Inside Syria: Meeting with the Free Syria Army

Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed al Qaeda for car bomb blasts outside government intelligence buildings in Damascus. But original reporting by CBS News shows many of those rebelling against the government are not Islamic terrorists. The government does not allow reporters to work freely in Syria. But recently CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward slipped into the country and linked up with the opposition.

Late one night in Syria, reports Ward, she was blindfolded and taken to meet members of the Free Syria Army -- soldiers who have defected from Syria's feared military, they say, because they refused to fire on protestors. They admit to carrying out attacks on government security forces.

"Our military operations are well organized," the leader told Ward, "but our main essential task is to protect civilians."

Members of the Free Syria Army speak with CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward in Damascus. They say they're former Syrian soldiers who have decided to take up arms against the Assad regime.
Members of the Free Syria Army speak with CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward in Damascus. They say they're former Syrian soldiers who have decided to take up arms against the Assad regime. CBS News

The Free Syrian Army issued a statement denying any connection to the bombings. Instead, they blamed them on Syrian security forces -- a ploy, they said, to show Arab League observers that the regime is the real victim.

The regime has called Syria's pro-democracy activists terrorists and thugs. But in a Damascus apartment we met young men and women fueled by caffeine and cigarettes -- and a thirst for freedom.

"I'm dreaming about a country where I can stand up and say my opinion without being afraid. That's the main thing," said one of them.

It may sound simple. But many have paid a high price for speaking out against the regime. The U.N. estimates that at least 5,000 people have been killed during the nine-month crackdown. Many more have been wounded. One man said he was shot four times by security forces at a protest he attended in July. He has suffered from serious medical problems ever since.

"I pray to God to relieve us of this regime," said the injured man's mother, weeping.

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Driving around the capital the regime still looms large, with posters of government figures.

As we drove, the driver regularly warned Ward put the camera down, fearful of the all-seeing eye of pro-government militants who wear no uniform, known as the Shabiha.

Outside of Damascus, the unrest is spreading. We were taken to a protest in the suburb of Arbeen.

There's only about 100 people in Arbeen. But every Friday, just as happens in communities across the city and country, people are coming together and making small protests.

A military checkpoint stood just 300 yards away. But the protestors kept chanting: "Hey, we will be victorious, hey, we fear no one but Allah."

The next day we attended the funeral of a 16-year-old boy who locals said had been killed by security forces at a protest the day before.

The crowd called for international military intervention in what the United Nations fears is a country sliding into a civil war.

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News