Belgium urges EU-wide probe into activities of Syrian diplomats

23.04.12 @ 09:29

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - Belgium has asked EU countries to investigate whether Syrian diplomats are making threats against opposition members inside Europe.

  • Poster of Syrian President Bashar Assad (Photo: anjci)

Michel Malherbe, a spokesman for Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders, told this website the minister has "consulted EU partners about their relationship with Syrian embassies."

He noted that in Belgium "the matter is being dealt with by State Security" and that "contacts with other EU countries are conducted at the same level."

Giving weight to allegations that Syrian diplomats in Belgium have threatened opposition expats with reprisals, Malherbe indicated that the findings of the State Security probe are being kept under wraps to protect victims: "We know the outcome of the enquiry, and the follow-up, but we are not in a position to communicate it, first and foremost in the best interest of the persons concerned."

In a case from last year, Ghassan Zallito, a Syrian expat resident in Belgium and married to a Belgian woman, told the Syrian embassy in Brussels that he is rescinding his membership in the ruling Baath party in Syria in protest at events.

He later visited his home village of Bdama, in north-west Syria to check on the progress of a construction project. But he was shot dead on 20 August.

EUobserver on Thursday (18 April) spoke by phone with Khaled al-Hamoud, a Syrian officer who joined the Free Syrian Army in October, and who says he witnessed the killing.

Al-Hamoud said Zallito was outside his house late at night playing with a cat. He said that a senior officer from another army unit picked him out from a few hundred metres away with a Chinese-made PKC machine gun fitted with a night-sight and fired six 7.62mm-calibre bullets at his chest.

"He said he wanted to fire at somebody, then he shot him. The general knew Zallito's family and said he didn't like them," Al-Hamoud noted.

When asked if he believes that Syrian diplomats in Europe are picking out targets, he answered: "Anybody who is in the opposition abroad, his family is at risk." He noted that his own close family is now in Turkey or in hiding in Syria, but 14 members of his extended family have been killed in revenge since he defected.

A Brussels-based NGO, the Alliance for Freedom and Dignity International, is working with the Zallito family in Belgium and with relatives of other victims in France, Germany, Italy and Spain with a view to bringing a legal case against the Syrian state.

"For reasons of security for family members who are still in Syria or abroad, we cannot give you the names of the other victims," the NGO's Youssef Chibab told this website.

A member of a Syrian opposition group, the Syrian National Council in Paris, who asked to remain anonymous, said Syrian embassy-hired thugs have in recent months beaten up protesters on the streets of the French capital and that he has heard similar stories from Berlin.

"The situation is better now because the French have taken action. But they still send people to our protests to take pictures ... Syrian secret services are wherever their diplomats are. The whole embassy is normally secret service," he said.

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