A prominent leader of a pro-Assad militia has reportedly found refuge in Europe. The individual in question, Mahmoud Diab, also known as "Abu Azam," formerly commanded the notorious "Qalamoun Shield" militia in the town of Hafir al-Fawqa, Syria. Diab's arrival in Germany, where he met with his five children, has sent shockwaves through the Syrian community in exile, given his well-documented history of criminality and human rights violations against both the people of the Qalamoun region and Syrians at large.
Diab's journey to Europe was nothing short of a criminal odyssey. It began when he narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in his hometown of Hafir al-Fawqa in late May of the previous year. Though he sustained injuries during the attack, he managed to survive and fled to Libya before making his way to Europe.
It's worth noting that Diab initially joined the ranks of the National Defense Forces, where he assumed command of a militia centre in his hometown before the formation of the Qalamoun Shield militia.
In May 2016, Assad's forces, in collaboration with Russia, particularly the Third Division in the city of Quteifah, decided to support various militia groups comprised of local residents from the Qalamoun region to counter the threat posed by ISIS. This led to the establishment of the Qalamoun Shield forces, funded by the Syrian regime's Ministry of Defense and trained by Russian forces. Members of these forces were each promised a monthly salary of $200 USD.
The Qalamoun Shield militia actively participated in the brutal offensives against Eastern Ghouta, Daraa, Homs, and Deir al-Zor, and the displacement of their civilian populations. Countless atrocities were committed during these operations, and Diab's personal militia in Hafir al-Fawqa, which numbered around 600 fighters, played a central role. Diab himself led these fighters in the invasion of various areas, the forced displacement of their inhabitants, and a campaign of arbitrary detentions.
It is incumbent upon Syrians and other activists to gather all available information regarding Diab and to provide it to organizations in Germany dedicated to the prosecution of war criminals. Simultaneously, the German government must take responsibility for what has happened and launch an investigation on how war criminals are able to claim asylum. It is simply, to put it diplomatically, unacceptable for such individuals to evade accountability and live a peaceful life after the heinous crimes they have perpetrated.
Clearly, the principle of universal jurisdiction offers a glimmer of hope to those seeking justice. While transitional justice in Syria remains elusive, and senior regime officials have thus far evaded prosecution for their crimes, these trials serve as a means to expose the systematic repression perpetrated by the Assad regime. Furthermore, they bring to light the presence of individuals in Germany and other European cities who support dictatorships, with some even engaging in intimidation and espionage. These truths will be further revealed in the forthcoming prosecutions and serve as a means to amplify the voices and cries of those who have suffered, or continue to suffer, in the prisons of the Assad regime or under the rubble of buildings destroyed by its officers.
The arrival of Mahmoud Diab in Europe serves as a stark reminder that the pursuit of justice must remain relentless. Europe, with its commitment to the rule of law, provides a unique opportunity to bring war criminals to justice and ensure they are held accountable for their actions. Only through these efforts can the international community hope to achieve a modicum of justice and uphold the principles of human rights and accountability for all.