Bomb-Belted Islamist Judge Runs Syria Jail, Amnesty Says

An Islamist judge in Syria who appears at trials wearing an explosives belt and issues death sentences in hearings lasting a few minutes is running one of seven secret prisons where the rights of local people are “ruthlessly flouted,” according to Amnesty International.

The unnamed judge, a member of the militant group the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant or ISIL, also participates in daily interrogations at the Sadd al-Ba’ath dam prison in al-Raqqa province -- except on Fridays and Saturdays when he visits his family in the village of Karama, said Cilina Nasser, researcher and author of a report released by London-based Amnesty today and entitled “Rule of Fear.”

“He’d visit a detention facility every single day and would interrogate, that means flogging even of children, to obtain confessions and as a punishment,” Nasser said by phone. “Trials usually take up to three minutes, maximum.”

ISIL is one of several Islamist factions that have made inroads in northern Syria, controlling territory formerly run by the Western-backed Free Syrian Army. Arrests, detentions, floggings and summary executions are carried out by the group, often in a network of prisons, as part of what Amnesty termed its “cruel, capricious and arbitrary rule.”

Black Masks

The Sadd al-Ba’ath judge, who Nasser said wasn’t identified in accordance with Amnesty policy, “showed not the least respect for any sense of due process and summarily ordered detainees to be taken to be killed, including a prisoner who had the temerity to mock him behind his back.” The judge shows his face to prisoners, unlike colleagues who wear black masks, the human rights group said.

Government forces and militias loyal to President Bashar al-Assad also face serious allegations. They are guilty of a widespread use of abduction and incommunicado detention as part of systematic attacks on the civilian population, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria said in a separate report today.

“Survivors of enforced disappearances described being subjected to torture during their detention,” according to the report. Some “disappearances appeared to have a punitive element, targeting family members of defectors, activists, fighters as well as those believed to be providing medical care to the opposition.”

On Dec. 17, the U.K. government said that Assad’s administration had “in effect murdered” Abbas Khan, a British doctor who traveled to the country to help people wounded in the civil war.

Foreign Fighters

ISIL has spread through Aleppo and Idlib, becoming one of the fiercest Sunni Muslim radical groups in northeastern Syria. Some of its fighters are from the Gulf and North Africa and have ties to al-Qaeda, Amnesty said.

Al-Raqqa city, in Syria’s northeast, came under ISIL’s control shortly after its formation in April. The population has swollen to 1 million during the two years of conflict.

People in areas controlled by the group have been snatched off the streets for offenses ranging from theft and murder to smoking, drinking alcohol and adultery, Amnesty said. Locals suspected of opposing ISIL or collaborating with rivals such as the FSA are also being targeted. The group’s seven known detention centers include two in Aleppo.

Nasser’s report is based on her Nov. 20 to Dec. 5 visit to Turkey where she spoke to nine people abducted and detained by the Islamist group in al-Raqqa and Aleppo since May. A 10th interview was conducted by phone.

Former residents of al-Raqqa said they first became aware of ISIL in their area around May, when masked gunmen executed three men they said were Alawites in a public square. The group’s “crimes are increasing” as it becomes more powerful, Nasser said.

Serious abuses are being committed by other groups in Syria and Amnesty also plans to investigate those, Nasser said.

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