BEIRUT – For years, the Siam family has hoped to one day reunite with their son, Wasim, whom they believe was held at a Syrian government prison after disappearing at a checkpoint nearly a decade ago.
“It simply came to our notice then.
“They killed him cold-bloodedly … No mother can accept seeing her child being harmed in this way,” Siham told The Associated Press from Germany, where he now lives with his family.
The video has caused a wave of grief and fear among the families of thousands of Syrians who went missing during their country’s protracted civil war. After the video went online, thousands of people rushed to scan relentlessly through online footage to search for missing relatives.
Even though similar atrocities have taken place in Ukraine, the years-old genocide and disappearances in the Syrian war have gone unpunished and largely out of the investigation. The families of the missing who spoke to the AP described the daily torture of their loved ones without knowing their fate.
The video was allegedly leaked from Syria to a pro-government militiaman who gave it to a pair of researchers at the University of Amsterdam, apparently in the hope that it would help him seek refuge outside Syria. Researchers worked to verify this and to identify the location and some of the culprits.
The British newspaper The Guardian first reported on the video in late April, and a full version of the video has since been widely circulated online.
“Even if family loved ones do not appear in the video, the gruesome images will linger in their minds forever and they will wonder if they faced the same fate,” Mohammed al-Abdullah, executive director of the Washington-based Syria Justice and Accountability Center, told AP.
He called the Syrian prison network a “black box” with no information on who was being held and who had been killed.
Learning the truth brings a new kind of suffering.
Siham and her husband promise to watch the video every day, see their son’s last moments alive and say goodbye to him.
The video was stamped on April 16, 2013, two days after he went missing at a checkpoint near the Palestinian refugee camp in Yarmouk on the outskirts of Damascus.
The 6-minute, 43-second clip shows members of Syria’s notorious military intelligence branch 227 lining up about 40 detainees in an abandoned building in Tadamon, a suburb of Damascus, near Yarmouk. For most of the war, the district was a front line between government forces and opposition fighters.
Prisoners are blindfolded and their hands are tied behind their backs. One by one, Branch 227 gunmen lined the edge of a moat filled with their old tires, then pushed or kicked people, firing as they fell.
In a brutal game, agents tell several people, including Wasim, that they are going through a sniper’s alley and that they should run. The men fell on the bodies of those who had gone before. While the bodies were piled up in the ditch, some were still moving, and gunmen opened fire on them.
The gunmen then set fire to the bodies to remove all traces of the murder.
According to the Syrian Network for Human Rights, 102,207 people are still missing in the 11 years since the start of the Syrian conflict.
The group says the Syrian government is most responsible for the enforced disappearances, with 86,792 people still missing, an unknown number missing in the dark maze of prisons. The Islamic State group was responsible for 8,648 missing and 2,567 armed opposition groups. The rest was in the hands of US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces and al-Qaeda-linked militants.
One person who spoke to the AP said 25 of his relatives were abducted in July 2013 by Branch 227 agents from their home in Tadamon.
“We’re sure they were killed in the same way (as the people in the video) because they were taken by the same people in the video,” said the man who asked not to be named.
He said residents were aware of multiple holes in the Tadaman where people were killed and later burned. The security agents present in the video are neighbors of the missing family and have known each other for more than 30 years, he said.
Her missing relatives include a child and a sister who went to visit her family two days after they were taken away. He never came back.
His family tragedy did not end there. A few months later, a brother who was not present on the day his family went missing was taken to a checkpoint. Many years later, a photograph of his tortured body and a large file of documents that appeared to have been smuggled in by a dissident known as Caesar.
In an open letter on May 9, 17 human rights and civil society groups called on the UN Security Council to begin an investigation into the killings and bring the perpetrators of the genocide to justice. They condemned the international inaction on Syria, saying it allowed Assad and his allies to continue committing crimes against the Syrian people with impunity.
Families of the missing have described to the AP years of torment and futile search, punctuated by waves of false hope.
A man named Maher said he still hopes his brother, who has been missing since 2013, is alive and will be released one day. Whenever a prisoner is released, it is a new blow, and his brother is not among them.
“One tries to adapt throughout the year, but the wound comes out and reopens with each report,” he said, only on condition of anonymity.
Her brother went missing while bringing home food aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Hundreds of people were arrested while trying to collect food boxes, so much so that they became known as “death boxes,” Maher said.
Hoping to avoid arrest, people will send adults to collect boxes, he said. His brother went four times; He was arrested on the fifth day.
If it is confirmed that he is dead, “the wound will be cut wide and then the real misery will begin,” Maher said.
A racket of war profiteers preys on families, extorting huge sums of money from them by falsely promising to release missing relatives.
A few days after the video of the assassination was released, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a general amnesty for hundreds of prisoners. According to video from pro-government media outlets, families gathered in a Damascus square, took pictures of missing relatives and requested information.
Among them, the profiteers preached, telling the family that they could get the name of their loved one on the release list in exchange for 50 million Syrian pounds – about $ 13,000.
He said, ‘These are all lies.
Still, some families pay, desperate for information.
“How can I not say that my father’s life is stuck? … How can I not say, even though I know they are lying? “Wafa Mostafa told the AP from Berlin.
The walls of his house are covered with pictures of his father, who has been missing since he was taken from his home in 2013.
“It’s crazy how after 11 years, and even after we left the country, the ruler can control us and control our mental and physical health,” Wafa said. “They control our existence.”