BERLIN, Germany (North Press) – Evidence, presented in the context of a criminal complaint in Germany, suggests that President Assad’s younger brother, Maher Assad, widely considered the second most powerful person in Syria, was the military commander who directly ordered the use of sarin gas in the Ghouta attack of August 2013.
The criminal complaint provides extensive documentation alongside open-source information that could be used as legal evidence of war crimes committed in Ghouta and Khan Sheikhoun. It included testimonies from at least 50 defectors of the Syrian regime with firsthand knowledge of the country’s chemical weapons program.
According to confidential reports and witness statements, an elite group within the Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC) dubbed Branch 450 would have loaded warheads with chemical agents and the 155th Missile Brigade would have launched the surface-to-surface rockets under direct oversight from Maher.
“We’ve shown that there was a specific unit called the Branch 450 within the SSRC, which was significantly involved in the planning and execution of sarin attacks,” German channel “Deutsche Welle” quoted Steve Kostas, a senior legal officer with the Open Society Justice Initiative’s litigation team, said.
Kostas added, “We’ve shown the chain of command involved in that unit and its connection to the presidential palace”.
In early October, a consortium of three non-government organizations filed a criminal complaint with the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Germany against unnamed persons with regards to apparent sarin gas attacks in Ghouta in 2013.
On August 21, 2013, rockets loaded with sarin warheads were launched into eastern Ghouta. Cooler weather allowed the nerve gas to permeate into lower levels of buildings as it spread across parts of the rebel stronghold.
More than a thousand people were killed in the attack, which the Syrian government still denies being involved in, including women and children.
A vast portion of witness testimony has been corroborated by videos and images taken by people on the ground, including victims. The content was collected and archived by the Berlin-based Syrian Archive, which undertook the task of verifying the material.
According to testimonies seen by Der Spiegel and Deutsche Welle, strategic weapons cannot be used without Bashar al-Assad’s approval, indicating that “he may have authorized his brother to launch the Ghouta attack.”
The United Nations Security Council failed to refer the case to the International Criminal Court, due to the veto by Russia and China.
However, such evidence has been crucial to forming a broader picture of the events, and has supported the findings of the official UN probe into the Ghouta attack. The UN fact-finding mission did not name suspected perpetrators because attribution was not part of its mandate. But it made one thing abundantly clear.
“The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used,” said the UN fact-finding mission in a report less than a month after the attack.
“This is a war crime,” said then-UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.