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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

France seeks arrest of senior Syrians over custody deaths

Key aide to Bashar Al Assad was one of three men wanted by French authorities

French judges have issued international arrest warrants for three senior officials within the regime of Bashar Al Assad. EPA/SANA
French judges have issued international arrest warrants for three senior officials within the regime of Bashar Al Assad. EPA/SANA

France has issued arrest warrants for three high-ranking Syrian officials accused of complicity in the torture and death of a father and son after their detention in a notorious regime prison.

The three suspects include a senior lieutenant of Syrian president, reflecting French judicial views that responsibility for the deaths of Mazen Dabbagh, 58, and his son Patrick, 20, went to the top of the Syrian regime, said rights groups.

The two French-Syrian citizens were first detained in 2013 but their family only learned of their fate this year after the Syrian government released a list of 8,000 people who had died in detention.

“Mazen and Patrick had never been arrested previously and they had never been in any trouble with security services in Syria,” said Clemence Bectarte, a lawyer for the International Federation for Human Rights which brought the case to French investigators in 2016. “The mystery is still total about why they were arrested.”

Rights groups say that the pair were among up to one million people arrested and detained in secret detention centres across the country since anti-regime protests started in 2011.

The wanted trio includes General Ali Mamlouk, who heads the National Security Bureau, and is seen as one of the most senior presidential advisers.

He was placed on an EU travel blacklist in 2011 but rights groups believe he flew to Rome for security talks with the Italian government in the summer.

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The other two men charged were from Air Force Intelligence services which arrested the two men. The powerful Major General Jamil Hassan runs the unit, while Abdel Salam Mahmoud is in charge of the Mezzeh detention facility in Damascus where the two men were held.

They are all wanted for complicity to crimes against humanity while Mr Mahmoud is also wanted for war crimes. France could not order an international arrest warrant for President Assad because he has immunity as head of state from prosecutions brought by national jurisdictions.

The arrest warrants will be circulated throughout the 192 Interpol member nations and should see them arrested if they travelled abroad in the future. Political realities mean that they would not be arrested in Syrian-allied nations like Russia and Iran.

One option if the men could not be brought to France would be to try them in their absence. France held such a trial in 2010 for 14 officials who served under the military rule of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet for charges including kidnapping and torture related to the disappearance of four French citizens in the 1970s.

“This is a first victory and, I hope, the beginning of a new era of justice and accountability for crimes against humanity and war crimes committee in Syria,” said Obeida Dabbagh the brother of Mazen.