German police arrest Syrian on war crimes charges

Ahmad H is accused of taking part 'personally in the abuse of civilians'

TOPSHOT - A Syrian regime member walks amid the destruction in Jobar in Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of the capital Damascus, on April 2, 2018.
Syria's regime drew closer to taking full control of Eastern Ghouta as state media reported that fighters began evacuating from the last rebel-held pocket of the former opposition stronghold near Damascus. / AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA
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A Syrian citizen has been arrested in Germany on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes including enslavement as he allegedly took part in a brutal crackdown on government opponents, prosecutors said on Thursday.

The suspect, identified only as Ahmad H in line with German legal practice, was detained on July 26 in the northern city of Bremen, the federal prosecutor's office said in a statement.

The man stands accused of acting between 2012 and 2015 as a local leader of pro-government “shabiha” militiamen in Damascus who were responsible for helping to crush dissent.

The militia operated checkpoints where “people were arrested arbitrarily so that they or their family members could be extorted for money, committed to forced labour or tortured”, prosecutors said.

The fighters also plundered the homes of regime opponents, sold the spoils and kept the profits, they added.

Ahmad H, whom security sources said is 46, is accused of taking part “personally in the abuse of civilians”. They say that in one incident in 2013, he ordered militiamen to “brutally torment a detained man for hours using plastic pipes”.

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In autumn 2014, Ahmad H and other militiamen and members of the military secret service allegedly attacked a civilian at a checkpoint, grabbing him by the hair and banging his head on the pavement.

Between December 2012 and early 2015, he is accused of twice arresting groups of 25 to 30 people and forcing them to carry sandbags to the nearby front, where they faced crossfire and were deprived of food and water while being beaten.

It was unclear when Ahmad H came to Germany or what witnesses might have reported him to authorities.

A spokesman for the federal prosecutor's office declined to provide further details.

In a statement, the Washington-based Syrian Justice and Accountability Centre, which tracks cases of human rights abuses in Syria, said that the arrest came after its investigation “uncovered potentially incriminating evidence”, including video evidence.

It launched its investigation after a witness told the agency in May 2020 that the suspect was living in Germany.

Germany let in hundreds of thousands of Syrians during the 2015-16 refugee influx.

NGOs warned at the time of the danger that “shabiha” militiamen, accused of committing some of the most barbaric atrocities against civilians for President Bashar Al Assad's regime, were arriving incognito in Europe and obtaining asylum.

Germany has previously used the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the prosecution of certain grave crimes regardless of where they took place, to try Syrians over atrocities committed during the country's civil war.

Updated: August 03, 2023, 9:03 PM