BEIRUT (AP) — Al-Qaida militants in northern Syria shot dead two Shiite teenagers whom they accused of being pro-government gunmen, filming video of the killing that was later posted to the Internet, an activist group said Thursday.
It's the latest apparent shooting of captives in a war that has increasingly taken on sectarian tones. Many Syrian Shiites are allied with the regime of President Bashar Assad, whose Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiism, and who is challenged by mostly Sunni rebels. Both Sunni extremists among the rebels and Alawite gunmen have been blamed for the deaths of scores of people from different sects.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the two youths who were shot dead came from the besieged Shiite-majority towns of Nubul and Zahra in Aleppo province. Rebels currently surround the towns and have been fighting against troops and pro-government gunmen in the area for months.
An amateur video posted online showed two blindfolded males sitting in front of a masked gunman. The Observatory said they were both under the age of 18.
The masked gunman reads a statement by the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant saying the two "Nubul and Zahra shabiha," or pro-government gunmen, are to be killed after two attempts to exchange them with rebel prisoners held in the towns failed. He says pro-government forces in the villages did not abide by deals that could have led to the two men's release.
"It is our duty to execute them," the man says in the statement.
After the finishing the statement, the man steps aside as others can be heard chanting, "God is great." Bullets rip into the bodies of the two blindfolded youths and they slump to the ground.
It was not clear when the shooting occurred. The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to other AP reporting on the events depicted.
Also in Aleppo province, the Observatory said, gunmen shot dead preacher Mohammed Dibo in the rebel-held town of Manbij early Thursday while on his way to the mosque to perform dawn prayers. It said Dibo was the imam of the town's main mosque.
It was not clear why the cleric was killed, but assassinations have been common in rebel-held areas as rival factions fight for power.
Unrest in Syria began in March 2011 and later exploded into a civil war. More than 100,000 people have been killed in the conflict.