Syrian rebel leader confronted with video of his men killing prisoners

Ahmed al-Abaid leads a group of several hundred jihadis, or holy warriors in Syria.
CBS News

(CBS News) Ahmed al-Abaid leads a group of several hundred jihadis, or holy warriors. We had heard that, under al-Abaid, captured government soldiers were being tried by self-appointed sharia judges.

After weeks of negotiations, we were allowed to travel to Azaz, a town in northern Syria, to meet al-Abaid face to face. We asked him about his prisoners, and he denied that they were ever mistreated. He even gave us a video of one of the so-called trials.

It showed four Syrian soldiers, their military IDs on display, as an off-camera voice said that they were tried and found guilty of "waging war against the people."

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But we had independently obtained another video that told the rest of the story, showing the soldiers' executions.

We decided to risk returning to Azaz to confront the jihadi leader who had bragged of how well he treated his prisoners.

We asked him to describe what was occurring in the video clip his men had given us.

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"Well, those were government soldiers in the fighting, during the battle, we kind of arrested them," he said through a translator.

Asked what sentence they were given, he replied, "That's something that the judges know more about than I do."

We showed him the longer version of the video and asked if he knew about the executions.

"No, I was not aware," he said.

Still, he defended the decision to execute the soldiers, calling it "an eye for an eye." But when we pointed out that it was his men who were responsible, all he could say was, "I really don't know -- what can I say?"

"I no speak," he added, in English.

Cases like this are becoming more and more common, and part of the reason is that you now have large parts of the country where government forces have been pushed back, and where there is essentially no semblance of law and order.

These armed groups are basically a law unto themselves, and while there are some members of the opposition who have pushed hard to try to have all fighters adhere to a code of conduct, they simply don't have the means yet to enforce that on the ground.

  • Clarissa Ward

    Foreign Correspondent, CBS News