A suspected pro-Syrian government militia member has gone on trial in the Netherlands following allegations that he was involved in the arrest and torture of at least two people in Syria in 2012, Reuters has reported. The 35-year-old man, identified only as Mustafa A, refused to answer any questions from judges.
He faces charges of war crimes and crimes again humanity for arresting at least two people and handing them over to Syrian Air Force intelligence officials who ran a prison where they were tortured.
According to prosecutors, Mustafa A was a leading member of Liwa Al-Quds, or the Jerusalem Brigade. It is a militia made up mostly of Palestinian refugees living in Syria founded during the early years of Syria’s 12-year war.
This is the first Dutch war crimes trial of a suspect accused of fighting on the side of the government of President Bashar Al-Assad during the Syrian conflict. On the first day of the trial, judges quoted witnesses who said that the suspect was a prominent member of the militia involved in their violent arrests and gave details of beatings and torture they endured in prison.
Despite being asked numerous times for a reaction to the declarations and excerpts from his own police interviews and intercepted phone calls, Mustafa A invoked his right to remain silent at every turn. He was arrested last year, and had been living in the Netherlands since 2020 after applying for asylum.
In recent years Dutch courts have convicted several Syrian nationals of war crimes who were members of opposition and Islamist militias in Syria. Such cases are prosecuted in the Netherlands under “universal jurisdiction” principles, which say those suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity can be prosecuted abroad.