May 28th, 2012
12:59 PM ET

Children shot, knifed, axed to death in Syria's Houla massacre, reports say

The livid white-haired Syrian’s question to the U.N. blue helmet was rhetorical. He didn’t expect a real answer, not to that question.

“Did the infant carry an RPG?” he asked angrily, gesturing wildly, his hands clad in red rubber gloves.

He had washed the bodies of nine slain children already, one of whom was not even a year old, he told the U.N. observer. He wanted to know why. That question he actually wanted answered. The observer appeared overwhelmed.

Why are they treating us like animals?” the man demanded.

It was an understatement. Across Houla, an anti-regime suburb of Homs, images emerged indicating people there had been treated like something less than animals. The bodies of 108 people killed, most of them women and children, filled rooms, rugs and the backs of trucks.

Children were missing limbs. Others suffered gaping head and chest wounds. Images showed children sprawled on blood-smeared floors, their lifeless eyes staring into oblivion, their clothing torn and stained crimson. While many young victims were apparently shot, there were reports that children had been stabbed to death or attacked with axes.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said the United States was horrified by "credible reports" of the massacre, "including stabbing and ax attacks on women and children."

In one video posted online, a man shows a room full of dead bodies covered with sheets. He pulls back one and asks Syrian President Bashar al-Assad a pointed question: “Here are the children. What was their crime, Bashar? What was their crime, Arabs?”

The Syrian regime, which has been locked in warfare with rebels for more than a year, has blamed the deaths – many victims were apparently shot point blank with small arms – on terrorists, including al Qaeda. The Syrian regime often blames civilian deaths on terrorists and labels rebels as such.

Several envoys, including those from Germany, Britain and France, aren’t buying it, and rebels say the massacre essentially tosses a U.N.-brokered ceasefire out the window.

It’s difficult to say what exactly happened Friday after morning prayers because much of Houla is now abandoned, its witnesses having fled to rebel-held positions in the city. It doesn’t help that Syria limits foreign journalists’ access, leaving most media outlets to vet the heavy stream of YouTube videos coming out of the country.

Also confounding coverage is that some of the footage coming out of Houla is so gruesome as to be – as one British broadcaster called it – “unbroadcastable.”

Yet some things have been widely reported, and it appears most witnesses and human-rights organizations concur that the mass killings began with a protest early Friday afternoon.

Protests had been planned in the capital of Damascus and in various locations in Homs, Hama, Aleppo and Deir Ezzor provinces that day. The shelling in Houla began shortly after 2 p.m., according to Human Rights Watch, after soldiers at an army checkpoint in the nearby village of Taldou opened fire to disperse demonstrators. Houla is a largely Sunni Muslim enclave surrounded by Shiite and Alawite villages, the latter being the sect to which al-Assad belongs.

Rebels attacked the checkpoint, and “the Syrian army responded by shelling various neighborhoods in Houla,” HRW stated in a press release.

First, tanks began shelling the neighborhood at about 2:30 p.m., and the mortar fire began a couple of hours later, all emanating from the air force military college located at Houla’s entrance.

"Around 7:00 p.m., the shelling intensified and whole buildings were shaking. The army started firing some sort of rockets that would shake an entire area,” the news release states.

Several reports indicate this was about the time that armed men in military uniforms began attacking homes, and HRW reported that dozens of the dead were from the Abdel Razzak family that lives in eight or nine adjacent homes near the dam on the outskirts of town.

A mother and her 10-year-old boy, both of whom belonged to the family, recalled hearing an inordinate number of gunshots. The mother took the boy to a barn to hide, and her son told HRW he heard men shouting and women crying.

He peeked out the window occasionally, fearing he might be spotted if he watched for too long. Men wearing uniforms or camouflage entered his home, he said.

“Then across the street I saw my friend Shafiq, 13 years old, outside standing alone. An armed man in military uniform grabbed him and put him at the corner of a house. He took his own weapon and shot him in the head. His mother and big sister – I think she was 14 years old – went outside and started shouting and crying. The same man shot at both of them more than once,” he said.

His mother said she and the boy came out from hiding after the rebel Free Syria Army arrived.

“I saw Shafiq on the ground dead. I saw three families: three women, two of them with children. All of them were shot. Some were shot in the head and others had multiple shots in the body,” she told HRW. “One of the children survived. She is 14 years old. She was shot twice in the leg. I also saw my cousin who was shot in the chest. A 13-year-old boy who was paralyzed was shot three times in his chest as well."

Many witnesses are pointing fingers at the regime or pro-regime civilian militiamen known as the Shabiha. A woman in her late 50s told the Syrian Network of Human Rights how the Shabiha punished one member of the Abarra family, according to The Telegraph in London.

She “confirmed that the Shabiha handcuffed the children of Abarra family and told the father to look at their children, how they will be killed in front of his eyes, before they killed him,” the group told the newspaper.

An elderly woman recounted a similar scene for HRW, saying she was in a house with 10 family members when she heard gunshots and a man’s voice in another room.

“I hid behind the door. I saw another man standing outside by the entrance door and another one inside the house. They were wearing military clothes. I couldn’t see their faces,” she told the group.

She thought they were searching the house, but a few minutes later, she heard family members screaming. The children, none older than 14, began crying.

“I went down on the floor and tried to crawl so I could see what was happening. As I approached the door, I heard several gunshots,” she said. “I looked outside the room and saw all of my family members shot. They were shot in their bodies and their head.”

Too terrified to see if they were alive, the woman crawled to the back door and fled the home.

“I was in shock so I don’t know what happened later,” she told HRW.

A woman in a black abaya told Britain’s Channel 4 that the gunmen were killing entire families and showing no mercy to women and children.

“When they knocked on the door, we told them there were no men at home, only women and children, but one of them went inside and cornered everybody and started shooting. I lost four children and other relatives,” she said.

Though the government denies responsibility for the massacre and blames the rebels, a British reporter noted that residents of Houla have fled the parts of town controlled by the Syrian army.

“There are lots of civilians in the rebel-held areas,” said Alex Thomson of CNN affiliate ITN. “They are not apparently frightened of the fighters. They are speaking openly to the United Nations … In the areas of the town held by the army, there is nobody. It's a ghost town."

German Ambassador Peter Wettig said there was "clear evidence" connecting the government to the deaths. "The evidence is not murky, and there is a clear footprint of the government in this massacre," Wettig said.

Martin Brines, the French deputy ambassador, said a briefing by the head of the U.N. observer mission in Syria "clearly shows the responsibility of the Syrian government in failing to protect its civilians as well, as attacking them directly."

But Russia, a longtime ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, believes "it still remains unclear what happened and what triggered what," as Russian charge d'affaires Alexander Pankin put it.

Despite a ceasefire brokered last month by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan's office, hundreds of civilians have been killed in Syria in the last six weeks. U.N. officials say more than 9,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and tens of thousands more displaced since the March 2011 uprising. Opposition groups peg the death toll at closer to 11,000.

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Filed under: Human rights • Protest • Syria • World
soundoff (707 Responses)
  1. JonahBC

    Wake me up when Assad is dead.......

    May 28, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  2. EatYouAlive

    This is obviously the West's fault.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Oh how lovely

    It is not honorable to kill anyone especially little kids. I wouldn't want their blood on my hands. I personally believe the karmic law will not let this go un punished.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  4. HenryMiller

    There are times when the human race truly disgusts me. This is one of them.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Alicia

    Never in history have muslims demonstrated lasting peace. It's hearbreaking to see children involved in this , but, the U.S should not get involved in this, it's a civil war and we had one of our own.... I don't recall history making mention of us getting help and we survived.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marcus Garvey

      The french helped the South, not that it worked out well.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • A. Lincoln

      Even in our own civil war, neither side condoned nor practiced the wanton killing of children. That is not war, that is out right murder and the world is just standing by watching, saying "it's not our problem." Sorry, but in this day and age, it is our problem.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rula

      Alicia...there is a special place in hell for people like you.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thermonuclear Strike

      The perpetrators of this crime against children should be incinerated to sanitize the earth of their presence.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura

      Please google what you're saying before you post it as an argument.

      There's even books written on the subject:

      May 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big Fish

      Nor have Christians for that matter. There is something about those Abrahamic faiths that seems to stir trouble.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • TheWiz71

      @Marcus Garvy – there was no foreign intervention in the American Civil War. The French and British governments sympathized with the South, but they were officially (and militarily) neutral. @Alicia – However, if it were not for French intervention in the American Revolution, it is doubtful that the 13 Colonies would have won the 1776-83 war, and whatever version of the United States that would have eventually emerged would be a Commonwealth country now.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      Never in history have humans demonstrated lasting peace. Although both technically neutral both Britain and Spain assisted the south in the USA civil war.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan Jones

      Just because no one helped us in our civil war is no reason not to help those that we can help. To stand by and do nothing when it is in our power to help makes us at least somewhat responsible for these deaths.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • JoeJoeJoe

      Alicia wrote:
      Never in history have muslims demonstrated lasting peace..... I don't recall history making mention of us getting help and we survived.

      Have you not heard of the US Revolutionary war, which we would have certainly lost if it weren't for France's help? I suppose you also think that we should not have intervened in Nazi Germany either.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      Wrong, during our Civil War, the Confederacy was trying to reach out to Europe for supplies since all the South had was raw materials. They had very few factories to make manufactured goods. The Union blockaded them so they couldn't get Europe's help.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Liz

      I am disappointed in our growth as human beings sharing one planet that the world is sitting back and watching this horrific slaughter of innocent children. Do we wait and watch thousands more experience the same fate and then try the leaders in court yet again??? If that's the case and they know it what is the differance if they are condemmed for the murder of one or thousands? No such slaughter should occur without immediate international response and rescue. Russia isn't on board because they're selling arms to Syria. Come on.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Critter

      I also don't remember reports of the US civil War mass murdering of Southern or Northern women and children, and during the Revolutionary war, we would still be UK citizens if the French hadn't helped us. Nice to know there are a few women out there that are barren, childless and heartless.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Waseem

      That is the wrong frame of mind.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Whilli

      Where are the Muslim Masses Protesting and burning the Syrian flags. Where are the Arabs taking to the streets to protest these horrible murders? Are they not being sent into the streets after prayers? Is this not worth a Jihad? they are such hypocrites. No its just America that boils their passions. Not the Murder and Slater of infants and women the helpless.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Report abuse |
  6. pet

    Looks like the work of the CIA and the US government to me.....

    May 28, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Grow up

      May 28, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      That is the stupidest comment I have ever seen, take your meds moron.....

      May 28, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      Looks like you need to go back to and complete your schooling this time around.What would the CIA have to gain by inciting this nonsense?...Upon repeating your classes once again,find time to grown up,too.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kev

    This is sickening. Assad should suffer a long and agonizing death.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
  8. genebrady

    they fed us the same propaganda about Iraq when they (Bush Senior) wanted to invade Iraq the first time. It is Syria's problem. If Americans had the courage to do what the rebels in Syria are doing, the American Government would do exactly the same thing.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      Americans do have the courage.They are just taking a more intelligent approach rather than dealing like we did with Iraq under the Bush administation.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Critter

      GeneBrady, you are the definiton of a Moron, women and children, hmm sounds like another ploy huh, look at the pictures idiot, it is happening and it is horrific.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Report abuse |
  9. A. Lincoln

    ..........and where WAS God?????

    May 28, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      On vacation.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
  10. whyohwhy

    CNN: WHERE'S THE MEMORIAL DAY STORY? You already have a story about the Syrian attacks. Are you forgetting our veteran's again? ?????

    May 28, 2012 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      If you would have gotten out of bed a bit earlier today,you would have read the Memorial Day tributes.

      May 28, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Matt S

    As Horrific as this is, the U.S. is not the police of the world....

    May 28, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Waseem

      Well they sure act like it. And you Americans DO think you are the best people in the world.....

      May 28, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • borderpatrol

      2012 not 1512. Evolution and history two courses they have not yet passed in the middle east. obama like you promised in 2008, get the us troops out of afganistan now.

      May 28, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Dokken

    Time for the civilized world to step in and put an end to this horror...

    May 28, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  13. rec


    May 28, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Army Of Me

    This is basically sick. I often wonder how man is capable of such things but obviously we are. If an alien race were to come to earth and say to me "We will save your planet if you just tell us it's worth saving, it's all up to you!". You know what I would tell them? KILL EM ALL, you can start with me!

    May 28, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. rec


    May 28, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Report abuse |
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