New Report Uncovers Atrocities by Syrian Regime

Victims’ Bodies were Burnt to Hide any Traces
Soldiers of the Syrian regime forces

A recent report issued by Syria Justice and Accountability Center (SJAC) has caused a shock to the public, after revealing that a security apparatus affiliated with Bashar Assad regime burned the bodies of dissident civilians, military men and other opposition members in public executions. When did this happen? And how did the Syrian regime end the lives of its detainees?

These summary executions took place in 2012, just one year after the onset of public protests to demand the removal of Assad, and before the country slid into a raging war in which regional and international players got involved. However, the way these executions were performed is totally different from the previous incidents that were revealed over the past years.

Burning and disposal of Victims

The SJAC report, published few days ago under the title, “Leave No Traces: The Burning and Disposal of Human Remains by the Syrian Government,” depended on open-source data and field documentation. It uncovered evidence that links elements from the 9th Division to practices of torture and extrajudicial executions against defecting fighters and civilians in 2012, between the town of Al Qnayyah and the city of Al-Sanamayn in Daraa governorate.

The Center obtained videos showing a number of military intelligence elements in Al-Masmiyah in Daraa disposing of bodies of these victims. The perpetrators were keen on taking photos and shooting videos during the process, in which they covered the faces and hands of the victims’ bodies with gasoline before setting them on fire.

Photo documenting the cremation of the victims' bodies (acquired by the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center and published on October 31, 2022)

The report indicates that “while this is the first time that documentation of such processes has been made public, the systematic, careful nature through which the perpetrators destroyed the bodies, along with the presence of high-ranking officials, suggest that this may reflect a broader practice of the Syrian government to destroy evidence of their crimes and deny the families of their victims their right to know the fates of their loved ones or receive their remains.”

In 131 videos, 440 photos, and two audio recordings, the documentation provides clear evidence on the burning and mass burial of the bodies by Al-Masmiyah military intelligence, along with the 9th Division’s 34th Armored Brigade, according to the report.

To Inform Syrians and International Community

SJAC Executive Director Mohammad Al Abdallah said that “The report took about six months to prepare,” adding that “a SJAC investigator, senior data analyst and an executive director worked on the report, assisted by IT colleagues on satellite images, and a security documentation team member.”

“No one from the investigative team is residing in Syria,” Al Abdallah added. “The Center shared the report with an international investigative committee, with the International, Impartial and Independent International Mechanism, and with a group of war crimes bureaus in European public prosecutions.”

Al Abdallah also revealed that “the main goal of publishing the report is to inform the Syrians and the international community of what happened, and thus help families know the fate of their children.”

“The Center succeeded in contacting one family who lost three of its members,” he pointed out. “We are also trying to identify some of the officers in the videos.”

Mohammad Al Abdallah- SJAC Executive Director

How was the evidence obtained?

In the late 2021, a Syrian media activist (named as “the source” in the report), who is from Damascus suburbs but lives outside Syria, contacted the SJAC. He talked about a number of videos and photographs showing the execution of detainees and the burning of their bodies before burial.

The activist told the Center that this footage was originally found on a mobile phone and a laptop owned by a group affiliated with Syrian government forces, after they were ambushed by the opposition forces of Ummahat-ul-Momineen Brigade. One of the brigade fighters contacted the source and offered to sell him the laptop taken from one of the ambushed vehicles. “The source bought it and installed  data recovery software, ultimately retrieving 131 videos, 440 photos, and two audio recordings,” the report stated.

The Center’s analysts were able to upload 147 items to SJAC’s database, Bayanat, including 94 photos, 52 video clips, and one sound recording. This took place after the source agreed to share the full collection he had with the SJAC, after deleting duplicates, corrupted files, and data irrelevant to the documentation of crimes.

Four videos included in the data show the main incident described by the report, in which human remains were burnt and buried. Another 30 videos further document the same military unit disposing of the human remains. After a deeper analysis, another 18 videos and 94 photos and a second audio file “were deemed unrelated to the main incident under investigation.”

Systematic Filming

Dozens of leaked videos showing crimes committed by elements of the Syrian regime were made public over the course of the conflict. Sometimes it seemed that videos of torture and summary executions were improvised practices that perpetrators used to show off among their colleagues, or to prove their loyalty to the government. However, the videos documented in the SJAC report show that this time in particular there was a systematic process to deliberately film the incident upon the directives of military intelligence.

A Warrant Officer Recorded the Videos

SJAC analysts asserted that the person who filmed the videos is called Mohammed Taher Al-Ibrahim (nicknamed Abo Taher), a warrant officer in Al-Masmiyah military intelligence. A senior officer apparently assigned Abo Taher to film the incident. Many videos taken by Abo Taher show other officers getting upset over appearing on camera, but none asked him to stop filming.

The report added: “In one instance Abo Taher can be seen filming everybody at a checkpoint while preventing anyone else from filming. In another instance, while burning the bodies of executed individuals, Major Fadi Al-Quzi (who outranked Abo Taher) can be heard asking Abo Taher to not film him as he has nothing to do with what is happening (although Major Al-Quzi can be seen participating in the violation).”

Pictures from close-ups to the faces of the owners of the bodies using a small digital camera and documenting their identities in a “systematic” way, after the regime forces killed them in Daraa, and they were burned and buried in a mass grave in a remote area of Daraa (photos obtained by the Syrian Center for Justice and Accountability and published on October 31, 2022)

Orders of Security Branch

In a third instance, Lieutenant Colonel Ismael Mahmood Ismael asks Abo Taher if he was formally authorized to film them. Major Fadi Al-Quzi and others start joking about Abo Taher who said that he would have to cut this part of the video which would be submitted to the “branch,” in reference to the military intelligence branch he is affiliated with, or maybe a higher-level branch, according to the report.

Interactions in these videos reveal that the Syrian military intelligence wanted to document these operations as well as their perpetrators and victims. They were not secretly filmed or at the personal discretion of a witness. Obviously, some military intelligence elements were responsible for documenting these crimes, including the identity of the victims.

The first collection of videos shows the regime forces preparing and mobilizing for an imminent military operation. Using these videos, the SJAC’s investigative team was able to geographically locate the regions in which the perpetrators operated, and confirm their affiliation with military intelligence and the 9th Division’s garrisons in the Lajat area.

According to two videos taken in one building, the SJAC was able to verify that this building belonged to Al-Masmiyah, where a number of fighters stand in the square to receive directions by a leader identified as Major Fadi Al-Quzi.

These videos are reminiscent of what is known today as “Tadamon massacre,” which was uncovered by a New Lines report. It described how Syrian regime forces killed dozens of detainees in mass executions in Tadamon neighborhood, located in Damascus countryside. 41 detainees were pushed into a pit or a grave before they were killed, according to videos published by international media last April.

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