Norwegian police on Thursday said that they had opened an investigation into statements made by an Iraqi resident in a widely circulated series of videos, in which he claims to have committed several murders while he was a member of a state-linked paramilitary organisation.
“The Norwegian police are aware of the video, and are conducting research into the statements made in the video,” a representative for Norway's national criminal investigation service told The National.
The investigation comes after the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression, a Paris-based NGO, filed a complaint to the Norwegian police's war crime unit asking for an investigation into Iraqi citizen Hussein Al Hujaimi.
“Al Hujaimi is an Iraqi man who has been living in Norway for the past six years and is suspected of committing murders and grave violations during his time in the ranks of PMF in Syria,” the organisation said in a statement.
The Norwegian police confirmed that they had received the complaint but declined to give more details, saying they could “not share personal details regarding the person appearing in the video”.
In a video recently shared on social media platform TikTok, a young man speaking Arabic with an Iraqi accent confesses to having killed “a lot of children” several years ago, including a 10-month-old child whose mother was trying to protect him.
“She was speaking in a Syrian accent,” said the man, who seemed relaxed and laughed often as he played with prayer beads.
“I didn't care.”
Voices of men who do not appear in the video can also be heard.
The Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression asked the Norwegian police to “open a structural investigation related to the suspect’s confessions”.
“This complaint comes within the framework of SCM’s commitment to end impunity and prosecute all perpetrators of crimes and violations that took place in Syria,” it said.
In the video, the man claimed to be a “proud” member of Iraq's Popular Mobilisation Forces, an umbrella paramilitary organisation that contains dozens of Iran-backed factions, although a minority of groups are largely independent of Iranian funding.
He said that he fought alongside the PMF in 2015, one year after the group was formed by an Iraqi government decree and a fatwa from Shiite leader Ali Al Sistani to fight ISIS.
At its height, the terror group ISIS controlled large areas of both Syria and Iraq, but now its influence has shrunk to a small portion of territory in eastern Syria.
A number of the PMF's groups pre-date the organisation's official formation and were already US-designated terrorist organisations, but they used the fatwa to increase their recruiting base.
Many became embroiled in the worsening Syrian civil war, which has attracted a large number of foreign players over the years.
Some ostensibly travelled to fight to protect the Sayyeda Zainab Shiite shrine near Damascus.
But they were soon sent out on operations across the country, where they remain, despite the Iraqi government's official refusal to deploy regular forces in the conflict.
In the video, the man identified as Mr Al Hujaimi said that he cared little about the life of the baby he killed because he would join ISIS when he grew up.
“His mother and father are ISIS,” he said. “Why would I spare him? He's going to be a doctor? He's not going to be a doctor.”
The man also issued threats against Syrians residing in Norway and said he did not mind returning to Iraq.
“I'm not afraid of anyone,” he said.
“Even if they send me back to Iraq – you know what I have in Iraq? We have everything there,” he said, seemingly in reference to the PMF's influence over the state.
In a separate video, he claimed that his uncle is responsible for the PMF and called on viewers to write their phone number in the comments so that he can send them videos and photos to prove his allegations.
The Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression told The National that it was working on a “more comprehensive file” on Mr Al Hujaimi.
The NGO said that it had received several videos of the suspect from a number of parties in which he repeatedly confesses to committing various crimes in Syria, including murder and rape.
The centre was able to identify him after he stated his full name on video.
“However, the final verification of the name will be the work of the official body that undertakes the investigation,” said the NGO.