A paid killer in Syria describes his work

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Story highlights

  • Sa'er is a self-described assassin for the government
  • He agreed to be filmed as he underwent medical treatment
  • He says he fired on unarmed protesters and killed as many as 70 people
  • It was kill or be killed for not carrying out orders, he tells CNN
Sa'er is a self-described assassin for the Syrian government.
He says he has fired on unarmed protesters, killed as many as 70 people and once slit a man's throat.
It was kill or be killed, he says; Sa'er says he was simply carrying out orders.
He says he worked at an Interior Ministry prison, and "we would go out with the officers from the prisons. ... They gave us guns with scopes and you see the body as if you're looking at yourself in the mirror."
Sa'er agreed to be filmed by CNN as his wounds were treated by opposition activists. He said he was on a bus that was ambushed by unknown assailants. He asked that his identify be obscured enough so that the government can't recognize him but said he wanted his friends to know that he is alive -- and a changed man.
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Out of fear, his captors keep Sa'er blindfolded. Members of the opposition intend to trade him for other men in custody, and they don't want him to be able to identify them down the road. He is a bargaining chip.
CNN could not independently confirm the man's story, nor was it possible to know whether he had been coerced into telling it.
"I can't untie your eyes because I am afraid of you," Mounir, a member of the opposition, tells Sa'er.
"Why are you doing this? Why are you killing us?" Mounir demands, his gun nearby.
Sa'er tells Mounir about a time two police officers captured a man. A major put a gun to Sa'er's head and ordered him to kill the prisoner, he says.
"He said, 'I am going to count to 10.' He cocked the gun, fired into the air and put it to my head again. I slaughtered him," Sa'er says.
The government turned him and others like him into monsters who would have killed their own fathers, he claims. They were promised wealth and told they were helping to fight terrorists, he says.
For close to a year, the Syrian government has sustained a brutal crackdown on protesters seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad. The government claims its security forces are battling terrorists.
The United Nations estimates that at least 5,400 people have been killed, while an opposition group says more than 7,000 people have died.
Each side is fighting for the future of Syria, and with each death, is growing more and more entrenched.
Still, perhaps, there is a space for change -- or maybe, just an apparent change of heart for a man being held against his will.
"These guys I am with, I used to see them in a different light," Sa'er says about his captors. "Since I have been with them, I have seen only good."