Syrian asylum seeker sentenced to 20 years based on execution video

On 16 July, the District Court of The Hague convicted Ahmad al K., a 49-year-old Syrian asylum seeker for his involvement in a war crime, the execution of captured officer of the Syrian air force Qussai Mahmoud Al Ali, who was hors de combat (and thus a protected person). A video of the execution, near Mohassan, Syria, was published on YouTube in 2012. The court took into account that Al K. had a leading role in the execution, and was the first to shoot. The verdict is available here (in Dutch).

The sentence is lower than the 27-year-sentence the public prosecutor had demanded. The man was acquitted of membership of a terrorist organisation, as the court found the available evidence insufficient to establish that the combat group Ghuraba’a Mohassan could be regarded as a terrorist organisation during the period that the suspect was a commander there. It is the first Dutch case regarding a war crime against someone directly involved in killing, since the modern international crimes legislation was adopted in 2003. The 20-year sentence is in the same range as the earlier cases against Dutch nationals Guus K. and Frans van A. (19 respectively 17 years), for indirect involvement in war crimes leading to killing, and the 20-year-sentence imposed on Sebastien N. for ordering the killing of five individuals.

Al. K. arrived in the Netherlands in 2014 and got a temporary residence permit. He lived in the village of Kapelle in the Zeeland province, where according to the Dutch news agency NOS, he was known as a friendly man, who was part of the local football team and attended church. He was arrested in May 2019.

Apart from the video, Al K. was alleged to have given an interview to The Guardian in July 2012. In the Guardian interview, he explained how the battalion was specialised in committing attacks with car bombs and other explosives.

The Dutch police was pointed to the man by their German colleagues, who were investigating members of his battalion. In the Dutch investigation that followed, Al K. told an undercover detective that his voice can be heard in the execution video. The man claimed, however, that he was trying to prevent, rather than proceed with the execution.

This is not the first Dutch case that is partially based on evidence found on social media. A Syrian man was convicted in April 2021 based on a video in which he had himself and others filmed while they celebrated victory in the fight for Al-Ghab, with the dead bodies of four enemies at their feet. The deceased’s bodies were spat on and kicked, and Al-Y. called them “dogs” and “carcasses of Assad”, a war crime of outrage upon personal dignity. Earlier, two ‘foreign fighters’, Oussama A. and Reda N., had been convicted of war crimes and terrorism on the basis of photo material and chats.