The Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court in Germany Thursday sentenced two Syrian nationals on war crimes and terrorism-related charges. Khedr A.K. was given a life sentence, mainly for shielding the execution of a detained army officer and membership of a foreign terrorist organization. His co-defendant, Sami A.S., was sentenced to nine years in prison, for filming the crime and preparing the footage for use as propaganda, as well as for supporting a foreign terrorist organization.
Khedr A.K. joined the Ghurabaa Muhassan group in the Syrian town of Muhassan in spring 2012. The group was part of Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda, and fighting against Syrian government forces in the civil war. Armed with a rapid-fire weapon, Khedr was proved to have been one of the people who, in July 2012, guarded a captured Syrian lieutenant colonel’s transfer to the Euphrates’ banks in Syria and subsequent execution. The officer was a protected person under international humanitarian law. The court had also heard as a witness Khedr A.K.’s brother, Ahmad al Khedr; last month, a Netherlands court convicted Ahmad of war crimes for firing several shots at the victim.
Sami A.S. was found to have filmed the transfer of the army officer—who had also been subjected to ill-treatment—as well as his execution, commenting “in a glorifying way,” prosecutors had said. This was done for al-Nusra propaganda purposes, and the video was broadcast on the internet shortly afterwards. The court had also considered as evidence a video that was in Sami’s possession. However, he had claimed that he was a computer science teacher and neutral reporter at the time, and that he had wanted to observe a hostage exchange but later realized that an execution was imminent. Diverging from the indictment, the court classified him not as an accomplice but as an assistant.
Germany employs universal jurisdiction to prosecute the most serious crimes regardless of nationality and place of commission. German investigations into crimes committed by non-State armed groups in Syria and Iraq opened in August 2014. Sami and Khedr’s arrests took place in July last year, in Essen and Naumburg, respectively.
While the Public Prosecutor General had sought life sentences for both defendants, their lawyers had applied for acquittals. Both parties could now file an appeal, as the judgment is not final.
In February, another Higher Regional Court convicted a former Syrian intelligence officer of complicity in crimes against humanity, marking the first time that a court, worldwide, ruled on torture by the Syrian regime.