Story by Matthew Brunwasser, PRI's The World. Listen to audio for full report.
Lt. Col. Hussein Harmoush, a high ranking Syrian military defector currently kept at a special high security refugee camp in Thurkey, said as protests became more frequent in Syria, the military began an ideological campaign to condition soldiers to attack unarmed protestors.
"They told the soldiers that the demonstrators are Salafists, radical Islamists, that they have weapons and that they work with Israel and America against Syria," Harmoush said.
According to Harmoush, in many instances special security forces formed a second line behind soldiers, to make sure they shot at protestors. If they dont, he said, they were shot themselves. He claimed 90 percent of soldiers killed in protests had gunshot wounds in their backs. Harmoush said that ideological control over the military has become complete. After fleeing to Turkey, Harmoush decided to lead a group of disaffected officers against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Harmoush disappeared after this interview, but then turned up in Damascus, where he mysteriously recanted all his criticisms of the regime on Syrian state television.
Activists say he was a bargaining chip in a prisoner swap between Syria and Turkey. Turkish officials deny he was handed over and insist he returned voluntarily. The case highlights the murkiness of events in Syria. I talked to another officer in my car, Lieutenant Mazen Alzayn.
"I left after I saw two parts of the army starting to fight against each other," Alzayn said. "After what I saw in my city of Jisr al-Shughour, I understood that we were no longer talking about the security of the country but about the security of my family."
Alzayn says his family was threatened by security forces simply because their city was the site of a huge protest. He says the protest turned into a battle between Assad loyalists and soldiers who refused to shoot civilians. Alzayn explains that many soldiers are simply young draftees and not considered ideologically "dependable" by the regime. The government said the casualties were victims of "unknown groups" of criminals and terrorists. Despite the deepening chaos, he says the military is still supporting the security forces and the Shabiha, a militia loyal to Assad.
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