Syria: Houla Massacre Star Witness Reconsidered

Ali Al-Sayed has been heralded as the miracle survivor – or the main one – of the Houla massacre of May 25/26. Just over one hundred people, nearly half of them children, were cruelly butchered in the collected villages called Al-Houla..

By Adam Larson

July 3, 2012

[updated on July 5 to fix formatting and address a new point raised in comments]


The following is based on research compiled at the new site “A Closer Look on Syria“.

(Sources used here are listed below, indicated only where neccessary).


Adored, Not Ignored

Ali Al-Sayed has been heralded as the miracle survivor – or the main one – of the “Houla” massacre of May 25/26. Just over one hundred people, nearly half of them children, were cruelly butchered in the collected villages called Al-Houla, in Syria’s Homs province (most of them were killed in the southern town of Tal-Daw/Taldou). As related by the news, these were members of Sunni families being punished for aiding the protests against Assad’s regime. As his entire family was shot dead around him, the eleven-year-old was shot at but not hit. He dramatically smeared himself with his brother Nader’s blood after seeing his spirit leave his body. He then escaped unharmed into the night to tell the world.

Ali wasn’t alone in surviving to tell and to blame the government and its allied shadow militia, the Shabiha (ghosts). As many as a dozen others who escaped from various targeted homes, most by playing dead, are known so far. Like Ali, they say or imply that their families defied the government. They all blame soldiers, Shabiha, or “Alawite pigs,” and ask for outside protection. Ali actually puts it best, if not most subtly, conveying his strong personal feelings about the responsibilities of the world community, considering what he says he saw.

“I demand that the international community stop the killing in Syria & in Houla … We’re being killed in our homes. The international community is sitting, just talking and not doing anything. The people must fight for us, do what they say, and protect us.” (va 3:09-3:38)

The world is now dimly aware of a whole other set of alleged witnesses with an opposite story. These have said rebel-affiliated terrorists, including known local families and unknown foreign helpers, carried out an attack on loyalist families remaining in this rebel-dominated area. Western powers would never help against that, and these witnesses they don’t bother to ask, which is wise since so few have bothered listening. Their small ranks contain no miracle escapees at all, which inherently makes them more realistic, but these others are ignored while Ali above all is adored.

He’s so cute with his baby face and “supergame” t-shirt that he barely even looks eleven. In fact he doesn’t; by the video Ali looks about eight or nine. Perhaps he is younger than stated, maybe after someone decided that the sophisticated plea for foreign help just looked preposterous coming from an 8-year-old.

Contacts and Suggestion

Ali initially spoke out three times, all apparently via a Skype video connection. The first was apparently a video of the boy interviewed, in Arabic, by an unknown man. (va) He also spoke to Martin Chulov of the UK Guardian via Skype, first un-named but with plenty of detail. (g1) Both of those occurred on or before the 28th, but he also spoke to the Associated Press the same way on the 30th. (nyp)

Chulov noted that, with all his family allegedly dead, the boy was living with “a town elder who is a member of the Syrian Revolutionary Council and is now caring for him,” as well as arranging the discussion. The AP contacted him “through anti-regime activists in Houla who arranged for an interview.” (nyp)

The UN Commission of Inquiry’s initial report, released June 27, shared their investigators’ doubts about a boy that’s clearly Ali. They spoke to him via Skype, making a fourth known interview, but with no details shared. They also reviewed the previous video, but not apparently the Guardian or AP interviews.

“In both interviews he blamed the killings on Shabbiha and soldiers of the Syrian army. In one interview the survivor stated that the perpetrators arrived together in tanks. The CoI took note of the age of the boy and duly considered his suggestibility.” (un)

The bolded part is something the corporate media and world leaders apparently never did. Considering Ali’s guardian and handler and his network, it’s quite clear who would be doing the suggesting and what basic form it would take. That geo-politically useful form is likely the reason it was accepted with no question.

Suggestibility is a type of unreliability, but only a potential one. New research shows that active story break-down is a more immediate problem with this alleged witness and survivor. Between only three publicly available accounts, the kid has managed to contradict himself to the point of absurdity, as explained below.

“That is True” – The Attack

In the video, Ali says the attackers entered his home after emerging from “the tank” that pulled up out front. To Chulov, he said “they came in armoured vehicles and there were some tanks.” To the AP, he said they arrived “in a military armored vehicle and a bus.” In general, he describes them as eleven in number, primarily military in appearance, with some in uniforms and some in civilian clothes, sporting big beards and shaved heads.

Some commentators, like German journalist Rainer Hermann, have noted the hair and beard style could describe anti-government Sunni fanatics. (rh) However, in various details he clearly describes them as Alawites and Assad loyalists. At 2:07 in the video, he’s asked “how did you know it was the army, not armed gangs?” He answered “the tank was outside, they came out of it.” Further, they “were dressed as military,” and were “Shabiha.”

Chulov noted the boy’s calm delivery relating his family’s massacre, but then he grew argumentative when asked how he knew who the attackers were. “Why are you asking me who they were? I know who they were. We all know it. They were the regime army and people who fight with them. That is true.” (g1) Later, he was quoted by Chulov as saying the attackers “spoke with an Allawite accent,” and “said they were from Foulah. They were Shabiha. And they were proud of it.” (g2)

He agrees in all accounts his mother was killed after shouting at the soldiers. In the video, he says “my mom screamed at them as they were arresting (brother) Shaoqi and my uncle(s),” who were taken alive but killed before the next day. AP reported back “the men led Ali’s father and oldest brother outside” and killed them there, and then she screamed “Why did you take them? Why did you take them?’” before being shot down. (nyp)

But in the version told to Chulov, Ali’s mother and the young children were shot dead while the sought men stayed hidden nearby in the house. “My mum yelled at them … ‘What do you want from my husband and son?’” They gunned her down, tried to kill Ali, and murdered Nader and Rasha, then started looting. After all of this, “on the way out of the house, the boy said the gunmen found the three men they had been looking for. They killed them all. “They shot my father and uncle. And then they found Aref, my oldest brother, near the door. They shot him dead too.”

In general, Ali claims he escaped only after the attackers left, having played dead until that point. They had found him and shot right at him, he’s said, but managed to miss, and then he dramatically smeared himself with someone else’s blood as a disguise. Some sources say it was his mother’s blood he used, but no primary sources seem to support that. Martin Chulov reported in the Guardian “he smeared himself in the blood of his slain brother.” To the AP, he specified it was Nader’s blood, a point played up in the cited New York Post publication (the photo is captioned “blood brother”).

However, in the video interview, he doesn’t mention anyone’s blood. He does however say that when they shot and missed, he was actually “hit,” or grazed on the back of his right hand. He shows this to the camera, which can make out what seems like three faint scratches, less than three days after the massacre. It seems it was his own (bloodied?) hand that he used to hide under; “after they killed us, I went like this (right hand covering the side of his face), acting like I was shot.”

There are other points he was more consistent on between his Guardian and video interviews. For example, the number of bullets (five) fired through the front door lock. The stolen items are consistent; on video, he lists three televisions, a computer, and a vacuum cleaner. The Guardian’s Martin Chulov failed to mention the vacuum, but listed the rest.

A Fungible Family

One rather serious problem with this alleged witness is his inability to keep his family members straight. A certain pool of names remains constant, but these shift freely from one member to another between accounts. The effect, distilled below, is bizarre.

Ali gives his killed father’s name as identical to his own – Ali Alsayed –  in the video interview. But to the Guardian, he’s apparently named Aref: “They said they wanted Aref and Shawki, my father and my brother.” Then it turns out Aref was “my oldest brother,” and Shawki apparently his father. In the video, Shaoqi (Shawki) is his killed older brother. So perhaps Aref is the father?

To the Guardian, his killed uncle was Abu Haider, but on video he names two uncles, Oqba and Aref. Though the interviewer repeatedly reminds him both uncles were taken, Ali keeps using the singular form, apparently referring to Oqba. (note: an Okba Al-Sayed, along with his brother and his brother’s family, are cited as among those killed, according to the non-rebel witnesses.) (s1)

His mother is always dead, never named, and his younger siblings are a bit more stable – Rasha, 5, and Nader, 6, both killed before his eyes, both mentioned in the video and in both interviews. To the AP he also adds another brother, Aden, age 8. That’s seven murders minimum, eight if there were two uncles taken. When he saw the soldiers later “they were describing six people dead in my house. They included me. They thought I was dead.” (g1) By this he thinks there were only five killed, forgetting at least two.

The one known witness list, from the Damascus Center for Human Rights Study (DCHRS), comprehended with Google translate, doesn’t even contain the family names Al-Sayed or anything close. There is a family name “Mr. Arif” or Aref, the first name of Ali’s brother/father/uncle as given. This appears for entries 30, 31, 48, and 93, with matching first names Nader (#30) and Rasha (#48). But there are only the four entries when 7-8 family members are said to have been killed.

The other two Arifs given on that list as dying are Mohammed and Adel. Adel is similar to Aden, the brother who was mentioned by Ali only in his AP interview, and it keeps coming up. Anti-government activist Maysara al-Hilawi described to Reuters a single survivor of the Al-Sayed family: “A baby, Ali Adel al-Sayyed, miraculously survived.” (ko) When the interviewer in the video repeats back Ali’s father’s name, he seems to add, and even emphasize, an “Adel,” repeating “Ali Adel Sayed.” The Adel link might also help explain why the DCHRS victim list also contains one “Mr. Adel Shawki,” perhaps meaning “Mr. Aref Shawki,” meaning the brother/father that Ali cited. Thus it seems possible these related entries were gathered from Ali himself, who managed to confuse things again to create the mess recorded here.

DCHRS is a member of the International Federation for Human Rights, FIDH/IFHR. (dc)

The Evil Uncle and the Unmentioned Uncle

Despite the amazing confusion over his alleged immediate family and their names, Ali’s two accounts consistently suggest another uncle – unnamed – was complicit in the killings.

To the Guardian, he reported running to this uncle’s house for safety, but strangely, the soldiers who had attacked his own home then arrived right after him. Unseen, apparently by everyone, he overheard the Shabiha talking to his uncle as if on good terms. They mentioned the six killings that were only five, and then he recalled them “asking his uncle if he knew who lived in the house that they just rampaged through,” as if he had been the one to send them. (g1)

Furthermore, in the video, Ali says his uncle(s) Oqba (and Aref?) and his brother were taken away, rather than killed there. He said he only knew they had been killed because “the next day I saw them dead on the government TV channel.” This 8-11 year-old from an ostensibly rebel family apparently makes sure to keep up on what SANA is saying. That’s one astute kid. After that, “my uncle came on saying that armed gangs killed his children.” But Ali knew this wasn’t true – he caught the lie on both ends, at his own home and his uncle’s, in his fanciful story.

The name of this evil uncle is unspecified in both cases, which is noteworthy given another name that doesn’t appear – Abdelmutti Al-Mashlab, aka Mashlab Al-Sayed. He was in the Syrian parliament, the Peoples’ Assembly, which had been elected on May 7 in an election the rebellion insisted was a regime ploy no one should participate in. The winners – this time including many pre-rebellion opposition members – were sworn in on May 24 and voted for positions within the parliament. (cn)

It was Mr. Al-Sayed who was chosen that day as the speaker in Damascus, and the next day, his family back in Al-Houla was allegedly one of the many slaughtered and blamed on the government. That’s according to the ignored local witnesses, one of whom explained the man she called Abdullah Al-Mashlab “was elected on May 24th, and the next day they killed his wife and three kids and his brother and his big family as well.” (vk) SANA reported he was the speaker of the Peoples’ Assembly at the time, that the brother whose family was killed was a loyal police officer, and that a total of three small households of this family were liquidated, among the many households of a few other well-chosen loyalist families. (s1)

There is some acknowledgment of this parliament connection, although vague, from the other side. American NPR reported, after speaking with an apparent cousin of Ali’s who escaped from one of the other Al-Sayed houses hit:

“The Syrian government says [the attackers] were out to punish one family that had a relative in the Syrian parliament, but Maryam Sayid, who survived the massacre of that family by running away, said the government’s version is simply untrue.

Why would we flee and hide with anti-government rebels, she says, if we were with the government? She describes the killers as Alawite thugs wearing all black and chanting sectarian slogans. … This was a sectarian killing, Maryam says. They killed us because we are Sunni.” (np)

So despite having one member willing to work at a high level with the sitting government as it tried reforms to prevent war, the rest of the family took the SNC/FSA rejection route and were not “with the government” at all.

At any rate, the speaker of the Peoples’ Assembly is likely to be featured on state TV following the murder of his family. It therefore seems likely that, in citing such an appearance, Ali confirms this. In fact he’s implicating Mashlab, accusing him of celebrating his election victory by running back to Al-Houla and overseeing the massacre of his own traitorous family.

Conclusion: Abilities and Disabilities

The case for a Syrian government-ordered massacre at Al-Houla was taken as obvious fact from day one by the Western powers and all those kept on the same page with them. The blamed government had its ambassadors expelled over the blame, along with harsh condemnations of the blamed government, and increased talk of arming the rebels to help stop the killing.

But the blame comes down to a handful of alleged miracle escapees and the “activists” they now live and roll with, divorced from all consideration of the non-rebel witnesses. The believed batch is anchored by this juvenile star witness, but we can now assess his abilities and disabilities.

He’s not able to remember the names of his own father and older brother, nor of his three named uncles compressed into to one. He apparently cannot count past six or know when he should try. He cannot remember the order of attack consistently, or whether the men of the house cowered by the door as the youngest and their mother were mowed down. He cannot well explain how he escaped with those faint scratches on his hand standing in for the slightest actual injury. He reports one attempted shot, no attempted stabbing, throat-slitting, eye-gouging, or any such thing, We know these things happened in the Houla massacre, but not to Ali or any of his kin, he reports.

Ali’s abilities more than make up for his shortcomings. Like a video camera he consistently recalls minor details, like the five bullets in the lock and the stolen vacuum cleaner. He can blame the government, and expose his scheming uncle’s wicked plots. He can detect an “Alawite accent,” from the Foulah people from five miles away, that likely doesn’t exist. He’s incapable, apparently, of telling us what really realistically might have happened, but as we’ve seen, he’s been fully able to move a world that badly wants to believe the poor little guy anyway.

In fact, the real question here is about the capability of the population of planet Earth to tell, any longer, what’s really happening in the world. Do please realize now that if little Al Al-Sayed is a fake, coached witness as he now seems, that suggests the opposite of what he says is more likely true. That means the people the West is increasingly arming and supporting are the ones who actually left a reported 49 children and 59 adults dead in Houla. It would mean the weapons people want more of sent were responsible for attacking the protecting army stations, and getting these monsters in close enough to slash throats, hammer heads, rape, mutilate, burn, and otherwise make of men, women, and children extreme examples sent out on Youtube.

Besides propaganda fuel against the regime, this horror show might also have been designed to send a different signal within Syria, where people actually know more of what’s going on and have thought about it more deeply. Some evidence suggests the killings terrorized loyalist, Alawite, and other non-Sunni or non-rebel families into fleeing for their lives and limbs. That’s in lieu of joining or surrendering to the side that, increasingly, has a good chance of winning and hunting them down anyway.

After Houla and at least one copycat massacre, among an ever-increasing string of barbaric terrorist acts, it’s more urgent than ever that the world help Syria overcome the menace. Monsters are inscribing their bleak world vision on the flesh of the nation’s families, and the government’s defenses grow weaker by the week. But sadly, the brain-damaged “world community” is further than ever from helping at all, and is in fact pushing to escalate the horror until it manages to overcome all defenses and satiate itself at its own leisure.

And doubtless we’ll have plenty of witnesses along the way to deliver a version that upsets us less than the truth would.









(rh) translation from German






Author: Arabi Souri

Syrian expat, publisher

12 thoughts on “Syria: Houla Massacre Star Witness Reconsidered”

  1. Firstly, thank you for this report and I would like to pay your attention that in the first beginning of the video, when Ali answers the quastion about his father’s name, he said in a very low voice: Adel, the person who made the interview said: ok.. Ali Adel Alsayyed. Then the translation was: Ali Al sayyed.. i.e. the father’s name was the son’s name!! Is that just a mistake?

    1. Thanks for that. I can’t tell spoken Arabic well enough to be sure. But it sounds like the boys just says “Ali sayed” to both questions (minus even the “al”). But the interviewer does seem to possibly say “Ali AdelSayed” in response to the father’s name (if “what is your father’s name?” was really the question – I presume so) It’s not in the captioning, but the whole affirmation is missing. isn’t.

      It wouldn’t mean much except that there’s a name “Adel” that keeps popping up, for him, and his brother Shawki, possibly a brother Adel/Aden … Hmmm… another mystery to consider.

      Believe it or not, this stuff is still confusing me too. And we still have other witnesses to analyze…

  2. Thanks dear Adam. The quastion of the interviewer was: “what is your father’s name?” and the answer of the boy was: Ali oder Adel (not very clear)..but as you said the whole affirmation is missing.

    I will be happy to translate your fantastic work into arabic and to make another report with reference to your name and to the article link..could I plz?

    1. I am sure you are allowed to! 🙂 Adam was so kind to offer his article and I guess he will be even happy to read that you want to translated it into arabic..

    2. Certainly! It’s in the public, at a site I don’t own, so need to ask me, really. But you have the benefit of my blessing and whatever comes with that. For me, a bonus: I’d never find it by Googling myself, so maybe you can give me a link when it’s up? 🙂

      I’m still not hearing the Adel in the boy’s words. I even isolated the two spots, slowed it down, and boosted the audio. Twice, it sounds like “Ali Sayd” or faintly Sayed. The interviewer knows about the Adel connection and adds it on his own – something we’re missing about that man. Is it his handler, I wonder, or a different guy with specialist knowledge?

      Hi, Souri!

      1. Above I said “so need to ask me,” but meant “so, NO need to ask me.” Just in case. I haven’t seen a link yet…

    1. Media Lens… they deny still that children had their throats slit and maybe all the other Islamo-nihilist clues. Because… A BBC editor repeated what “Western officials” said to that effect. I just saw a photo, five year old kid, throat open – not sliced, torn with a claw hammer, looks like. At least 2 or 3 right eyes removed, etc… this article is better than their first, other than that, but I don’t know how hard they’re trying.

  3. Thanks again Adam. Here is another thing which I became as a reply in my FB page: In the first interview of Ali (minute 4:00), he says in arabic: They wanted to burn the house and then they went in CARS. The sentence (went in CARS) was not translated.

    1. Maybe he just got the old Gary Neuman song stuck in his head right then. That’s a point I might add to the wiki, but I owe it to Jerry to keep this article final. 🙂 Also, a full translation of this whole thing might be crazy difficult. Any kind of summary might do as well. I almost wish I made it shorter somehow.

      At the moment, I’m wrapping my brain around the Sari Saoud story and his tenacious mother. A strange, telling episode. Will be reporting on it soon. Anyone have any good ideas or leads for research, feel free to e-mail me, caustic_logic at

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