Germany arrests two Syrians suspected of crimes against humanity
Two suspected former secret service officers from the Syrian government have been arrested in Germany on allegations of carrying out or aiding torture and crimes against humanity.
The men, identified only as Anwar R, 56, and Eyad A, 42, were arrested in Berlin and in Zweibrücken, in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, on Tuesday. Both men are believed to have left Syria in 2012 and to have sought asylum in Germany.
The arrests follow years of investigation assisted by the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR).
As part of an operation coordinated with police in France, another Syrian alleged to have worked for the secret service was arrested by Parisian prosecutors on Tuesday. His name was not revealed.
It is the first time that western criminal prosecutors have arrested alleged torturers working for Bashar al-Assad.
The federal prosecution service in Karlsruhe said in a statement: “From April 2011 at the latest, the Syrian regime began to suppress all anti-government activities of the opposition nationwide with brutal force. The Syrian secret services played a vital role in this. The goal was to use the intelligence services to stop the protest movement as early as possible.”
Anwar R is suspected of heading a secret service department that operated a prison near Damascus. He is accused of participation in the torture and abuse of prisoners between April 2011 and September 2012.
The prosecutors said: “As head of the investigative division, Anwar R directed and commanded prison operations, including the use of systematic and brutal torture.”
Eyad A is thought to be a former officer who aided and abetted the murders and physical abuse of around 2,000 people between July 2011 and January 2012.
He is alleged to have been responsible for guarding a checkpoint close to Damascus in 2011, where typically around 100 people a day were arrested before being imprisoned and tortured in Anwar R’s jail.
The arrest warrants for the pair were issued several months ago. Warrants have also been issued against at least 24 other alleged members of Assad’s government, including Jamil Hassan, the head of Syria’s notorious Air Force Intelligence Directorate.
Hassan is wanted in Germany for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity, and is believed to have tortured and murdered tens of thousands of civilians. The ECCHR is assisting torture survivors to file cases against their alleged torturers.
Evidence against Hassan was gathered in interviews with other Syrians, some of whom live in Germany.
Anwar R has apparently not made a secret of his role in torture, expressing the view that his flight from Syria and his application for asylum in Germany is evidence enough that he has distanced himself from his past.
Substantial evidence against the men was gathered as a result of the exhibition of so-called Caesar photographs in the UN headquarters in New York in March 2015, which depicted the corpses of thousands of torture victims alongside personal testimonies. The photographs were taken by a former member of the Syrian military police calling himself Caesar, who fled Syria with the images in 2013.
German authorities have approached the cases under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the prosecution of crimes in one country even if they happened elsewhere.
It was on the same basis that the US judiciary ruled last week that the Sunday Times journalist Marie Colvin was deliberately targeted and murdered by Assad’s rgovernment.