Ring ‘smuggled Syrians into Europe via Spain’

Spanish police said on Tuesday they have broken up a human trafficking ring that smuggled desperate families fleeing the conflict in Syria into Europe, charging up to €10,000 ($12,500) per person.

Ring 'smuggled Syrians into Europe via Spain'
Police said they opened their investigation in April after detecting the "suspicious" entry of various Syrian nationals at Madrid's airport. File photo: Jorge Guerrero/AFP

Eighteen people were arrested in Madrid, including the suspected head of the ring, a Spanish national of Lebanese origin, police said in a statement

"The organisation mainly recruited Syrians who were displaced due to the situation in their country. In general it selected middle class families," the statement said.

The ring charged between €6,000 and €10,000 ($7,500 and $12,500) per person, police said.

"In exchange for this money they had the right to plane tickets, accommodation in the various transit nations, falsified documents and several opportunities to attempt an entry in case they were detected before arriving in Spain," the statement added.

The ring would usually take the Syrians to Asia and then a city in South America, most often in Brazil, before flying them to Madrid from where they travelled overland by bus or taxi to France or Germany or another northern European country in a trip that could last weeks.

The Syrians stayed in budget hotels in the centre of the Spanish capital which, in cooperation with the ring, did not register their stay.

Police said they opened their investigation in April after detecting the "suspicious" entry of various Syrian nationals at Madrid's airport.

The suspects include eight Lebanese nationals, three Syrians, a Moroccan, Ecuadorian, a Ukrainian and four Spanish nationals, two of them of Lebanese origin.

Nearly half of Syria's pre-war population of 23 million people has been forced to flee since the conflict in the country began in March 2011 as an uprising against President Bashar Assad.

The United Nations says 3.2 million people have fled beyond Syria's borders, mostly to Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, and more than 7.2 million have become internally displaced. More than 200,000 people have been killed in the war, according to the United Nations.

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Spain probes Syrian intelligence chief over alleged torture

A Spanish judge on Monday ordered an investigation into the alleged torture and execution of a Syrian man after a case was filed by his sister, a Spaniard of Syrian origin.

Spain probes Syrian intelligence chief over alleged torture
Lebanese students opposed to the Syrian regime hold up portraits of Syria's feared security chief Ali Mamluk (r) at a 2012 protest in Beirut. Photo: AFP

Amal Hag-Hamdo Anfalis brought the case on January 31, saying her brother Abdul Hamdo, a 42-year-old lorry driver, was illegally detained in 2013, two years after the start of the Syrian conflict, before being tortured and executed.

High court judge Eloy Velasco ruled Spain does have jurisdiction to launch the procedure against Syrian officials, nine in all, including Damascus' head of intelligence Ali Mamluk and high ranking colleagues including Abdel Fattah Qudsiyeh, Mohammad Dib Zeitun and Jamil Hassan.

Others named in the case are former Syrian vice president Faruk al-Shareh, Mohamed Said Bekheitan, a senior official with the ruling Baath party, as well as Mohamed al Haj Ali, general Jalal al Hayek and colonel Souleyman al Youssef.

Amal says a Syrian military police photographer and deserter, known as “Cesar”, smuggled out evidence of his brother's death as well as that of thousands of other regime opponents.

The charge sheet against the accused alleges Abdul Hamdo was the victim of “state terrorism.” One image of his lifeless body “shows clear signs of torture.”

The photo archive shows he died in the Syrian military intelligence's detention centre 248 in Damascus.

Judge Velasco, who has asked Amal and “Cesar” to testify from April 10th, says the alleged crimes could constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes, torture and forced disappearance.

Under Spanish law Madrid will normally only hear such a case if it involves a Spanish victim or if there is a direct material link with Spain.

Velasco found there were compelling arguments for it to be heard, given that Amal is a Spanish national who could be considered a victim.

French judicial authorities are also investigating the “Cesar” photo trove to determine if crimes against humanity were committed, while lawyers in Germany also filed a criminal complaint against the Assad regime before federal prosecutors earlier this month.