Dutch prosecutor demands 27 years jail in war crimes case for Syrian living in the Netherlands

27 years imprisonment. The Netherlands Public Prosecution Service demanded a high prison sentence in a case against a Syrian man suspected of committing war crimes, and for leadership of a terrorist organization. It is the first time someone in the Netherlands is being prosecuted for an execution committed in Syria.

The 49-years old defendant was granted asylum in 2014 and lived in Kapelle, a small town in south western Netherlands. In a German police investigation it emerged that he was possibly involved in war crimes. Later in the investigation a video was found in which the suspect’s voice could possibly be heard. The footage, that dates back to 2012, shows a captured man, a lieutenant colonel in the Syrian air force, being led to the bank of the Euphrates river before he is executed with multiple bullets. In the investigation the police found more videos of this execution, including footage in which the defendant is recognizable.

Summary execution

According to the prosecution, the defendant was a commander of a local combat group in eastern Syria that formed an alliance with the Al-Nusra Front. This jihadist group, the Syrian satellite of Al-Qaeda, was aiming to forcibly impose a strict Islamic society to the civil population.

The terrorist organization also fought against the army of the Syrian president Assad. The prosecutor addressed this battle: 

 “It is not called into question that the army of Assad and Assad personally is responsible for criminal human rights violations of the worst kind. The legitimacy of the resistance against Assad is not questioned either in this case. This is about the legitimacy of the manner of the resistance. And that is no technical matter, as the footage of the execution video proves. Here, a man is summarily executed without any form of trial. That is the reason why the defendant is being prosecuted for war crimes.”

Disturbing images

With this execution the defendant violated the law of war, the prosecutor told the court. The law states that combatants that are captured cannot be tortured, and cannot be killed without a form of trial. He showed the videos and described what can be seen:

"Bloodied and with tied hands he walks to the river. Spinning on his legs, at the last moments of his life he looks in the barrels of a revolver and a Kalashnikov. “By God, I haven’t killed anyone”. It did not matter whether the victim had or had not killed anyone. (…) he was killed for another reason. For revenge. Because he is an Alawite. Because he served in the army of Assad.”

Geolocation and voice recognition investigation 

The Netherlands can prosecute this Syrian man because he lives in the country. Due to the war situation and the lack of a judicial relationship, no investigation could be conducted in Syria. Still the facts could be established. A number of witnesses were traced and interviewed, in several countries. An expert witness advised about the value of witness statements, seen from the perspective of the eastern Syrian tribal culture. Furthermore, attention was paid to the verification of the video footage, with the help of geolocation and voice recognition investigation. Experts of the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI) concluded that the interrogation of the victim can be attributed to the defendant.  

The court will rule on the case on 16 July 2021