The German government called in Syria’s ambassador after security officials in Berlin arrested two men suspected of spying for Syrian intelligence on groups critical of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
“We will signal unambiguously to Syrian officials that any apparent activity against the Syrian opposition in Germany is in no way tolerable and a violation of the law,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters in Berlin today as he announced the diplomatic protest.
The men, identified as 47-year-old Mahmoud El A., who holds German and Lebanese citizenship, and Akram O., 34, a Syrian national, were arrested in Berlin earlier today in an operation that involved about 70 investigators, who searched the suspects’ apartments and those of six others.
The two detained are “strongly suspected of carefully observing the Syrian opposition in Germany for a Syrian intelligence agency for years,” Germany’s Federal Prosecutor said in a statement. Other suspects, whose apartments were searched, were accused of providing assistance, it said.
The arrests come three days after Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution backing an Arab League plan for a transfer of power in Syria. Escalating unrest directed at Assad’s government has killed more than 5,400 people in the country since March, according to the UN.
A top-level Russian delegation arrived in Damascus today in a bid to prod Assad toward a political settlement. Westerwelle, in a Foreign Ministry statement, called on Russia to increase pressure on the regime and urged a new round of sanctions.
Suspicion of Syrian espionage arose on Dec. 28, when Germany’s Foreign Ministry called on investigators to clarify the alleged beating of a Syrian opposition figure, a member of the Green Party in Berlin’s Mitte district, after the party said it was probably the work of Syrian agents.
Police said at the time that the politician, Ferhad Ahma, had been beaten at his appartment early on Dec. 26 by two men posing as police officers. Local Greens officials accused the Syrian government of trying to intimidate Ahma.