A graphic video emerged on Friday showing a man being bludgeoned with a large hammer by suspected Russian mercenaries in Syria.
The horrific two minute clip, shot on a mobile phone, shows the man – believed to be Syrian – lying on the ground while armed men deliver a series of blows to the victim’s limbs and body with an iron mallet.
The victim begs for mercy as the Russian fighters continue to taunt and torture the victim, one wearing a patch reading the slogan “I’m gonna hurt you really, really badly”, taken from the dystopian film The Suicide Squad.
Sources told The New Arab that the militants torturing the man likely belong to the Russian “Wagner” mercenary group – some with far-right links – and that the horrifying attack almost certainly took place in Syria.
“We cannot trace the origin of the video… but this was likely filmed by a Wagner fighter as you can see another fighter filming the same scene on his smartphone in the video,” said Kirill Mikhailov, from the Conflict Intelligence Team who investigated the video.
The footage begins with an Arabic-speaking middle-aged man drenched in blood and lying on the concrete floor next to a decapitated head.
One fighter presses down on the man’s lower arm with his foot, while another – of European appearance – rains down heavy blows on the victim’s trapped hand with a large iron mallet.
Other strikes are delivered to his limbs and chest, while some of the spectators kick and stomp on the helpless man’s wounded body as he screams in agony.
|Russia is using mercenaries as frontline troops since Assad forces are poorly disciplined and pro-Iran mercenaries have their own goals that don’t always align with Russia.
– Kirill Mikhailov, Conflict Intelligence Team
Russian voices and music play throughout the sickening clip, while other spectators laugh at the man who they claim belongs to the Islamic State group.
This and the terrain makes it likely that the footage was shot in or around Palmyra in central Syria, where Russian forces are fighting for control of the rich gas fields in the Homs desert.
Hundreds or thousands of Russian mercenaries are thought to be in Syria backing Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the conventional Russian armed forces in their war against Syrian rebels and the Islamic State group.
“Russia is using mercenaries as frontline troops since Assad forces are poorly disciplined and pro-Iran mercenaries have their own goals that don’t always align with Russia,” said Mikhailov.
“Using regular professional soldiers for frontline duty could spark an outrage in Russia, as it did in 2014 and 2015 when they were used against Ukraine’s army with considerably heavy casualties.”
Russian media has suggested that these mercenary brigades could be connected to Russian energy oligarchs who will likely benefit from recent business deals agreed between Damascus and Moscow.
Most of the Russian militants are thought to be fighting for control of the al-Shaer gas fields and areas where phosphate mines are present.
The appearance of the men, their uniforms and AK-74 rifles all point to them being part of the Wagner PMC group rather than Moscow’s salaried armed forces.
“Most Wagner mercenaries appear to be motivated by extremely lucrative contracts – even compared to regular soldier pay checks – but some of them may be pro-Putin and Islamophobic.”
Russian mercenaries have been deployed to conflict zones across the world, including the Chechen war where numerous other abuses were reported.
The fate of the man is still not known but the presence of a decapitated head in the footage points to a harrowing end for the victim at the hands of the Russian fighters.
Moscow intervened in the Syrian war in September 2015 with a series of air strikes, after rebels won a series of victories against Assad forces.
Although President Vladimir Putin from day one claimed to be striking IS, the focus of Russian bombs has been overwhelmingly on opposition areas.
Mostly Iranian-backed mercenaries and militia groups – such as Hizballah – are believed to make up the bulk of the Syrian regime armed forces