Syrian rebel-turned-refugee gets life sentence in Austria for killing wounded Assad troops

Syrian rebel-turned-refugee gets life sentence in Austria for killing wounded Assad troops
A Syrian asylum seeker has got a lifetime imprisonment in Austria on Wednesday for killing a total of 20 government troops during his time with a rebel group in Syria. The charges did not include terrorism.

The sentenced 27-year-old man (name not disclosed) was arrested in June 2016 after the other refugees reported him to the authorities for boasting about killing soldiers of the Syrian Arab Army.

The killings in question are said to have happened in the western region of Homs in 2013 and 2014.

The accused initially confirmed the killings during first interrogations. Yet, following the start of a trial, he switched his position, denying any wrongdoing and claiming instead that his words had simply been badly translated.

His defense also criticized lack of any video recordings of the interrogation, during which authorities said the suspect had confessed his atrocities.

The court, however, summoned the translator and other officials involved into the interrogations, who stated that the accused had indeed confessed the killings to them.

“He [the defendant] said he had shot the wounded [soldiers]. I even asked him to repeat his words and he did,” the translator (name also not made public) said.

His words have been echoed by investigators, who interviewed the Syrian ex-rebel.

“We asked him [defendant] three times if he had actually killed 20 wounded [soldiers]. Then he even got up and showed us how he had shot them in the head or in the chest,” an official present at the interrogations testified

The accused was quite relaxed while talking about his activities back in Syria and the investigators described interrogation climate as “quite normal.” The interrogation protocol was translated back to the defendant, who signed all its pages, local media reports citing authorities.

The investigators also said they uncovered photos and some footage from the defendant’s mobile phone, showing him brandishing a machine gun back in Syria. The court found the evidence solid enough, and sentenced the man to a lifetime in jail after the jury voted in favor of the verdict five to three.

“A man capable of 20 murders can commit a 21st,” Judge Thomas Willam said, as quoted by Tiroler Tageszeitung. 

The judge explained that the asylum-seeker had initially confessed his killings “because it was simply true,” as he did not realize that “shooting the defenseless” was not “praised” in Austria.

After realizing that boasting about such actions would get him in trouble, the defendant went into denial.

“I wanted to be honest, since I applied for asylum,” the accused said.

The convicted Syrian man was a member of the Farouq Brigades, a rebel group affiliated with Free Syrian Army (FSA), which operated in Homs and Aleppo provinces.

The organization was quite prominent back in 2013-2014, having at least 20,000 fighters according to its own claims and being one of the largest forces of FSA. While the group back then was described as “moderately Islamist.”

The Farouq Brigades eventually succumbed to infighting and military drawbacks, while drifting to hard-core jihadism.

Earlier this year, during rebel infighting in Syria’s Idlib province the group split in two, one of its parts joined Ahrar as-Sham jihadist front, while the other, rebranded as Farouq Army, merged with Tahrir al-Sham (HTS, formerly known as Al-Nusra Front), a Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda.