Investigation Finds Friars Weren't Beheaded in Syria

Investigations by a human-rights group and the Vatican have found the video that purported to show three Franciscan friars being beheaded by al-Qaeda in Syria to be a cruel Assad regime propaganda hoax.

The video that emerged on YouTube was actually shot in April and shows the execution of men accused of being collaborators in the village of Mashhad Ruhin.

Human Rights Watch found in its investigation that the video had nothing to do with the death of Father Francois Murad.

International Business Times reported the killers are part of the al-Muhajireen al-Ansar brigade led by Chechen commander Abu Omar al-Shesheni and that Russian is heard being spoken in the video. "Several sources have identified the person who announces the verdict as a Dagestani individual going by the name of Abu al-Bannat," Peter N. Bouckaert, Emergencies Director of Human Rights Watch, told IBTimes UK. "It is possible that a known Chechen commander, Abu Omar al-Shesheni, is also present in the video as part of the audience. He is the commander of the mostly foreign fighter brigade, al-Muhajireen al-Ansar."

The beheaded men were reportedly killed for arms trafficking, according to the audio.

The Vatican said it was too hasty in its original statement on Father Murad's death, saying the circumstances were "not fully understood" when it released its original statement saying Murad was beheaded.

Murad was killed June 23 in Gassanieh, in northern Syria, in the convent of the Custody of the Holy Land where he had taken refuge. He was reportedly shot multiple times by jihadists as they ransacked the convent.

The beheading video with the Chechens was posted online shortly after by a pro-Assad group. The site Catholic Online linked it to its report that Murad had been beheaded.

"The topography and the buildings seen in the video closely match that of the village of Mashdad Ruhin, according to topographical analysis and sat imagery analysis we conducted," Bouckaert told IBTimes UK. "There are many features in the video, such as the distinct square water tower, which exist in Mashdad Ruhin. The topography and buildings in Ghassaniyeh and its environs do not match the video. Further, the individuals in the video are wearing jackets and the vegetation is green, suggesting a Spring date."

"While the video only appeared recently, the incident of the beheadings by foreign fighters in the village of Mashdad Ruhin was described in the Arabic press in mid-April and closely matches what is seen in the video," he said. Human Rights Watch used not only the topographic analysis on the video but facial recognition techniques.

There are also no missing friars in the region as confirmed by the religious order in the area. A representative told Italian media the video "was released by al-Qaeda to terrorize Christians" throughout Syria.