Anwar Malek: I saw sniper kill child

The Arab League observer who quit mission to monitor events in Syria accused the regime of Bashar Al Assad of committing crimes against humanity.

Anwar Malek, the former Arab League observer in Syria, said authorities did everything possible to undermine attempts to produce an independent assessment.
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A former Algerian army officer who resigned in disgust and fear from the Arab League mission to monitor events in Syria accused the regime of Bashar Al Assad yesterday of committing crimes against humanity.

Anwar Malek said he saw snipers kill at least two people, one of them a child, was shown corpses, witnessed brutal beatings and arrests by soldiers and militiamen and escaped an attempt on his own life during a 15-day stay in the city of Homs.

Speaking from an undisclosed location in France, he alleged that the Syrian authorities had placed him and other monitors under constant surveillance and brushed aside any criticism of tactics used to crush popular revolt. Everything possible was done, he said, to undermine attempts to produce an independent assessment.

"In my own case, they tried to humiliate me and falsely accused me of supporting terrorists," he said.

Mr Malek also voiced suspicion that the Syrian authorities were responsible for the mortar attack that killed a French cameraman, Gilles Jacquier, in Homs a week ago.

"In the end I was extremely concerned for my own safety and could take no more," said Mr Malek, 40, who is now writing a book on his experiences, which he expects to be published within a few months.

"What I saw as a monitor were crimes against humanity committed by the authorities.

"I saw one small child and an adult of 40 to 45 shot dead by snipers, and many bodies in the hospital. I believe I was the target of another attack in which the driver of an accompanying protection vehicle was injured."

Mr Malek, who describes himself as a writer specialising in terrorism, was nominated as a monitor by the Arab Commission for Human Rights, based in Paris.

"I do not regret joining the mission and am satisfied I tried to do my duty but our work was made impossible," he said. "It was a very troubling experience."

He repeated his call for Homs to be declared an international disaster zone.

Pressed on the details of what he had witnessed in Homs, Mr Malek identified one of the civilians he says he saw killed as four-year-old Mohammed Raie.

He said that among corpses he viewed were those of three soldiers who had been shot in the back and who, he believed, had clearly been "summarily executed for defying the regime".

"Out on the street, snipers were firing on anyone in sight," he said. People who had taken no part in disturbances were rounded up and taken away.

The Arab League has responded critically to Mr Malek's comments, suggesting he spent much of his time in Homs claiming to be too sick to leave his hotel room.

An Arab league statement quoted Gen Mohammed Al Dabi, the head of the monitoring mission, as saying Mr Malek's allegations did not "relate to the truth in any way". Gen Al Dabi added: "Since he was assigned to the Homs team, Malek did not leave the hotel for six days and did not go out with the rest of the team into the field giving the excuse that he was sick."

Mr Malek was adamant when interviewed by telephone yesterday that he had not feigned illness.

However, he said that, in dismay at what he had witnessed since arriving in Syria on December 26, he did remain in his hotel room for four days to begin writing an account of his experiences.

Syria has sought to discredit Mr Malek, who has described the mission's work as a "farce" because of the obstacles put in its way. A headline above a report from the state news agency, Sana, summarised the Arab League statement in harsh terms: "Observer Anwar Malek perjured. What he stated is completely false."

The monitoring mission, numbering about 165, was given the task of verifying whether Syria was complying with an Arab League agreement to stop a military crackdown on protesters. The United Nations says more than 5,000 people have been killed in the uprising, though the authorities routinely accuse rebels of responsibility for much of the bloodshed.

However, there is some independent support for the thrust of Mr Malek's complaints.

The Reuters news agency reported that his resignation had increased a sense of disarray in a mission "already criticised for inefficiency" and quoted another monitor anonymously as saying he had travelled to Homs with Mr Malek and Gen Al Dabi but also wished to leave Syria because he considered the initiative ineffectual. Reuters noted that some monitors had come under attack from `Al Assad supporters and protesters alike.

Mr Malek has gone further than the anonymous monitor, stating that monitors were subject to relentless intimidation.

He said members of the mission were constantly badgered by "minders" and drivers who were themselves attached to the intelligence services. They were told not to post information on social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter and their mobile phones had been blocked.

"On successive days, I was threatened in phone calls to my room, and in emails. One message said I would be dead in a few days and I was even told I had been filmed in my hotel and that pictures of me coming out of the shower would be posted on the internet."

An Arab League ministerial summit is due to consider this weekend a call by Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, the ruler of Qatar, to send in Arab troops to end the repression. He told the US television network CBS: "Some troops should go to stop the killing."

Yesterday, Syria's government rejected that option, and said it would "pave the way for foreign intervention" and that its people would confront such action. The Tunisian president, Moncef Marzouki, has also said he opposed foreign military intervention. "Such intervention would signify that the war will spread across the whole region, opening the way to all powers, following the example of Turkey, Israel, Iran and Hizbollah," he said. "That would mean the whole region exploding".