PARIS — French authorities revealed Tuesday that three Syrian nationals, all former or current advisers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, were charged on March 29 with complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The three former advisers are head of the National Security Bureau of the Ba'ath Party Ali Mamlouk, former head of the Syrian air force intelligence directorate Jamil Hassan, and air force intelligence officer Abdel Salam Mahmoud. It is the first time that such senior Syrian officials will stand trial in France for these sorts of crimes.
The French prosecution argues that these three Syrians were implicated in the disappearance and deaths of a French high school counselor in Damascus, Mazen Dabbagh, and his son Patrick who studied literature at Damascus University. The father and son, both dual Syrian-French nationals, were arrested in November 2013. Detained at one of the airports near the Syrian capital, they were interrogated and tortured by intelligence agents from the Syrian air force, believed to be one of the most powerful bodies in the regime.
A preliminary investigation into possible forced disappearances of the Dabbaghs was launched in 2015 after their family filed a complaint in France. A full probe was launched by French authorities in 2016, leading to the issuing of international arrest warrants two years later. With no news on their whereabouts, French authorities declared both of them dead in 2018. It is believed that Patrick was killed in 2014 and Mazen in 2017. Testimonies collected by French investigators suggest that among other forms of torture, the father and son were beaten with iron bars on the soles of their feet, subjected to electric shocks and had their fingernails torn out.
French authorities have issued an international warrant for the arrest of the three, but so far without any results. France does not expect the defendants to show up for their trials or have lawyers represent them. Still, Dabbagh family members expressed satisfaction over the decision, even if it proves purely symbolic. Mazen’s brother-in-law Obeida Dabbagh, who was arrested during the same period but released after two days, welcomed the court’s decision to indict. He told Agence France-Presse the decision signaled to the Syrian government that "one day the impunity will end."
France severed all diplomatic ties with Syria in 2011. The French Foreign Ministry made it clear in mid-March that it has no intention of changing its stance vis-a-vis the Assad regime. "There is no reason to go ahead in the normalization of ties with the Syrian regime, which has been cracking down on its people, preventing the return of refugees and causing instability in the region through smuggling drugs," a spokesperson for the French foreign ministry said.