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Suspected Syrian pro-regime fighter on trial in the Netherlands for war crimes

A suspected Syrian pro-government militia member on trial in the Netherlands on Thursday refused to answer any questions from judges about allegations that he was involved in the arrest and torture of at least two people in Syria in 2012.

The 35-year-old man, identified only as Mustafa A., faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity for arresting at least two people and handing them over to Syrian Air Force intelligence officials who ran a prison where they were tortured.

It is the first Dutch war crimes trial of a suspect accused of fighting on the side of the government of regime President Bashar al-Assad during the devastating Syrian conflict, which killed half a million people.

Millions more were forcibly displaced as a result of the war which began in 2011, when Assad carried out a brutal crackdown on peaceful opposition demonstrators.

According to prosecutors, Mustafa A. was a leading member of the Liwa al-Quds, or the Jerusalem Brigade. Liwa al-Quds is a militia made up mostly of Palestinian refugees living in Syria founded during the early years of Syria's 12-year war.

On the first day of the trial, judges quoted witnesses who said the suspect was a prominent Liwa al-Quds member involved in their violent arrests and gave details of beatings and torture they endured in prison.

Despite being asked numerous times for a reaction to the declarations and excerpts from his own police interviews and intercepted phone calls Mustafa A. invoked his right to remain silent at every turn.

The suspect, arrested last year, had been living in the Netherlands since 2020 and had applied for asylum there.

In recent years Dutch courts have convicted several Syrian nationals of war crimes who were members of opposition and Islamist militias in Syria.

Such cases are prosecuted in the Netherlands under "universal jurisdiction" principles, which say suspected war crimes and crimes against humanity can be prosecuted abroad. 

(Reuters)

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