The gruesome video shows five Syrian policeman using their bare hands (and sometimes their teeth) to kill live animals. Since it was first shared on December 19, it has been watched by several thousand people. Many were horrified by what they called the “barbarity” of the Syrian police force but, as it turns out, they are far from the only army to use these brutal training methods.
The video was filmed Tuesday 19 December at a police academy in Tartous, a town in northwestern Syria, during a ceremony celebrating the end of a 45-day training programme. The Minister of the Interior was in attendance, ready to offer his congratulations to the 100 police officers graduating from the programme.
The footage shared on social media shows five bare-chested men wearing combat trousers and holding live animals (including a snake, a rabbit and a pigeon) in their hands. One by one, they kill the animals by strangling them, twisting them, and biting them.
Footage showed on television
The France 24 Observers Team decided to not to publish the videos. Instead, we are just sharing a few screengrabs.
These screengrabs were taken from the video showing three police officers killing animals one by one.
One of them knocks a chicken out by striking it against his leg.
Despite the violent nature of this footage, excerpts of the videos were broadcast on the news on the Syrian television channel Sama (at the beginning of the amateur video, you can see a professional cameraman filming the same scene).
After watching the video, many people took to social media to express their shock or horror. Some made dark jokes about how the Syrian police officers were so "in touch with nature", while others insulted them, calling them “underdeveloped”.
A widespread practice
But the Syrian police are far from the only security force asked to kill animals with their bare hands during training exercises or demonstrations.
There are videos and photos that testify to similar practices in many other countries, including Lebanon, Kuwait, Egypt and Libya.
In some countries, soldiers and policemen kill animals as part of shows of strength held during public ceremonies or parades. However, new recruits to the army or police force also have to prove themselves during training exercises. Sometimes animals are killed as part of survival tests when, for example, the trainees are left in the forest with very few supplies.
Those are the explanations given by an instructor during a demonstration held by the Egyptian special forces. A similar explanation was given by an instructor of officers from Kuwait.
These practices are regularly denounced by media across the Arab world as well as online.
A practice not limited to the Arab World
However, these shocking practices don’t just happen in the Arab World. In Europe and North America, animal rights organisations have spoken out against similar animal cruelty during military exercises. PETA has denounced the continuation of training exercises that harm animals in certain countries "including the Netherlands, the United States, Denmark and the United Kingdom”.
The United Kingdom is one of the countries that is frequently criticised. British soldiers practise on live pigs, which are used as targets. According to PETA, soldiers stab them and break their bones during training sessions.