Public Prosecution Service demands prison sentence of 4 years for membership of an armed group that committed pillage during the Syrian civil war

On Wednesday the Netherlands Public Prosecution Service has demanded a 46-year-old Syrian man to be sentenced to 4 years in prison. The man appeared at the Hague District Court because he allegedly participated in the armed group of his family in Syria, that was involved in robbing the local population.

According to the prosecutors, the armed group was active from early 2012 to May 2015 in the town of Khan Shaykhun, along the highway between Damascus and Aleppo. “Those who ventured onto the highway during that period, would face an uncertain fate”, one of the prosecutors was quoted.

“And that is extra poignant given the fact that this happened in the midst of a civil war.” The Prosecution Service especially blames the defendant that “he deliberately took advantage of the armed conflict to make the lives of civilians, who were already suffering, even harder.”

In determining the demanded sentence, the prosecutors pointed at the fact that it may be tempting to look at the crime of pillaging as a ‘less serious’ war crime, as if it were a property crime. But sparing those who are not actively involved in the armed conflict also involves their belongings; that is a fact that was already laid down in early sources of the laws of war. The Netherlands cannot be a safe haven for those who are guilty of committing international crimes, the Prosecution Service stressed.

The defendant was charged with membership of a criminal organization whose purpose was to commit international crimes, more specifically pillaging as a war crime. The case was handled by the Hague District Court as this court is exclusively competent to deal with cases concerning international crimes.

Anonymous reports

The investigation against the defendant started on the basis of several anonymous reports on the websites of the Dutch police and the Immigration Services. The defendant came to the Netherlands as a refugee in 2019 and was arrested in the asylum seekers’ center of St. Annaparochie on 6 April 2021.

Multiple witnesses have given statements about the defendant’s involvement in pillaging public traffic on the M5 highway to Damascus. The armed group that consisted of many of his family members allegedly robbed cars, buses and trucks of their cargo on the highway, which ran through the town of Khan Shaykhun, situated in Northwest Syria. Stolen goods and cargo were then either resold or sold back to the victims. This lasted until Jabhat al-Nusra took control over the area in 2015.