The brother of a Syrian killed by suspected Russian mercenaries has asked Moscow authorities to investigate the incident and the possible role played by the Wagner Group, a mercenary group led by one of Vladimir Putin’s close allies.
Video images released by the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta show a group of six men torturing a Syrian detainee. The victim, Mohammed Taha Ismail Al-Abdullah, is believed to have deserted from President Bashir al-Assad’s army and was later captured.
The soldiers, speaking in Russian, cut off Abdullah’s head and arms, hung up his body and set him on fire. Arab media believe that the murder took place in the spring of 2017 in an oil field in Homs province. Wagner’s mercenaries had recently driven Isis fighters from the area.
On Monday, the victim’s family and three campaign groups launched a landmark legal case trying to force Russian state investigators to examine whether the soldiers involved worked for the Wagner Group and bring them to justice.
The United States says that the Wagner Group is led by Yevgeny Prigozhin, an accused oligarch who financed the famous St. Petersburg troll factory that supported Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election. The FBI has offered a reward of $ 250,000 to obtain information leading to your arrest.
The Wagner Group has reportedly sent mercenaries to Syria, Ukraine and Libya, as well as other African countries where the Kremlin has a growing strategic interest. Prigozhin denies that Wagner exists. Officials in Moscow have so far refused to question the mercenaries seen in the video, who have been identified by the Russian media.
“This complaint is important because we are not dealing with a single crime. This is quite a wave of impunity, ”Alexander Cherkasov, a high-ranking member of Memorial, Moscow’s veteran human rights organization, told AFP news agency.
He added: “People who escape punishment after committing crimes like this have the opportunity to repeat them in places like Chechnya, eastern Ukraine and Syria. In the end, they return to Russia and walk the streets among us. “
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), the Memorial and the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression said they had evidence that clearly linked at least one defendant to Wagner.
“The Russian government must bear its legal and moral responsibilities for violations committed by its army, including private entities involved in external military operations under its command, such as the Wagner Group,” said Mazen Darwish, director of the Syrian Center.
On the same day the case was presented, unknown attackers pointed to the Moscow office of Novaya Gazeta. “In the morning a chemical attack was carried out on the building where our editorial office is located,” said the editor-in-chief of the independent media outlet, Dmitry Muratov.
Although private military companies are illegal in Russia, Wagner has played an increasingly important role in recent years in propping up and realizing the Kremlin’s ambitions abroad.
Members of the group were reportedly dispatched along with Russian fighter jets and ground troops following Moscow’s intervention in the Syrian war in September 2015 on the side of Assad.
Moscow has never confirmed reports of Wagner’s mercenaries. He said on Monday that since his operation in Syria was launched, 112 Russian soldiers had been killed in combat operations.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism