Rebels Release a Video Purporting to Be Russian Mercenaries Torturing an Unidentified Man in Syria

Fact Test - Mixed

The claim(s):

On June 30, 2017, a video of a man being bludgeoned repeatedly with an iron sledgehammer by unidentified troops was released to the press by a Syrian Rebel group. Along with this video came the claim that the torturers were Russian mercenaries from the “Vagner” PMC group in the Palmyra region in Syria.

The truth:

The chief source for the claim is the video itself (content warning).

A brief description of the video is as follows:

“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.

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.”

Therefore, the primary evidence for the claims that these were Russian forces are the facts that, the soldiers in the video were speaking Russian, Russian patches and uniforms can be seen at numerous points throughout the video, and also that Russian music was playing for the duration of the video.

In addition, the activities of Russian Mercenaries in Syria have been reported in the past, with a previous Russian mercenary group known as “Slavonic Corps” in 2013 recruiting a group of 267 soldiers, most of which later died in combat or were arrested upon their return to Russia.

In summary, while the video does exist, and there is considerable circumstantial evidence that the troops in the video are Russian, important details such as where and when the video was filmed are missing, and so the claim is rated as partially correct.

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