On Oct. 12, 2019, three days after Turkish forces invaded northeastern Syria with President Donald Trump’s blessings, a rising young Kurdish politician named Hevrin Khalaf was ambushed by Ahrar al-Sharqiyah, a Turkish-backed armed Sunni brigade, and savagely executed. When the militants were done with the 35-year-old, her body was riddled with bullets, the flesh from her scalp ripped off, and her leg and skull fractured from repeated blows. Apparently unworried about retribution, the militants posted a video of the war crime online.
On Wednesday, the Biden administration rolled out its first sanctions directed at Syria. They targeted Ahrar al-Sharqiyah and its boss, Ahmed Ihsan Rayyad al-Hayes, better known by his nom de guerre, Abu Hatem Shaqra, who was present during Khalaf’s murder. The sanctions also targeted eight Syrian prisons, five officials in President Bashar al-Assad’s regime who run them, and a pro-regime militia. Ahrar al-Sharqiyah also was accused by the US Treasury Department of recruiting members of the Islamic State and of killing multiple civilians in northeast Syria.