Syrian intelligence accused of threatening people in EU capital
The Belgian foreign ministry is to investigate allegations that Syrian intelligence is terrorising Syrian opposition expats in the EU capital.
Foreign minister Didier Reynders told Belgian Liberal MEP Louis Michel on Friday (30 March) that he will personally look into claims that Syrian diplomats in Brussels have threatened people who take part in anti-regime rallies that their families in Syria will be harmed unless they stop.
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"We don't have any evidence at this stage. But the minister and I believe this really is happening. He believes there could be problems in other EU capitals as well, so he will ask his colleagues in the EU Council to investigate ... He promised me to be very engaged on this," Michel, a former Belgian foreign minister and EU commissioner, told this website.
Michel spoke to Reynders after meeting privately with Syrian activists who made the accusations.
EUobserver interviewed three anti-regime expats who also say they were threatened. One of them believes that a close relative of his was shot dead in Syria earlier this year because of his activities in Brussels.
Two of them asked to remain anonymous because their families still live in Syria. One said he is scared to file a statement with Belgian police in case his name comes out. Another one said he cannot go to police because he does not have a Belgian residency permit.
The third contact - Hassan Addaher, a graphic designer who helps run the Brussels-based NGO, the Comite Belge Pour Soutenir la Revolution Syrienne - said his cousin, Abdel Baset Shamoot, was tortured and killed in Homs in January. He agreed to speak on the record because he has no more relatives in Syria.
He noted that four other family members of Belgian-based activists have been killed in Syria in recent months. "The Syrian community in Belgium is so small that it is difficult to believe this is a coincidence," he said.
The allegations center around Wael Saker - a diplomatic "attache" at the Syrian embassy.
Addaher said that Saker is a senior officer in the Syrian "mukhabarat" (intelligence services) and that he operates a network of Syrian and Lebanese-origin "shabiha" (agents/militia) who infiltrate anti-regime groups to collect names, make threatening phonecalls and go to some anti-regime rallies to try to provoke violence.
He also accused Saker of driving a black Mercedes at high speed at protesters outside the Syrian embassy on 5 February in an incident captured on camera.
He knows how Syrian intelligence works because his father, Abdullah Addaher, served in the mukhabarat for two years. He later became a general in the signals corps, but fled to Jordan in 1981.
Addaher said Saker has interrogated friends of his who went to the embassy for routine paperwork. He indicated that Belgian security services know about the problem: one Belgian security contact told him the "Brussels shabiha" get €250 a head each time they come to yell pro-regime slogans.
Attaches normally have designated roles - on trade, or culture and so on. The Syrian embassy declined to tell this website what kind of attache Saker is.
Its press office said in a written statement: "Those old accusations are unfounded. Some people are trying to market them in order to harm the national role of Syrian embassies ... but we challenge anyone to come even with one proof."
On the shabiha allegation, it said: "Syrian expatriates in their vast majority have expressed their fabulous feelings and stands [sic] in solidarity with their country in these difficult circumstances." It added there is "no institutional link with the embassy" and pro-regime NGOs in Belgium, such as the Association of Syrian Expatriates.
EUobserver also phoned a Belgian mobile number from which Addaher says he received two threatening calls.
The man who answered identified himself as Aiman Alamen. He said he comes from north Syria and owns a second-hand clothes business in Belgium.
He said he has no links with the Syrian embassy, but supports the Syrian leader because his relatives in Syria tell him the opposition is killing innocent people. He admitted to shouting abuse at Addaher. But he said he did it because he was "sick" of getting text messages asking him to go to anti-regime rallies. He said he called a second time to say sorry for losing his temper.
As for the Syrian ambassador in Belgium, Mohamad Ayman Soussan, an EU diplomat told this website: "He is a gentleman. If this is going on, I don't believe it's on his instructions."
Addaher agreed. "I hate to defend [any of] them. But many Syrian diplomats are suffering just like us - if they say anything against the government, they lose their family," he explained.