Six months ago, a slender, soft-spoken 21-year-old Syrian worked in an ice cream factory. The young man’s primary concern then: spending time with his girlfriend.
But last December, he was drafted into the Syrian army. A lot has changed since then.
A few weeks ago, the conscript, who asked not to be identified to protect his family from possible reprisals, deserted and fled Syria after he was repeatedly ordered to open fire on un-armed demonstrators who were protesting against the Syrian government.
“Our officer gave us the order to shoot at the people,” the soldier said, in an interview with CNN. “It didn’t matter how many people would be killed, the important thing was for the protest to be dispersed.”
CNN cannot independently confirm the claims of the man, who said he was a sniper in the 14th Division of the Syrian army.
But his account matches numerous eyewitness testimonies as well as those of opposition groups who accuse the Syrian regime of killing more than 1,300 Syrians over the last three months.
And the sniper is certainly not the first soldier to have defected since the uprising first erupted in the southern Syrian town of Daraa last March, and then spread to other cities and towns across the country.
To prove his identity, the sniper showed his military ID card. It is similar to those brandished on camera by some other deserters who have appeared in defiant amateur videos distributed over the Internet by opposition activists.
“We’re talking about around 2,000 soldiers, maybe more, who left [the military],” said
Wissam Tarif, director of the Syrian human rights group INSAN which has been trying to help a number of military deserters who fled to Turkey and Lebanon in recent weeks.
Tarif’s organization has been compiling testimony from these soldiers, as well as the sniper interviewed by CNN, in an effort to bring the Syrian government to the International Criminal Court on charges of war crimes.
“There is very clear evidence that this is a crime against humanity and its organized and widespread,” Tarif said. “There’s no mistake here, the orders were to shoot and kill the protesters.”
The young conscript who fled to Istanbul, said he dreaded doing the mandatory 18-month military service required of all Syrian men.
But for a moment, he got a little cocky, while recalling his prowess as a military marksman.