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6 Mar, 2024 11:04

British commandos investigated over war crimes in Syria – media

Five elite UK special forces soldiers allegedly used excessive force against a suspected militant two years ago
British commandos investigated over war crimes in Syria – media

A group of UK special forces soldiers are under investigation for allegedly committing war crimes while on duty in Syria, British media reported on Tuesday.

The five unnamed Special Air Service (SAS) soldiers allegedly used excessive force during an incident in which a suspected militant was killed two years ago. The soldiers have reportedly argued that they believed the man posed a legitimate threat, while their superiors believe they should have arrested him instead. A primed bomb vest was found near the body but the suspect was not wearing it when he was killed, the Daily Mail reported, citing sources in the SAS.

The newspaper, which was the first to break the story, says the suspects have been allowed to remain in service with their regiment while the case is being investigated.

The Guardian, however, reported that the commandos had been arrested by British military police, noting that the Ministry of Defence would not comment directly on the investigation. Case files recommending the prosecution of murder charges have been sent by service police to the Service Prosecuting Authority, the outlet said. It is not clear whether any of the arrests will result in a prosecution, and war crimes convictions of British soldiers are exceptionally rare, the report noted.

The SAS, an elite special forces regiment, has been deployed in Syria for several years, covertly fighting against Islamic State.

The latest allegations come while a public inquiry examines the actions of the SAS in Afghanistan.

The probe was launched in December 2022 after a BBC documentary reported that soldiers from the SAS had unlawfully killed 80 civilians during night-time raids in Helmand province between 2010 and 2013. The BBC alleged that the British top brass had been aware “for some time” of claims that SAS soldiers had an “unofficial policy” of carrying out “executions of supposed Taliban affiliates.” 

In 2019, a military police investigation into alleged criminal wrongdoing in Afghanistan was shut down without charges after no evidence was found. The probe had looked into a total of 675 allegations of wrongdoing, including allegations that SAS commandos had murdered dozens of unarmed men, detainees, and civilians during raids. It was reported later that SAS commanders had allegedly destroyed computer data to cover up possible evidence of crimes.