WASHINGTON — The United States imposed a visa ban Monday on a Syrian military intelligence official linked to a near decade-old massacre in the Damascus suburb of Tadamon.
The State Department said it designated Amjad Yousef over his involvement in gross violations of human rights, namely extrajudicial killings. Independent researchers previously identified Yousef in leaked footage showing the killing of 41 unarmed civilians in broad daylight.
The April 2013 video from Tadamon, published last year, shows dozens of blindfolded and handcuffed detainees rounded up by officers in the notorious Branch 227 of Syria’s military intelligence service. In the chilling six-minute video, the detainees are marched toward a pre-dug pit and shot dead by two executioners, one of whom is alleged to be Yousef. The mass grave was then set on fire.
The Guardian reported in October 2022 that Yousef was still working on the Kafr Sousa military base outside Damascus. As a result of the State Department designation, Yousef, his wife and their immediate family members are barred from entering the United States.
In a statement announcing the visa restrictions, Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged the international community to continue isolating Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“The footage of this massacre, coupled with the ongoing killing and abuse of countless Syrians, serves as a sobering reminder for why countries should not normalize relations with the Assad regime absent enduring progress towards a political resolution,” Blinken said.
Many Arab states that long shunned the regime are gradually resuming ties with it, a trend accelerated by the powerful earthquakes that left tens of thousands dead across Turkey and Syria. Following the disaster, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and other senior regional officials have paid rare visits to Damascus to express solidarity.
US lawmakers have also expressed alarm over the region’s embrace of Assad. By a vote of 412-2, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a resolution last week condemning what lawmakers described as Assad’s efforts to exploit the earthquakes on the international stage. The resolution also called on the Biden administration “to remain committed to the protection of the Syrian people,” including by imposing sanctions under the bipartisan Caesar Act.
This month, Syria will mark 12 years since its peaceful protests against the Assad family’s rule were met with a violent government crackdown. Blinken accused the Syrian regime of committing “innumerable atrocities, some of which rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity” in the conflict that followed.
Since taking office, the Biden administration has imposed several rounds of sanctions on Syrians linked to human rights violations. In October, the administration imposed visa bans on three Syrian military officials accused of involvement in a 2013 chemical attack on the then-besieged Damascus suburb of Ghouta.