet the Zenki movement was on the white list as recently as December 2014. A McClatchy report on the U.S.’s decision to stop payment and suspend delivery of weapons to rebel factions noted that the crackdown would not affect the Zenki movement and Harakat Hazm in Aleppo. As many as 1000 Zenki fighters were on the CIA payroll, according to the article.
A field commander for one of the rebel factions told McClatchy at the time that fighters were paid $150 a month, and that the aid cutoff was in response to gains by the Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria. The Islamic extremists of Nusra reportedly seized American weapons from the U.S.-backed groups. -The Daily Beast
The leadership of the Zenki movement issued this statement after the video was released.
al Zenki movement issues a statement about the beheading crime. The statement and a summary in English in the images pic.twitter.com/dfEwPbzGtk
— Ibrahim al-Assil (@iAssil) July 19, 2016
The video highlights two main issues: the US funding Syrian rebels and using children as soldiers. Was it wrong for the rebels to kill the boy in such a manner?-Of course. The boy in the video had an IV and a bandage on his abdomen, which suggests he was injured at the time of his death. Should the US funding for the group be examined?- Yes. Picking a side to support and the fund is not a simple black-and-white situation because individuals may shift alliances based on who can provide the biggest paycheck at that moment in time. Some of the fighters that the US paid have reportedly moved on to other groups to provide for their families. Aiding in groups like this is always a gamble because you have to be willing to accept the good and the bad that comes with the deal. The other forces only complicate this at work in the region.
The article by the Daily Beast does not cover the fact that all sides of the Syrian war are using children younger than the boy killed in the video to fight against one another. The main reason people are outraged seems to be the boy’s age. The western audience sees a young boy being killed; however, they see him as another fighter who can quickly kill them if given a chance. BBC reported the boy’s sister confirmed on Facebook that he was a “fighter” that was captured while defending his country.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the boy was seized by rebels in Handarat, but that the killing took place in Mashhad, about 25 miles (40km) to the west. The UK-based monitoring group could not confirm if the boy was a Palestinian or a child soldier.
Liwa al-Quds issued a statement on Facebook saying that its investigation had found he was a 12-year-old Palestinian named Abdullah Issa, who lived in Mashhad with his family. It also said he had apparently been receiving medical treatment before being seized, noting that one photograph showed an intravenous drip in his arm.
Liwa al-Quds accused the rebels of killing the child simply because he was Palestinian, in order to take “cheap and despicable revenge” for battlefield losses. However, in a Facebook post, his sister, identified as “Zoze Aisa”, said she was angry and upset that people were depicting her brother as Palestinian.
She said he was a “son of al-Assad”, referring to the Syrian president, from the Wadi al-Dahab district of Homs, who went to fight rather than stay behind and receive his medical treatment. –BBC
There also needs to be a dialogue about the consequences of using children as soldiers and the cultural shift the war has caused. Constant fighting has created not only the physical demand for more fighters but also a culture that encourages fighting at a very young age. The video of the young boy being beheaded should also be considered a consequence of using and encouraging children to fight. Unfortunately, this generation of children and the generations to come will only know conflict.
Here is an example of another childhood loss. The video below shows an 8-year old that was orphaned in Syria. In 2013 when this video was created, he fought against the Assad regime.
This young fighter may or may not be alive; the video stops before you can see what happened to the boy.