BERLIN — A Syrian military doctor accused of torturing opponents of President Bashar al-Assad in military facilities in Syria a decade ago, and killing at least one, was indicted on Wednesday on charges of crimes against humanity by the German federal prosecutor.
The move to indict the doctor, Alaa Mousa, was part of an effort by German authorities to hold accountable the Syrian government officials who sneaked into Germany along with more than a million refugees, many of them victims of the Syrian regime and others fleeing the civil war, in 2015 and 2016.
Mr. Mousa killed at least one detainee with a lethal injection and tortured at least another 18, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office said when announcing the charges on Wednesday.
While a number of returning fighters or recruiters from the Islamic State have been charged in German courts, the indictment of Syrian government officials in Germany is rare.
Last year, two Syrians who were part of the secret military police were put on trial. A verdict in the case of one of the officers is expected in the western city of Koblenz in September. The other officer, who was more junior, was convicted in February and sentenced to four and a half years.
Dr. Mousa has been in German custody since he was arrested last year.
Roger Lu Phillips, the legal director of the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center in Washington, applauded the move by federal prosecutors. “Alaa Mousa is part of the Syrian government apparatus that is part of the persecution and torture of the Syrian people,” he said in a telephone interview.
Mr. Philips said the indictment was part of a rising trend in Western countries like Sweden, the Netherlands and France of using the legal concept of universal jurisdiction to hold people to account in countries where they did not commit their crimes.
“Germany has been at the forefront at fighting against this impunity because you have so many Syrians living in the country,” he said.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Treasury imposed sanctions on eight Syrian prisons used by the regime’s intelligence apparatus and on five senior officials that run the facilities. The prison where Dr. Mousa worked in the city of Homs does not appear to be among those sanctioned.
Dr. Mousa worked as an assistant doctor in a military hospital in Homs, from April 2011 until the end of 2012. He also served in a miliary hospital in the country’s capital, Damascus, according to German officials.
In the charges laid out by prosecutors, Dr. Mousa was accused of a litany of crimes against detainees.
In the summer of 2011, he allegedly doused the testicles of a 14- or 15-year-old boy with alcohol before lighting him on fire in the emergency room at the military hospital, according to the charges. He is also alleged to have kicked and punched other prisoners in the head, torso and groin, and in one case carried out an operation without sufficient anesthetic.
When one detainee defended himself against his kicks in the hospital in Homs, the doctor beat him with a nightstick and then, after tying him to the floor, injected him with a substance, prosecutors say. The man died minutes later, they say.
A date for the trial has not been set.
After fleeing Syria in the middle 2015, Dr. Mousa started working at a hospital near the city of Kassel in central Germany, where he was recognized by other Syrians who alerted the authorities. He was arrested in June 2020.
While many Germans have welcome refugees, the influx also gave rise to the populist Alternative für Deutschland, which campaigned on an anti-refugee platform and is now the largest opposition party in Parliament. Many Germans, especially on the right, have accused the government of allowing in too many people without properly vetting them.
The refugee authority came under special scrutiny after a German military officer with right-wing sympathies was able to establish a second identity as a Syrian refugee without speaking any Arabic.
It remains unknown how much of his history Dr. Mousa divulged when he entered the country.
Mr. Phillips, the lawyer with the Syrian Justice and Accountability Center, said the indictment sent an important signal to those accused of abuses still in Syria.
“The worst perpetrators remain in Syria, and they will remain in Syria because they know justice awaits them elsewhere,” he said.
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