Syrian war crimes suspect appears in Dutch court

Tahrir Al-Sham fighters near the villages of Al-Foua and Kefraya, in Syria. Ahmad al Khedr told a journalist he was a member of the Nusra Front, now known as Tahrir Al-Sham. (Reuters)
Updated 02 September 2019

Syrian war crimes suspect appears in Dutch court

  • Ahmad al Khedr, also known as Abu Khuder, faces charges of murder and membership of a terrorist group under Dutch universal jurisdiction laws
  • Al Khedr allegedly led a battalion known as Ghuraba’a Mohassan, but his lawyer said he had been lying when he told a journalist he was a member of the Nusra Front

AMSTERDAM: Lawyers for a Syrian accused of war crimes in the Netherlands for allegedly participating in an execution during the country’s civil war denied on Monday that their client was a member of the radical Nusra Front.
Ahmad al Khedr, also known as Abu Khuder, faces charges of murder and membership of a terrorist group under Dutch universal jurisdiction laws. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if found guilty.
This is the first time a Syrian national has been charged with war crimes under Dutch jurisdiction laws. The case against Al Khedr marks only the second time a Dutch court has looked at crimes committed during the war in Syria, the earlier case targeting Dutch Islamists who fought in the conflict.
At a pretrial hearing in a high-security courthouse near Schiphol airport, the 47-year-old Al Khedr was clean shaven and wore a light blue shirt.
Al Khedr allegedly led a battalion known as Ghuraba’a Mohassan, or Strangers of Mohassan, but his lawyer said he had been lying when he told a journalist he was a member of the Nusra Front.
“That was not true,” Andre Seebregts told the court.
Prosecutors say the defendant participated in the summary execution of a captured Syrian soldier in July 2012. Videos of the execution circulated on the Internet, they said.
Seebregts said Al Khedr admitted being at the site of the execution, but denied he participated in the killing.
“My client was there to ask if the officer could be traded for his two brothers (who were held by Syrian government forces),” Seebregts said.
Dutch authorities say Abu Khuder, who was arrested in May, had been in the Netherlands since 2014, where he had been granted temporary asylum. The charges against him are based on witness testimonies provided by German police.
The next hearing was set for Nov. 18.
Under Dutch law, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on foreign soil can be prosecuted under universal jurisdiction if a suspect resides in the Netherlands.
The latest incarnation of the Nusra Front, which was part of Al-Qaeda until 2016, is Tahrir Al-Sham. An amalgamation of extremist groups dominated by the former Nusra, it is the most powerful armed group in Syria’s northwest.


Most overrated? Ex-US defense chief Mattis laughs off Trump insult at charity gala

Updated 14 min 5 sec ago

Most overrated? Ex-US defense chief Mattis laughs off Trump insult at charity gala

  • Trump demeaned Mattis as “the world’s most overrated general" when pressed about his unpopular Syria pullout decision
  • Mattis resigned as defense secretary last December after Trump said he intended to pull 2,000 American troops out of Syria
NEW YORK: Former US Defense Secretary James Mattis is laughing off an insult hurled at him by President Donald Trump.
Speaking at a New York charity event Thursday the day after Trump demeaned him as “the world’s most overrated general,” Mattis joked that he took it as a compliment.
“I’m not just an overrated general. I’m the greatest, the world’s most overrated,” he told diners at the annual Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner.
“I’m honored to be considered that by Donald Trump because he also called Meryl Streep an overrated actress,” he said. “So I guess I’m the Meryl Streep of generals, and frankly that sounds pretty good to me.”
Trump lashed out at his former defense secretary Wednesday, during a contentious White House meeting with members of Congress.
The meeting was intended to be a bipartisan discussion of Trump’s decision to pull US forces from northern Syria, but it broke up after a testy exchange between Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Before the walkout, Trump disparaged Mattis, who had argued as defense secretary that US troops were needed in Syria to prevent a resurgence of Islamic State fighters.
Trump said Mattis was “the world’s most overrated general. You know why? He wasn’t tough enough.”
“I captured Daesh,” Trump went on to say.
Mattis resigned as defense secretary last December after Trump said he intended to pull 2,000 American troops out of Syria. In his resignation letter, the retired Marine general told Trump he had “the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours.”
Since then, he has largely refrained from criticizing the administration publicly, saying he owed the commander in chief “a duty of silence.”
But he did save a zinger for Trump at the laughter-filled gala, saying the “overrated” moniker didn’t bother him.
“I earned my spurs on the battlefield ... and Donald Trump earned his spurs in a letter from a doctor,” Mattis joked.
On a serious note, Mattis alluded to Trump’s decision to have US troops stand down in Syria, clearing the way for Turkey to launch an offensive against Kurdish forces who had been US allies in the fight against the Daesh group. On Thursday, the US and Turkey agreed to a five-day cease-fire that requires the Kurdish fighters to vacate, largely solidifying Turkey’s position in the region.
“We owe a debt to all who fought for liberty, including those who tonight serve in the far corners of our planet, among them the American men and women supporting our Kurdish allies,” Mattis said.
The annual gala draws luminaries from finance and politics. Hosted by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the archbishop of New York, the benefit is named after a former New York governor who was the first Catholic to receive a major party nomination for president in 1928, before losing the general election.