Abdel Razaq Tlas, 25, the leader of Farouk Brigades in Homs — one of the biggest rebel groups in Syria — has been a charismatic figure of the Syrian uprising.
Today, Tlas is facing questions about a video purporting to show him having Skype sex. It's a video he has said is a fabrication, but it seems to be damaging his popularity on the Syrian street.
His troubles started last week, when the short video, 4 minutes 43 seconds, was posted online (note: it's "adult" content; and it's behind YouTube's sign-in wall).
A man, who looks like Tlas, is seen lying in bed. He has on a t-shirt and headphones, and is chatting with someone via Skype. At one point, he starts touching himself. That's when the video goes blurry.
Syrians have responded to the video with passion online: "It is not true?! These are regime's fabrications," reads one tweet. "Don Juan of the Free Syrian Army" says another. Tlas' supporters posted another video where they claim that the mole on Tlas's face is different than the mole of the person in the video.
Abu Ali, a rebel in the Hama Brigade based in Antakya, smiles when asked about the videos.
"I would have respected Tlas more, if he would have just said 'Ok. guys. It is me. It is not a crime and even if I had masturbated, so what?' I mean it is clear, it's him," he says. "This uprising was supposed to be also an uprising against conservative social norms and lies."
Another video was released on Sunday. In it, a man asks Tlas directly about "the defaming video being circulated online." Tlas, this time dressed in a military uniform, didn't respond directly. But he said that "it is something expected from a bankrupt regime" and added, speaking of himself in third person:
"I defected a year and 25 days ago and the regime has not been able to get Abdel Razaq Tlas, so now they are trying a smear campaign against Abdel Razaq Tlas and the Free Syrian Army."
Tlas added that these are all fabrications.
(Rima Marrouch is a producer and translator has been working with NPR correspondents covering the crisis in Syria.)