US imposes sanctions on Syrian military prisons and Assad regime figures

Sites have been setting for 'horrific torture and thousands of murders', Treasury Department says

A handout satellite image released by The French national Space study centre (CNES) and the ASTRIUM, the aerospace maufacture subsiduary of the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company (EADS) and received from Amnesty International on February 7, 2017 by shows the military-run Saydnaya prison, one of Syria's largest detention centres located 30 kilometres (18 miles) north of Damascus.

The United States on May 15, 2017 accused Syria of building a prison crematorium to destroy the remains of thousands of murdered detainees, putting pressure on Russia to rein in its ally. Warning Moscow it should not turn a blind eye to Bashar al-Assad's crimes, the State Department released satellite images that it said backed up reports of mass killings at the Syrian jail.

 / AFP PHOTO / AFP / Handout
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The US Treasury Department has placed sanctions on eight Syrian military prisons it says have been the sites of thousands of murders that occurred under the regime of President Bashar Al Assad.

The Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Tuesday also sanctioned five senior officials from Mr Al Assad's intelligence apparatus who run the detention centres.

“The individuals and entities we are designating today have been a party to gross violations of Syrian human rights, including supervising the torture and killing of detainees,” OFAC Director Andrea Gacki told reporters.

“Bashar Al Assad and his brutal regime continue to extend the conflict in Syria by their brutal treatment of prisoners who oppose the regime’s oppressive policies and murderous activities.”

Ms Gacki added that the prisons “have been the site of horrific torture and thousands of murders".

She referenced the famous caches of grisly photos smuggled out of the country by “Caesar”, a regime defector who once worked as a photographer for the Syrian military.

Many of the sanctioned prisons are operated as branches of the Syrian Military Intelligence and the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate, Ms Gacki said.

In a statement, OFAC highlighted abuses at the Saidnaya military prison, which has a well-documented history of serious human rights horrors.

“Two buildings at the Saidnaya military prison site alone could contain as many as 10,000 to 20,000 detainees between them,” the statement read.

“Many prisoners have been denied food and water for prolonged periods of time and were subjected to extensive beatings. Thousands of Syrian regime dissidents reportedly have been extrajudicially executed in mass hangings at the prison and buried in mass graves.”

OFAC also sanctioned the armed group Ahrar Al Sharqiya — which operates in northern Syria and is accused of the 2019 killing of a Kurdish politician — for abuses against civilians and is sanctioning two of the group’s leaders.

“Ahrar Al Sharqiya has committed numerous crimes against civilians, particularly Syrian Kurds, including unlawful killings, abductions, torture and seizures of private property,” the Treasury Department said.

The agency said it was blocking any assets and banning any US transactions with Ahrar Al Sharqiya, a once obscure armed group that came into the spotlight when Turkey sent troops into northern Syria in October 2019 following talks with then-president Donald Trump.

Updated: July 28, 2021, 4:30 PM