France targets three top Syrian security chiefs with international arrest warrants

France has issued international arrest warrants for three top Syrian security chiefs for alleged collusion in war crimes, according to legal and judicial sources.

Among those targeted is Ali Mamlouk, Syria’s security chief and among President Bashar al-Assad’s most senior advisers.

The other high-ranking officials sought are Jamil Hassan, head of the Syrian air force’s intelligence agency, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, in charge of the air force intelligence’s investigative branch at the Mezzeh military airport in Damascus.

The warrants – which cite charges including collusion in torture, forced disappearances, crimes against humanity and war crimes – were issued on October 8 but made public only on Monday, according to the International Federation for Human Rights advocacy group (FIDH).

They stem from a long-running case involving two French-Syrian nationals who were arrested in Syria in November 2013 and had disappeared after being taken to the Mezzeh Investigative Branch in Damascus, run by Mahmoud.

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Damascus confirmed in August 2018 that the father and son, Mazen and Patrick Abdelkader Dabbagh, had died.

Prosecutors in Paris had already opened a probe into the pair’s disappearance, starting with a preliminary investigation in 2016, and had found that their house in Damascus had been raided by intelligence officials.

The probe was launched after a former photographer for the Syrian military police nicknamed Caesar handed rights groups 50,000 images of prisoners who had died of starvation, illness or torture in prisons run by the Assad regime between 2011 and 2013.

Germany – which has universal jurisdiction over war crimes, meaning it can prosecute and try crimes committees abroad – has also taken similar steps, issuing an arrest warrant in June for Syrian airforce intelligence official Hassan.

Efforts to prosecute members of the Assad government have repeatedly failed because Syria is not a signatory of 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.

“The international arrest warrants demonstrate that the wall of impunity surrounding Syrian officials at the highest level can indeed be broken," said Patrick Baudouin and Clémence Bectarte, lawyers representing the plaintiffs.