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. Don Carlos

    Disturbing, serious disturbing content. U.S/CNN never showed us Osama Bin laden Picture due to it wasn't appropriate to show, Question is, do these images of appropriate? Who knows Blackwater is behind this killing? Just to turn down ASAD, and yes, they will do whatever to through ASAD down in order to bring their moppet government in Syria.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Paul

    This is TERRIBLE. America MUST do something to STOP this mayhem.

    May 28, 2012 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  3. whollis

    Once again another tragedy of humanity and the United Nations stands impotent. WHERE IS THE OUTRAGE?!!!!!!!!!!!

    Oh, that's right – Russia and China support these atrocities.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Nevil

    Okay after reading so many comments about Islam and how it is not a peaceful religion, I have to say something. I'm not Islamic, so don't even try to attack me or my words. However, these massacres go way beyond Islam. Hitler wasn't Islamic and nor were any of the other communists/dictators/totalitarians of the era. Has anyone heard of the Soviets doing the same? I'm not sure why people bring Islam into it once something happens in a Middle-Eastern country. This has nothing to do with religion for crying out loud. It's the people and the illiteracy that creates these situations. My heart goes out to these people. May God give them peace.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • cs

      Nevil: Dictators hide behind something to justify their actions. Hitlor's excuse was outside threats from Jews. Arab dictators hide behind "threats to Islam". Only when there is a COMPLETE separation of church and state can Arabs have peace and lift themselves out of poverty.

      May 28, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Realdirect

      The Klan murdered blacks for 110 years in the U.S. they're not the face of Christianity they're terrorist. These people are not face of Islam, if the story is true these people are terrorist.

      May 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Rula

    How come the US and other countries quickly got involved in Libya...and are turining a blind eye to the murders happening in syria?

    May 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • salmirabilis

      Because the Syrians don't have oil.

      May 28, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gary Miller

      Rula, US and NAO war criminals have incinerated babies and killed over million children in illegal wars. You are fooling yourslef to expect US help. Syrians need to fend for themselves. Take example of "most primitive and backward" people on planet-Afghans and how they crushed Soviet Union and now crushing NATO criminala. Also Syrians should know that Iban Taymiyah said about Alawites-They are worse thn Jews and Christians and Jihad against them is act of piety. Syrians need to wake up to this reality and start from srctach rather than begging US

      May 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • daeh ttub

      There was oil in Libya. There is no oil of note in Syria. NATO quickly intervened when critical oil facilities were damaged in the fighting and threatened disruption of oil supply from Libya. The rebels actually were in control of and continued to ship oil once NATO started providing support and protection.

      May 28, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • tkg77

      It is time other nations come forward and do something to stop this brutality. What are the Arabs doing?

      May 28, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gordon

      Because Syria only exports 20% of the oill that Lybia exports, and Lybian oil is high grade and used for aircraft fuel. Any other question?

      May 28, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Gordon


      Because Syria only exports 20% of the oill that Lybia exports, and Lybian oil is high grade and used for aircraft fuel. Any other question?

      May 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Khimal

      Because the US and its allies had strong economic and strategic interests in Libya whereas Syria has always been an ally of US enemies. All the USA wants to do in this situation is appear like they are trying their best but in reality do they really care that their enemy is having a civil war? If anything they will try to exacerbate the situation by helping the rebels.

      May 28, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. benny

    this is just horrible.. really sad to see this happen around the world.. my heart breaks. i hate this!

    May 28, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Lindalou

    OMG!! What animals! We live in a very scary world!

    May 28, 2012 at 4:03 pm | Report abuse |
  8. BillyBob117

    There is still no real proof that the Army was involved. Just the word from the ole so innocent civilians, the ole so trusting UN and the ole so trusting international press. This type of attack is not the MO of the Army. It is clearly the MO of terrorist and the brohood. I think Iran was involved at the request of the brohood. Those who were quick to find the white hispanic and doing the same thing with the Army. It is damn clear Zimmperman acted in self defense and there is no clear proof to date, that the Army hack up civilians. So me the proof and not some BS from the UN or from little barry.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • salmirabilis

      Please get a clue. You work for Assad?

      May 28, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Arsio

      Exactly, why would Assad regime cut its own foot?

      May 28, 2012 at 4:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      I think you meant "oh" so trusting etc. not "ole" so trusting... "ole" is a colloquial form of old. the "old so trusting..." wouldn't really make sense, would it? Moron? BillyBob couldn't be more appropriate.

      May 28, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Mark Silvers

    Reminds me of World War 2 Nazi Germany. The world didn't care if Hitler killed his own populace. It wasn't until he went beyond his borders and the world took notice.

    May 28, 2012 at 4:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. ♚Mmmmm♛

    that is trully a monster...but what is trully madness is how russia stands by doing nothing...put yo boy in check russia...

    May 28, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. charles bowen

    Time to put this Devil in the hole......Assassinate Assad....... Charles Bowen Solomon Stone

    May 28, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Capt. Zeb

    Executive Order 93019 has been declared. A no fly zone is now established in all of Syria. Broken Arrow declared around the Syrian rebels compounds. Happy hunting Pilots!

    May 28, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Batman

    And Assad is killing children because....? Are they a treat to him?? He is afraid of young lings??? Destroy this madman!!

    May 28, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      They want the rebels to stop rebelling. They assume that the more horrific and crushing the damage they can cause the rebels and their families the faster they can break their will and force them to stop the revolt. It's disgusting. I hope I get to see the Assaad pigs dragged into the street and lit on fire in the not too distant future.

      May 28, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cs

    Can arabs PLEASE adopt a secular democracy and keep religion out of politics so these dictators can't flourish?

    Why keep killing each other and live in poverty?

    Is seeing a woman in a bathing suit so objectionable you would rather see children massacred?

    May 28, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      The Assad family are only Muslim when it suits their interests. Otherwise they coudn't care less. His wife is American.

      May 28, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. allenwoll

    There is surely MORE to this than meets the eye !

    May 28, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Report abuse |
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