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PARIS: France has issued its first international arrest warrants for three senior Syrian intelligence officials, a move hailed by rights groups on Monday as an important step towards prosecuting war criminals.

The warrants — one of them for National Security Bureau director Ali Mamluk — were issued for “complicity in acts of torture”, “complicity in crimes against humanity” and “complicity in war crimes”.

Jamil Hassan, head of the Syrian Air Force Intelli­ge­n­­ce, is also targeted along with Abdel Salam Mahm­oud, in charge of the Air Force Intelligence investigative branch at the Mezzeh military aport in Damascus.

All three warrants were issued in connection with the deaths of two Franco-Syrian nationals, father and son Mazen and Patrick Dabbagh.

Mazen Dabbagh was a 57-year-old official working at a French school in Damascus, where Patrick, 22, was a student.

The pair were arrested in November 2013 and went missing after being detained in the Mezzeh detention centre, according to the Paris-based International Federa­tion for Human Rights (FIDH).

The FIDH says that neither was active in the opposition movement against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and that their arrests remain unexplained. They were officially declared dead this summer.

Arrest warrants for the three Syrians were issued on October 8, but made public only on Monday, according to the FIDH.

France is not the first European country to launch legal cases against members of the Syrian regime: similar cases are being pursued in Britain, Germany and the Netherlands.

In June, German magazine Der Spiegel reported that German prosecutors had also issued an international arrest warrant for Hassan on charges of overseeing the torture and murder of hundreds of detainees.

Both the French and German investigations have drawn on evidence provided by a former Syrian police photographer known as “Caesar”.

He fled Syria in 2013, taking with him 55,000 graphic photographs showing the brutal torture of detainees.

Clemence Bectarte, litigation coordinator for the FIDH, said the French warrants send “a strong signal saying ‘impunity must not prevail’.” “It’s the first time the French courts have issued international arrest warrants against senior Syrian dignitaries,” she said.

“These arrest warrants are the highest level of what the French courts can do,” she added.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2018