Anatomy of Terror in Damascus

Lhe war crimes and even the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Russia during its invasion of Ukraine have revived the investigations into the systematic violations of human rights by the Assad regime. The central question of the impunity of the executioners is again posed, with the priority issue of documenting such crimes, in the perspective of legal proceedings against the executors as well as the principals. The parallel is obvious, from Syria to Ukraine, between the techniques used by Moscow and its allies to terrorize the populations left to their will. It is in this context that two researchers from the University of Amsterdam have just revealed the scale and method of the abuses perpetrated by the Assad regime in a suburb of Damascus.

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Two years of investigation

Dutch professor Ugur Ümit Üngör and Syrian researcher Annsar Shahoud, both attached to the Center for Genocide and Holocaust Studies at the University of Amsterdam, recovered a video of unbearable violence in June 2019. Delivered by a Syrian dissident to an opposition refugee in Europe, it shows the execution of forty-one people, shot dead one after the other, blindfolded, by a Syrian officer in uniform, then thrown into a mass grave to then be burned there. It is for the two researchers the beginning of a very long investigation, because only the date of April 2013 is indisputable. A patient work of reconstitution of the data and comparative geolocation makes it possible to finally locate the massacre in the district of Tadamone (“solidarity”), in the south of Damascus. This suburb, where peaceful protests had been repressed since 2011, was then in the hands of Assad’s soldiers and their auxiliaries from the National Defense Forces (FDN).

Annsar Shahoud makes hundreds of contacts, managing to identify the main killer of the 2013 video, then gain his trust

Annsar Shahoud invents a fake identity on social networks, where she presents herself as a pro-Assad Syrian exile, eager to encourage supporters and fighters of the regime. She thus makes hundreds of contacts, managing to identify the main assassin of the 2013 video, then to gain his trust. Amjad Youssef is a military intelligence officer, whose father had already followed the same career, in an unconditional family allegiance to the Assad clan. From the popular uprising of 2011, he assumed command for the “ security in the Tadamone area, in fact sowing insecurity within a population considered collectively suspicious. He is in fact the all-powerful local leader of the “227 branch” of military intelligence, in charge of the capital and its suburbs, a “branch” renowned for the sadism of its violence. Youssef boasts of being the executioner of the video, shot ” in tribute “ to his brother, who died in Assad’s uniform, and to have himself murdered these dozens of civilians in retaliation.

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