Douma Hostage Massacre

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For the 2018 chemical massacre in Douma see Alleged Chemical Attack, April 7, 2018

As reported, this was the killing of sixteen civilian men, by agents of the Syrian government, around August 17, 2012, in Douma or Harasta, just outside Damacus (northeast). However, six bodies found with there with their throats sliced open, have been convincingly matched with six of sixteen captives apparently held by rebel/Free Syrian Army (FSA) forces in Douma, specifically the Capitol Shield Brigade (see #The Perpetrators). The captives were allegedly members of the military, and shown on at least one rebel video giving their names and ranks, with neither demands nor explicit threats stated. (see translation) The clues suggest that video was filmed shortly before the men were murdered.

The following is a decent but incomplete assessment of the source evidence.

The Activist Claims

The now-deleted primary video of the slaughtered men, posted by Hrasta1000 was titled "Al-Shifonia The slaughter of detainees by the soldiers of Assad 17 8 2012." (Al-Shifounia, WM - just east of Douma and Harasta.)

Another posting by SyrianExile1 explained "Assad Regime Kills 16 Douma Youths With Knives - Dump Bodies by Watani Hospital 8-17-12" Watani Hospital = National Hospital. A search indicated Wikimapia does not show one for Douma, but there's one here in Harasta.

Local Coordinating Committees, 17 August: Two deleted videos seeming relevant by the text: "Damascus Suburbs, Douma, Assad's force committed massacre of 16 people. Aug 17, 2012" "Douma, Al Shifonieh,slaughtered detainees by Assads militia" Text reports: "40 martyrs in Damascus and its suburbs, including 16 martyrs who were slaughtered in Douma … Damascus Suburbs: Douma: Regime's force committed yet another massacre of 16 people, the corpses of the 16 martyrs were found handcuffed and slaughtered with knives. The corpses are held in the National Hospital of Douma" [1]

Breaking the Story

The best visual explanation of this, if a little slow, was made by Syrian Addounia TV. It compares parts of three related videos (see below) and makes the match at the heart of this story. [2]

The original finding was made by a German amateur investigator and then taken up by Addounia. The investigator ("Urs") has written three articles about it. with the first one started on August 18 with just the found bodies video (later adding the morgue video and the hostage video). From following the posting channel, hrasta1000, Urs already suspected this was a death squad/murder gang that liked to show their own, misattributed, atrocities. Hrasta apparently refers to Harasta, a city next to Douma where the gang seems to be based. [3] On August 21, she added the finding of the vid with the victims alive. In a later update she mentions to have given the information "to Syria" where it was "received in several forms", linking to this video which is a quite handy two min short version of the Addounia report, doing the matching job. Thesecond article, from August 21, reports the finding of the matching video with the victims alive. The final Addounia TV report gets added in a comment on August 28.[4] The third article, from Sept. 6, makes they case that the gang is still murdering and/or using their old vids for "new massacres" (see below) [5]

The work involved in similar to, and as good as, that done by staff at Al-Libya TV in February 2011, matching 22 executed "defected soldiers" blamed on the government with nine of those seen in rebel custody, being sentenced to die, according to one transcription. (See here.)

At least one Western mainstream news outlet made mention of the episode, and perhaps no others.

Tracey Shelton from Global Post, who made news by catching Muammar Gaddafi's sodomization on video, wrote an article about alleged video fakery in Syria, by both sides. The Douma hostage massacre is covered last, as "One of the most disturbing fake video claims." She said there:

The results are not conclusive. Other video of the same prisoners and the same bodies were uploaded around the same time between Aug. 14 and 18, but they have since been removed from YouTube, making clear identification almost impossible.

However, copies of the videos have been archived, stills produced, etc. and the matches are remarkably clear, taken in total if not case-by-case. In one case the match is remarkably clear.

The Video Record

There are four known, relevant videos here.

  1. The found bodies video: One shows the victims in situ, roughly flopped around to shock the camera with the gaping throats. There are somehow different quality versions of this, differently stamped. [6] As noted, investigator "Urs" identified Hrasta as refering to the city of Harasta, from with this video death squad apparently operates. The date of death is not clear. The posting date August 17 is an 'at latest' time, and as the bodies are crudely rolled over to revel the open throats and leaf-crusted faces, they exhibit the stiffness of rigor mortis, suggesting that 12 hours or more have passed. Some uploaded versions mention a "Watani Hospital" where the corpses were allegedly dumped.
  2. Morgue video: Another shows the victims in some sort of makeshift morgue or cooling room, mostly obscured within black body bags. [7] Regime forces are blamed. Some of the victims, notably #16, but also in glimpses #4 and #8 can be identified here, and are in Addounia's program.
  3. Main hostage video: The crucial video shows the victims alive, amongst others in rebel custody, apparently being threatened with death. Strangely, it appeared only, as far can be seen, on Aug. 20, three days after the previous videos. The Addounia report cited a video posted by UNITEDNEWS79. This posting can be found, published August 20. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p3c9UmypyYI Another known posting is from the same day. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCFj6ltgV4w - title Google translated: "Armor Brigade, DC - Osrbrigad and elements of the Internal Security Forces." 2018 upload (low resolution): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUuK5-wKxA0
  4. And finally, there is one earlier video, posted August 14, that could be related (title translates "Armor Brigade capital Bhrsta killed and captured many of the army Asadi 14 8 2012"). لواء درع العاصمة بحرستا مقتل وأسر العديد من الجيش الأسدي 14 20128 [8] This shows the same rebel fighter guarding a row of eight men, some of whom could be the same as those later numbering 16. In fact, 2 or perhaps 3 of them are pretty clear matches.

The Match Assessed

Initial match and numbering, 2012:

Douma 16 Hostages labeled.jpg

The six hostages identified by the research in question are given the neck-X here. The matches in question are none of them 100%, but taken together are far too striking to be coincidence. Facial details are not clear enough, especially in the hostage video. But between general body/face/age type and especially distinctive clothing matches, all six victims have arguably or totally matching counterparts among those held by the FSA.

Adding to the graphic, #15 here (just to the left of #16) is more likely to se seen among the slaughtered (that is, it could be either man, or someone else, really).

Captive #4 in the Coca-Cola shirt (left/center) is quite distinctive, as is #8, the little guy in blue with possible scoliosis. The best match is #5, with a distinctive long face and two-shirt combination that match in both videos. The weakest matches are the taller men, #6 and 7, but given those laid around them, and their general lumping as those in the right rear corner of the 16, make those calls more than reasonable. The fact that men stood so close together wound up killed together suggests the video was made just before they were portioned off for final execution.

Douma 8 Hostages numbered.jpg

The earlier video, posted Aug. 14, shows only eight captives, most of them different from those shown later. [8] There are however at least two matches. #5 is just as distinctive here. #10 is likely there in both videos, or someone dressed the same and looking quite similar. #9 looks to be the same person seen here in the same spot, far right, but wearing a different shirt. Next to him is a man in a shirt the color of number 8, but not the same man. There are some others who look similar (like #16 and the guy in position 4 here), but not similar enough to make a match. The scant matches plus the same guard/spokesman in both videos suggests the same captors, of course, and the same basic captive pool. The lack of more matches and the growing number suggest about half of the eight were killed and replaced by about 12 new captives to make 16, before all of those were killed.

2018 Updates Using the translated captives video (see...), we can assemble this new version with names and new numbers based on the order they introduce themselves.

Douma 16 Captives with Names.jpg

And with these names/ranks and a little graphics assembly, a visual case for each of the matches is made with some notes at the Monitor blog:


Recruits Hassan Ismail and Assaad Dakhil provide the two clear matches by unique clothing that, alone, make a coincidence almost impossible. We would have to accept there were two groups of 6+ men held captive, one by each side, in the Harasta area around 17 August, 2012. And there are other pretty similar people in both groups. And then one set of doppelgangers is slaughtered, and the other set held by rebel forces was presumably not.

This coincidence option - or a well-staged captives video snuck into the brigade's actual video account - will be the only answer to the obvious conclusion here, by certain "skeptics" who claim a deep aversion to those convoluted "conspiracy theories."

Potential Re-Branding of the Same Victims

The third article from Urs1798, from Sept. 6, makes they case that the Harasta gang is still murdering and/or using their old vids for "new massacres" [5]

Another video, posted September 4 and heavily cited in Urs' third article, shows about five bodies piled helter-skelter on the floor of a morgue room, one on a table, all badly decayed. More bodies are in the cooler in the back of the room, in black bags and looking like the same scene captured in the cooling room. (details forthcoming)

The Perpetrators

Capitol Shield Brigade logo.jpg
Capitol shield brigade alt logo.jpg

Captives videos attribute:

لواء درع العاصمة

liwa' dire aleasima

The Capitol Shield Brigade

Right: Main logo, alternate logo, seemingly used earlier and abandoned (seen on on the earlier captives video, not the later one, and on one of the bodies videos)

Capitol sometimes comes out "DC." Shield comes out armor, etc. There's also "Bhrasta" attached in one case, which doesn't seem to be a word, but it is Harsata with a b at the start (and as Willian Vanwagenen explains on Twitter, this is local dialect; bHarasta = in Harasta).

  • https://issuu.com/harsta.dereh/docs - This shows their logo, as appears on the video with all the matched hostages, links to some text-images that may give a group bio (screenshots saved)

Capitol Shield Brigade Harasta - Damascus countryside, Syrian Arab Republic Our leader is forever our master Muhammad https://www.facebook.com/harasta.dereh (broken thumb: "...the page may have been removed")

One member who died in 2013 got this video (active): Harasta The martyr, with the permission of God "Ahmed Ajina" brigade shield capital

The group's commander brigadier Ali Mahmoud Affouf died march 23, 2013, in clashes near Ateibah, just after the alleged chemical attack there.

The shield brigade claims to kill 60 soldiers with tunnel bombs, on November 17, 2013. They cooperated in this with the just formed Jaish al-Islam - (auto-translated):

Capt. Islam Alloush, a spokesman for Army of Islam via Orient, said that the Army of Islam is digging tunnels, equipping explosives and presenting them to the "shield of the capital".
While the brigade commander of the capital responded to these statements in a statement that this work is "special to the brigade of the capital's shield alone," and that the man who dug the tunnels and equipped with simple hand tools are the fighters of the brigade, stressing that the brigade asked for help from some military formations to complete the work faster " We asked for a refusal. "

As the distancing above suggests, they don't seem to be formal members of JaI, at least early on; an "Al-Ghouta Shield Brigade" is entry 8 on this list of founding formations posted Sept. 29, but that's probably a different group.

Muslim Brotherhood Syria ekhwan.jpg

The Muslim Brotherhood in Syria: Map of Military and Political Action 1/2

Nidal Hamada, Al-Manar (Lebanon), 14 August, 2014 http://archive.almanar.com.lb/article.php?id=934393

Where are the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood from all the events that are sweeping the field in Syria? Why does not anyone talk about them? How did the group decide to retreat formally behind the limelight?
In the first part, we publish some of the names of the armed groups operating in Syria under the command and funding of the Muslim Brotherhood. In this section, we will focus on the groups operating in the central region, the Syrian countryside and the Syrian south.
Damascus and its countryside: The Shield of the Sham Brigade - The Shield of the Capital Brigade - The Shield of Justice Brigade - The Shield of Saraya The Scholars of Al-Sham - Support Battalion of Al-Faruq.

By this article anyway, the shield is apparently a Muslim Brotherhood in Syria thing. Their logo, according to Hamada, at right.

Hanief Haider on Twitter "From late 2012 don't hear much about the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood cos they merged with Al Nusrah something mainstream media won't easily tell their audience. One is a proscribed organisation."

Musab bin Omar Battalion

Musab bin Omar Battalion logo.jpg

Arabic name:

كتيبة مصعب بن عمير

This is the sub-group of the brigade claiming responsibility for those prisoners. They have a different logo not seen on any relevant videos yet, but visible on their still-active YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaDOuoi3FNIiVr9IxFbcfOw

Statement of formation of the battalion Musab bin Omair Harasta posted by تجمع أحرار دمشق وريفها (Free Men Gathering Damascus and its countryside) March 8, 2012

Auto-translation, excerpts: We declare the revolutionaries of the city of Harasta, the proud of the formation of the battalion Musab Ben Amir, under the command of the Free Army in the city of Harasta East Guta. And we pledge that we will not betray the blood of the martyrs. We warn the regime's agents and eyes that we will pursue them and hold them accountable as traitors to the sons of their nation. This statement is the last warning to them. That every military symbol of the Assad gangs and criminal gangs is a legitimate goal for us We also call on [military personnel] to break away from this criminal regime and join the free army. Anyone who is killed under their banner is a traitor to his people, his homeland and his religion. We also remind the scholars of the Levant, in turn, of the necessity of enjoining good and forbidding evil and showing the truth to the people. We affirm that whoever stood with the regime and called for it, we will hold him accountable and try him a fair trial. And finally announce the battalion Musab bin Omair adopted by the guerrilla action carried out by our heroes in striking the headquarters of the Air Intelligence Branch in Harasta on 4/3/2012

Sounds like they intended to do some recruiting at gunpoint

Musab bin Omar Battalion startup.jpg

Confessions of one of the Shabihah seized by the Free Army in Harasta 9/6/2012 Media Office - Harasta City, June 9, 2012

A scared and bleeding soldier explains how looting, theft, murder and rape were ordered on him and others. Surely death penatly crimes, he "admits" to this on camera on pain of death - as opposed to refusing, off-camera, on pain of what?

Free Army - Captured a colonel in Harasta July 4 2012 (Capitol Shield Brigade alt. logo)

Capture of Those Executed

LCC 16 August Damascus Suburbs: Harasta: Fierce clashes between the Free Syrian Army and the regime's forces near the vehicles department, with losses among the regime's forces. Reinforcements for the regime's forces are on their way toward the neighborhood.

This likely refers to "armored vehicle base" as labeled, just SE of Harasta ([wikimapia.org/#lang=en&lat=33.550193&lon=36.402683&z=14&m=w&show=/24320892/Army-Armored-Vehicle-Base&search=Duma Wikimapia]), with the offensive possibly led by the Harasta-based Capitol Shield Brigade.

The captives video likely filmed the next day explains: "Thanks God and His help, the heroes of the Capitol Shield Brigade, the Battalion of Musab bin Omar launched and attack on one of the centers of Shabiha and the gangs of Assad. A large number of them were killed with the help of Allah, and their weapons and (vehicles/equipment) were seized. Others were captured..." This likely refers to the same raid on the vehicles facility, but that's not 100% certain.

Note none of those seen appears in military uniforms, but rather in civilian dress. This leaves it open they were kidnapped from home, etc. rather than in any on-base clashes. At least two of those killed were held earlier than the reported August 16 raid, according to the now-pulled video "14 8 2012 " The capital's shield brigade Harasta killed and captured many of the Asadi Army." Published on Aug 14, 2012 by hrasta1000. (shield brigade alt. logo)

After their execution, on the 17th, the men are variously said to be found in Al-Shifounia, a bit to the east of Harasta, and in a national hospital in Douma or perhaps really in Harasta. All of these given areas are likely approximate or even misleading, and in fact come out a bit scrambled and unclear.

References