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Germany, Sweden arrest 8 over suspected war crimes in Syria

Kieran Burke
July 3, 2024

German authorities have said the men are suspected of killing civilians during Syria's civil war. Swedish officials have also made arrests over suspected crimes against humanity committed in Syria.

A file photo of armed German police
Those arrested by German and Swedish authorities are suspected of committing war crimes during Syria's civil warImage: Boris Roessler/dpa/picture alliance

German and Swedish authorities on Wednesday said they arrested eight men suspected of committing crimes against humanity in Syria.

Germany's  Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office said in a statement that four stateless Syrian Palestinians and a Syrian national are "strongly suspected of killing and attempting to kill civilians, qualified as crimes against humanity and war crimes."

Swedish authorities said three people were arrested for alleged crimes against humanity.

What German authorities said

Prosecutors said three men, Jihad A., Mazhar J. and Sameer S., were arrested in Berlin. Mahmoud A. was arrested in Frankenthal, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Wael S. was taken into custody near Boizenburg in Mecklenburg-West Pomerania.

According to the Prosecutor's Office, Mazhar J. was a member of the Syrian Military Intelligence Service's Branch 235 and was also accused of abusing at least one person in a Syrian prison. 

Jihad A., Mahmoud A., Sameer S. and Wael S. were allegedly affiliated with the Free Palestine Movement (FPM) that controlled  Al Yarmouk, a district in Damascus, on behalf of Bashar Assad's Syrian regime, around the spring of 2011.

The FPM had worked in close collaboration with the Syrian Military Intelligence Service including Branch 227 and 235, the so-called Palestine branch, a statement on the arrests said.

These branches have been accused of committing various atrocities throughout the course of the war, including mass killings and numerous instances of abuse and torture.

Can Assad be charged with war crimes?

All suspects arrested in Germany are alleged to have taken part in a violent crackdown in Al Yarmouk in July 2012 in which civilian protesters were specifically targeted and shot, prosecutors said, with six people dying in that incident.

Four of the suspects "physically abused civilians from Al Yarmouk severely and repeatedly" at checkpoints in the area, the statement said. 

Three civilian victims of a massacre that took place on April 16, 2013, in which 41 people were killed, had allegedly been arrested at one of these checkpoints and turned over to Branch 227 by Mahmoud A, German authorities said.

Suspects expected in court

The suspects detained in Germany shall appear at the Federal Court of Justice shortly. The investigating judge is expected to issue the formal arrest warrant and decide on their pretrial detention on Wednesday.

The men "will face charges in Germany for crimes against humanity and war crimes," German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann stated. 

"I would like to thank all the state criminal investigation offices involved and our Swedish partners for their excellent cooperation," Buschmann said.

Three arrested in Sweden

A further three alleged FPM members suspected of participation in the Al Yarmouk crackdown were arrested in Sweden at the same time.

The Swedish prosecutor in charge of the investigation, Ulrika Bentelius Egelrud, said the suspects were arrested thanks to "good cooperation with Germany, Eurojust and Europol."

Germany has taken in hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war which has been ongoing since 2011. 

The case is not the first instance of a German court trying Syrians in the country. In 2022, a court in the western city of Koblenz convicted a Syrian ex-colonel of crimes against humanity. 

AFP material contributed to this report.

Edited by: Sean Sinico

*Editor's note: DW follows the German press code, which stresses the importance of protecting the privacy of suspected criminals or victims and obliges us to refrain from revealing full names in such cases.

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