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.


Assad wants to be known as the ‘man who saved Syria’

President Bashar al-Assad says he wants to be remembered 10 years from now as the person who saved Syria, according to an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais published on Saturday.

Assad wants to be known as the 'man who saved Syria'
President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. Photo: AFP

Assad, whose fate has been a key sticking point in efforts to end Syria's bloody civil war as it enters its sixth year, left open the question of whether he would still be president by then.

And he said he was ready to implement a long-sought ceasefire, but only if the rebels and their international backers such as Turkey did not use it as a chance to gain ground.

“In 10 years, if I can save Syria as president – but that doesn't mean I'm still going to be president in 10 years, I'm just talking about my vision of the 10 years,” he said in an interview published on the newspaper's website.   

“If Syria is safe and sound, and I'm the one who saved his country – that's my job now, that's my duty.

“If the Syrian people want me to be in power, I will be. If they don't want me, I can do nothing, I mean, I cannot help my country, so I have to leave right away.”

World powers have been pushing for a so-called cessation of hostilities in Syria to pave the way for renewed peace negotiations, but the truce has faltered as fighting on the ground has intensified.

In an interview with AFP on February 12th, before the deal was announced, Assad defiantly pledged to retake the whole of the country.    

Speaking to El Pais, he said he was “ready” for a ceasefire, but warned that it should not be exploited by “the terrorists” to improve their positions, using the regime's term for all rebel groups.

“It's about preventing other countries, especially Turkey, from sending more recruits, more terrorists, more armaments, or any kind of logistical support to those terrorists.”

Syria's regime has been pressing an offensive in the northern Aleppo region backed by Russian air strikes and troops from Iran and Lebanon's Hezbollah, which has forced tens of thousands to flee.

Assad said the support of his Russian and Iranian allies had been “essential” in the recent major advances made by regime forces.  

“We definitely need that help for a simple reason: because more than 80 countries supported those terrorists in different ways,” he told El Pais.    

Some backers helped “directly with money, with logistical support, with armaments, with recruitments. Some other countries supported them politically, in different international forums,” he told the daily.