Assad on trial in Germany over chemical weapons attacks on Gouta and Khan Shaykhun

A coalition of human rights groups has filed a criminal complaint against Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons henchmen for their alleged role in two attacks on civilians in 2013 and 2017 that are believed to have killed nearly 900 people. Researchers from the groups say they have gathered enough evidence to identify those responsible for the attacks and it’s time for those responsible to act.

The three groups – the Justice Initiative, the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression, and the Syrian Archives – have filed a complaint with the German prosecutor accusing senior Syrian officials of using chemical weapons against civilians in a 2013 attack on Ghouta and a subsequent attack. in 2017 against the Syrian city of Khan Shaykhun.

The coalition, which represents 17 Syrian victims of the attacks, says it has spent the past two years interviewing witnesses and searching open sources to produce lengthy evidence files on the two most notorious chemical weapons attacks carried out by the regime. ‘Assad.

Hadi al-Khatib, the head of the Syrian archives, which documents and preserves evidence of war crimes in Syria, urged other European countries to open their own investigations into the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime against civilians.

“The time has come for relevant European prosecutors to jointly investigate Syria’s chemical weapons program and issue arrest warrants against responsible Syrian officials,” Khatib said in a press release.

The Syrian army used rockets filled with Sarin against the rebel-held enclave on the outskirts of Damascus, followed by a conventional artillery bombardment in 2013, which is believed to have killed more than 800 people. In 2017, a Syrian Air Force plane dropped a munition filled with Sarin on the village of Khan Shaykun, which witnesses said killed between 70 and 100 people.

The groups claim that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, his brother, Maher, who is believed to control the country’s chemical arsenal, should be prosecuted along with former Syrian army chief of staff Imad Ali Abdullah Ayyoub and Air Force Commander Major General Ahmad Ballul for their prominent role in Syria’s chain of command.

In addition to these senior officials, researchers from human rights groups urged prosecutors to investigate the commanders of the Syrian Air Force 22nd Division and its 685th Squadron for their role in the attack. by Khan Shaykun. During the attack on Ghouta, the researchers appointed the commanders of the 155th brigade of the Syrian army and the 105th brigade of the Syrian Republican Guard as well as the leaders of the intelligence services of the air force. Syria and the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center as targets for prosecutors.

German law allows universal jurisdiction over certain crimes, including war crimes and genocide, regardless of whether the victims and perpetrators are related to Germany or not. In recent years, German prosecutors have played a leading role in prosecuting suspected Syrian war criminals accused of committing atrocities in the name of the Assad regime and rebels since the start of the country’s civil war. .

Over the summer, German prosecutors brought two former Syrian intelligence operatives to justice after they fled to Germany as refugees. Authorities say the men systematically tortured political dissidents on behalf of the Assad regime at the start of the civil war.

In 2016, prosecutors convicted a German jihadist of war crimes after posing for photos with the leaders of the beheaded troops of the Assad regime as he fought on the rebel side in the conflict.

A 2013 UN investigation found “clear and compelling evidence” that rockets loaded with the nerve agent sarin were used in attacks against civilians in Ghouta, but investigators’ warrant banned them from doing so. assign responsibility for the attack. The US government, the European Union, the Arab League as well as numerous independent investigations by journalists have all indicated that the Syrian army carried out the attacks.

A 2017 UN investigation found that the Syrian Air Force was responsible for the chemical weapons attack on Khan Shaykun, an attack carried out in defiance of the Assad regime’s claims that he would have destroyed its arsenal of chemical weapons.

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