BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraqi state television aired a video Wednesday showing what the U.S.-funded channel said was the confession of a captured Syrian officer who said he trained Iraqi insurgents to behead people and build car bombs to attack American and Iraqi troops.
The video also showed an Iraqi who said the insurgents practiced beheading animals to train for decapitating hostages.
Syrian officials could not immediately be reached for comment on the claims.
The video comes at a time when the Bush administration has stepped up pressure on Syria to stop meddling in Iraqi affairs by allowing insurgents to cross into the country to fight coalition troops and by harboring former Iraqi regime members. Syria has denied the charges.
President Bush also repeated Wednesday that Syria must remove its 15,000 troops from neighboring Lebanon but did not threaten any action against Damascus — for now.
In the video, the man, identified as Lt. Anas Ahmed al-Essa of the Syrian intelligence service, said his group had been recruited to “cause chaos in Iraq … to bar America from reaching Syria.”
“We received all the instructions from Syrian intelligence,” al-Essa, 30, said on a video broadcast by state-run Iraqiya TV, which can be seen nationwide.
The tape was apparently made in the northern city of Mosul but no date was provided. It was not possible to authenticate the claims.
An unidentified Iraqi officer introduced the video, saying all insurgent groups in Iraq were covers for Syrian intelligence. He named a number of well-known groups, including one which has killed and beheaded foreigners.
Iraqiya TV is believed to be widely watched by Iraqis — mainly those who cannot afford satellite dishes offering the Gulf-based Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya stations. But the station, which went on the air in May 2003 with help from the Pentagon, is viewed by many Iraqis as an American propaganda tool having a pro-American slant.
Top officials in Iraq’s interim government have called on Syria to hand over former Iraqi Baathists who fled there after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, which Syria vehemently opposed.
In the video, the bearded al-Essa, dressed in a gray jacket and shirt, claimed to be leader of the al-Fateh Army, which has not been heard of before.
He was one of 11 men claiming in front of the camera that they were recruited by Syrian intelligence officers. The other 10 were identified as Iraqis.
Al-Essa said his need for money was the motive for accepting an offer by a Syrian intelligence colonel he identified as Fady Abdullah to carry out attacks inside Iraq.
“I was trained on explosives, killing, spying, kidnapping … and after one year I went to Iraq with Fady Abdullah,” al-Essa said.
He claimed he infiltrated into Iraq in 2001, about two years before the U.S. invasion, because Syrian intelligence was convinced that American military action loomed.
Another man, Shawan al-Sabaawi, was identified as a former lieutenant colonel in Saddam Hussein’s army. He claimed to have received training from Syrian intelligence on how to behead hostages.
He said the group started by making car bombs targeting American troops and Iraqi National Guardsmen before beginning a campaign of kidnapping and beheading Iraqis.
Al-Essa said the group used animals for training in beheadings. He said it required “at least 10 beheadings” for a member to be promoted to a group leader.
“I had to send a report to Syria about how the operations are going,” he said.
Weapons, explosives and equipment were all provided by Syrian intelligence, al-Essa claimed. He added the group members received $1,500 a month.
International pressure on Syria has grown since the Feb. 14 assassination of former Lebanese Premier Rafik Hariri, who died along with 16 others in a massive explosion in Beirut.
The Lebanese opposition blames the killing on the Damascus government and its Syrian backers. Both governments have denied involvement. Syria has 15,000 soldiers in Lebanon and is under growing international pressure to withdraw.