US sanctions two militias over serious human rights abuses in Syria

Hamza Division and Suleiman Shah Brigade are accused of torture and abducting civilians, among other abuses in Afrin

Sayf Abu Bakr, one of the commanders of the Hamza Division. AFP
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The US on Thursday sanctioned two armed Syrian opposition groups for conducting serious human rights abuses in northern Syria.

Both the Hamza Division and Suleiman Shah Brigade have participated in human-rights abuses in the Afrin region, which is controlled by several armed groups who use violence to control the movement of goods and people.

The Treasury Department said those groups add to the suffering caused by years of civil war in northern Syria.

Three members of the groups' leadership have also been sanctioned.

“Today’s action demonstrates our continued dedication to promoting accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses, including in Syria,” said Brian Nelson, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

The Hamza Division formed in 2016 as an armed opposition group involved in abductions, theft and torture. A 2021 UN report accused the Hama Division of ill-treatment and torture directly causing death in the locations of Hawar Killis, Rai and informal detention sites.

Sayf Boulad Abu Bakr, the leader of the militia sanctioned on Thursday, has appeared in numerous propaganda videos.

The Treasury said that the Hamza Division has been involved in brutal repression under his leadership. This includes kidnapping Kurdish women and severely abusing prisoners, sometimes resulting in death.

The Suleiman Shah Brigade, a component of the Syrian National Army and part of the armed opposition to the Syrian government, is said to hold significant control over civilians in the Afrin region.

The brigade has targeted Kurdish residents, many of whom are subjected to harassments, abduction and other abuses.

Suleiman Shah Brigade leader Mohammad Hussein al-Jasim (Abu Amsha) is accused of ordering the militia to kidnap local residents, demanding ransom and confiscating their property. He also alleged to have raped the wife of a brigade member and threatened her with violence if she did not remain silent.

His younger brother, Walid Hussein al-Jasim, was also sanctioned on Thursday. He faces several charges related to sexual assault against women.

A car dealership owned by Abu Amsha was also part of the Treasury's sanctions.

Updated: August 17, 2023, 4:28 PM