- Ali el-Sayed played dead to avoid being executed by gunman who slaughtered his family
- Tragic 11-year-old one of few survivors from horrific executions in Houla
PUBLISHED: 13:46 EST, 31 May 2012 | UPDATED: 14:27 EST, 31 May 2012
An 11-year-old Syrian boy has described in heart-wrenching detail how he had to cover his clothes in his brother’s blood to save his own life as killers slaughtered his entire family.
Ali el-Sayed witnessed his parents and all four of his siblings killed by Syrian gunmen during last weekend’s horrific massacres, which he only survived himself by playing dead.
The youngest to die was Ali’s brother, 6-year-old Nader. His small body bore two bullet holes – one in his head, another in his back.
Ali miraculously survived by covering himself in his brother’s blood and lying motionless on the floor as shaven-headed killers, said to be working for the Syrian government, executed his parents and four siblings one by one.
Ali is one of the few survivors of a weekend massacre in Houla, a collection of poor farming villages and olive groves in Syria’s central Homs province.
More than 100 people were killed, many of them women and children who were shot or stabbed in their houses.
In an interview with the Associated Press on Wednesday, five days after becoming an orphan and an only child, Ali said: ‘I put my brother’s blood all over me and acted like I was dead.’
Ali said his mother began weeping the moment about 11 gunmen entered the family home in the middle of the night. The men led Ali’s father and oldest brother outside.
‘My mother started screaming ‘Why did you take them? Why did you take them?” Ali said.
Soon afterward, he said, the gunmen killed Ali’s entire family.
Brutal: In further bloodshed, UN observers found the 13 bodies of Syrian army defectors lying on the ground near Deir el-Zour, in Syria after being killed by Assad’s forces
The killings brought immediate, worldwide condemnation of President Bashar Assad, who has unleashed a violent crackdown on an uprising that began in March 2011.
Activists say as many as 13,000 people have been killed since the revolt began.
Ali’s ordeal emerged today as the bodies of 13 more people were discovered bound and shot in eastern Syria.
Syrian activists claimed that the victims were army defectors killed by President Bashar Assad’s forces, although it has not been possible to verify their accounts.
In response, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said today that every day of slaughter in Syria is strengthening the case for tougher international action.
U.N. investigators and witnesses blame at least some of the Houla killings on shadowy gunmen known as shabiha who operate on behalf of Assad’s government.
As Ali huddled with his youngest siblings, a man in civilian clothes took Ali’s mother to the bedroom and shot her five times in the head and neck.
‘Then he left the bedroom. He used his flashlight to see in front of him,’ Ali said. ‘When he saw my sister Rasha, he shot her in the head while she was in the hallway.’
Ali had been hiding near his brothers Nader, 6, and Aden, 8. The gunmen shot both of them, killing them instantly. He then fired at Ali but missed.
‘I was terrified,’ Ali said, speaking from Houla, where relatives have taken him in. ‘My whole body was trembling.’
Recruited from the ranks of Assad’s Alawite religious community, the militiamen enable the government to distance itself from direct responsibility for the execution-style killings, torture and revenge attacks that have become hallmarks of the shabiha.
In many ways, the shabiha are more terrifying than the army and security forces, whose tactics include shelling residential neighborhoods and firing on protesters. The swaggering gunmen are deployed specifically to brutalize and intimidate Assad’s opponents.
Activists who helped collect the dead in the aftermath of the Houla massacre described dismembered bodies in the streets, and row upon row of corpses shrouded in blankets.
‘When we arrived on the scene we started seeing the scale of the massacre,’ said Ahmad al-Qassem, a 35-year-old activist.
‘I saw a kid with his brains spilling out, another child who was no more than 1 year old who was stabbed in the head. The smell of death was overpowering.’
The regime denies any responsibility for the Houla killings, blaming them on terrorists. And even if the shabiha are responsible for the killings, there is no clear evidence that the regime directly ordered the massacre in a country spiraling toward civil war.
Anger: Britain and France have condemned the attack on children and pointed the fingers at Syrian troops
As witness accounts begin to leak out, it remains to be seen what, exactly, prompted the massacre. Although the Syrian uprising has been among the deadliest of the Arab Spring, the killings in Houla stand out for their sheer brutality and ruthlessness.
According to the U.N., which is investigating the attack, most of the victims were shot at close range, as were Ali’s parents and siblings. The attackers appeared to be targeting the most vulnerable people, such as children and the elderly, to terrorize the population.
This type of massacre – even more than the shelling and mortar attacks that have become daily occurrences in the uprising – is a sign of a new level of violence. By most accounts, the gunmen descended on Houla from an arc of nearby villages, making the deaths all the more horrifying because the victims could have known their attackers.
UN probe: Bodies pictured piled up in Syria, as released by the opposition’s Shaam News Network
According to activists in the area, the massacre came after the army pounded the villages with artillery and clashed with local rebels following anti-regime protests. Several demonstrators were killed, and the rebels were forced to withdraw. The pro-regime gunmen later stormed in, doing the bulk of the killing.
Syrian activist Maysara Hilaoui said he was at home when the massacre in Houla began. He said there were two waves of violence, one starting at 5 p.m. Friday and a second at 4 a.m. Saturday.
‘The shabiha took advantage of the withdrawal of rebel fighters,’ he said. ‘They started entering homes and killing the young as well as the old.’