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Brother of Syrian deserter brutally murdered by suspected ‘Wagner’ mercenaries seeks criminal investigation in Russia

Source: Memorial

A Syrian national has filed an application with the Russian Investigative Committee seeking the launch of an investigation into the alleged mercenaries from the Wagner private military company (PMC) suspected of murdering his brother in Syria in 2017, reports the Memorial Human Rights Center. 

What murder?

In 2017, a two-minute video appeared online showing four men torturing and beheading a fifth man in Syria. In November 2019, the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta published new recordings corroborating the gruesome killing. In the new videos, a group of Russian speakers can be seen beating the man with a sledgehammer, beheading him, chopping at his body with knives and shovels, dousing his corpse in gasoline, and lighting it on fire. 

The video is available on Novaya Gazeta’s YouTube channel. Viewers should be warned that it contains disturbing scenes of extreme violence. 

The Memorial Human Rights Center (recognized as “foreign agent” in Russia) has identified the victim as a Syrian resident named “Muhammed E” (the group didn’t release the man’s last name). According to Current Time TV, the victim is Mohammed Taha Ismail Al-Abdullah (also known as Hammadi Taha Al-Buta), a Syrian man who deserted from the Assad regime’s army.

The brother of the Syrian deserter has asked Russian state investigators to launch a case on charges of “murder committed by a group of people with particular cruelty,” and verify whether or not the actions of the suspected Wagner Group mercenaries constitute other crimes, including military ones. 

In his appeal, the Syrian national included evidence pointing to the involvement of the alleged Wagner Group combatants in the crime. Memorial also added that Novaya Gazeta, which is conducting its own investigation into the murder, provided a significant amount of information and evidence to human rights defenders.

Asked about the appeal on Monday, March 15, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that the Kremlin “had seen the media reports” about the request to open a criminal case in Russia. He declined to comment further, stating “this is a question for the Investigative Committee, not the Presidential Administration.” 

This is the first attempt by the Syrians to bring to justice Russian citizens suspected of committing serious crimes in their country. 

Memorial

Novaya Gazeta has repeatedly sought the launch of a criminal case over the murder carried out by suspected mercenaries from the Wage PMC in Syria in 2017. In November 2019, the newspaper appealed to the Kremlin, the Russian Investigative Committee, and the country’s Attorney General. In November 2020, Novaya Gazeta made another appeal to Investigative Committee Chief Alexander Bastrykin, but he never responded. 

According to the St. Petersburg-based outlet Fontanka, six people were involved in the 2017 murder. Earlier, Novaya Gazeta, Fontanka, and Current Time TV released the names of some of the suspected perpetrators. 

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