Suspected war criminal: Trail leads to torture videos by the Assad regime


As of: December 22, 2023 7:04 a.m

At the beginning of August, the federal prosecutor’s office in Bremen arrested a suspected Syrian war criminal. The authorities must comply with their investigations SWR-Information on videos showing the brutality of the Assad regime.

The story of the videos begins according to research by SWR with a betrayal: Five years ago, a Syrian intelligence officer in Damascus asked a young militia recruit for a favor. Since he is well versed in English, he should take care of deleting data on his laptop. When the recruit inspects the laptop, he comes across videos from 2012 and 2013.

These show shootings of innocent civilians and brutal torture – filmed by the secret service agent and his accomplices themselves. The recruit secretly saves the videos. They later end up as leaks among researchers, journalists and also German investigative authorities.

One of the videos became public last year, among other things ARD-Politics magazine Report Mainz reported about it: It shows the shooting of ten civilians in April 2013 in the “Al-Tadamon” district of Damascus. The main perpetrator: the secret service agent and laptop owner Amjad Y. In cold blood, he and other perpetrators lead people – tied up and blindfolded – to a pit, throw them in there and shoot them. The “Tadamon massacre” caused horror in the Arab world.

Executions and torture

The SWR was now able to see all 29 leaked videos for the first time. They document how systematic the henchmen of the Syrian ruler Bashar al-Assad, who has recently regained his reputation on the international stage, carried out their operations and how brutally they tortured. Videos show the shooting of at least 28 others People in connection with the “Tadamon massacre” in April 2013. Similar scenes in another video in October 2013: Shootings occur again, presumably in the same place.

At that time, two years after the start of the Syrian revolution, rebel groups were on the borders of the capital. Near the front, in regime territory, secret service agents, members of the “National Defense Forces” and so-called “Shabihah” militias close to the regime set up check points and carried out raids. They often worked hand in hand.

Mohammed Al Abdallah, head of the Washington-based Syria Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC), which documents crimes committed by the Assad regime and aims to bring them to justice, believes that the civilians were killed without any trial. “People who lived in the area were randomly selected and suspected of belonging to the opposition,” he told the SWR.

The videos suggest that the death pits were specially dug in an abandoned and partially destroyed residential area. In further scenes you can see how the perpetrators fill pits with car tires after the shootings and then set fire to these and the piles of corpses with gasoline. One of the videos shows secret service agent Amjad Y. using an excavator to transport the remains of the bodies from one pit to the next.

The case of Ahmad H.

These scenes are of interest SWR-Information also from the Federal Prosecutor’s Office. At the beginning of August, she had Ahmad H. arrested in Bremen – a 46-year-old who came to Germany from Syria as a refugee at the beginning of 2016. The accusation: crimes against humanity and war crimes through torture and enslavement.

According to its own information, the SJAC organization handed over initial information about the man to German investigative authorities in 2020. After SWR-Information was also shared with them via the video meeting. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office has gained a reputation worldwide because it conducts structural investigations into war crimes in Syria and has already charged individual perpetrators under international criminal law who were later convicted.

In the Ahmad H. case, the federal prosecutor’s office has so far only stated that the man acted in “Al-Tadamon” between 2012 and 2015 as the local leader of a “Shabihah” militia that was integrated into the “National Defense Forces”. In 2014, he is said to have hit people at a check point. He is also said to have forced arrested civilians to work at the front.

Suspect from Bremen on video?

In an almost one and a half minute clip from the leaked video collection, Ahmad H. can probably also be seen alongside Amjad Y., who is driving an excavator. The man stands next to the driver’s cab, from which a Syrian flag hangs, and salutes the camera twice. The SWR was able to speak to an informant from Syria who wishes to remain anonymous. He claims to have recognized Ahmad H. in the video. “Everyone knew him in this area back then. He was someone who was avoided,” he told the SWR.

Marwan Al-Esch, a Syrian human rights activist who lives in Bremen, said in an interview with the SWR, he met Ahmad H. twice during consultations with the Bremer Caritas. Since he himself was known as an opponent of Assad, H. was hesitant to tell him about his past.

However, H. told a third person about it in more detail. “And this person, a friend of mine, then warned me about H. He was a member of the Shabihah in the regime and I should be careful,” said Al-Esch. He later informed the Bremen interior authorities about this suspicion. This wanted to open up SWR-Do not comment on the request.

Lawyer rejects allegations

Ahmad H.’s lawyers shared this SWR in a written statement simply stated that there were “significant doubts about the evidence and [am] Handling the evidence.” They did not give any details. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office wanted to SWR-In view of the ongoing investigations, we will not comment further on the request.

It remains unclear whether Ahmad H. could have been involved in other operations and crimes documented on video by Amjad Y. and his accomplices. Ahmad H. apparently cannot be seen in any other videos. These show Amjad Y. and his militia excavating a suspected hideout of members of the Islamist terrorist group Jabhat-Al-Nusra in March 2013.

Other videos show the brutal torture of two prisoners in a building and a man’s hair being set on fire while he was brutally beaten while he was alive. Another is tortured with electric pliers on his tongue. Particularly disturbing is a video in which it is documented how a man lying on the ground, with signs of torture and tied up, has his throat cut alive.

Mohammed Al Abdallah from “SJAC” hopes that a possible trial against Ahmad H. will bring the “Tadamon massacre” and the work of the Syrian secret service and other militias back into the public and judicial spotlight. “We will see what Ahmad H. reports about Amjad Y. and other secret service employees. Hopefully this will give us more information about the extent of the crimes, but also about impunity [im Regime] and the command structures within Syrian military intelligence,” he told the SWR.

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