Police have arrested two Syrian citizens in Germany on suspicion of crimes against humanity, including torturing prisoners, during their work for the intelligence service in Syria, federal prosecutors said on Wednesday, Reuters reports.
Germany, Norway and Sweden are the only European countries whose laws allow them to prosecute and try war crimes committed outside their territory. Germany is home to more than 600,000 Syrians.
The two suspects, identified as Anwar R., aged 56, and Eyad A., 42, were arrested by federal police in Berlin and Rhineland-Palatinate state.
A spokeswoman for the GBA Federal Prosecutor’s Office said both suspects had been part of the Syrian security service centre in Damascus and had left Syria in 2012.
As a high-ranking employee in the Syrian intelligence service, Anwar R. is strongly suspected of participating in crimes against humanity by torturing opposition activists between 2011 and 2012, prosecutors said in a statement.
“As head of the so-called investigative department, Anwar R. assigned and directed the operations in the prison, including the use of systematic and brutal torture,” said the statement.
The other Syrian is suspected of helping to kill two people and torturing at least 2,000 people as an intelligence worker between July 2011 and January 2012, it said. He is suspected of working in the department Anwar A. was directing.
Anwar R. has been in Germany since mid-2014 and Eyad A. since mid-2018, the prosecutor’s spokesman told Reuters, adding that both suspects had applied for asylum in Germany.
“It was a question of time that someone is identified and will be accused and later on arrested, most probably indicted and put on trial in Germany or another European country,” Wolfgang Kaleck, the head of European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) told Reuters.
Six torture survivors, some of whom live in Germany, have given testimonies against one of the two detainees, Kaleck said.
The two were arrested after French authorities detained another Syrian in France over similar accusations, said the prosecutors.
The Syrian embassy in Berlin was not available for immediate comment.
Efforts to prosecute members of President Bashar al-Assad’s government have repeatedly failed as Syria is not a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Russia and China have also vetoed attempts to give the ICC a mandate to set up a special tribunal for Syria.
“It’s a step forward but not more than that,” Kaleck said. “Let’s be clear, this is one of the most serious crimes against humanity in the last 100 years, so the arrest of those who were involved is important but should not be the end of the story.”