US bans entry to Syria security agent over killings on video
BEIRUT (AP) — The U.S. State Department on Monday banned entry into the U.S. of a Syrian intelligence member who appeared in a video leaked last year showing him fatally shooting people during the country’s 12-year conflict.
The ban against Amjad Yousef, a member of Syria’s notorious Military Intelligence Branch 227, includes his wife and immediate members of his family, the State Department said in a statement.
Yousef was one of several Syrian security agents who appeared in the video in which dozens of blindfolded, bound men were shot and thrown into a trench.
The decision came a week before Syria’s conflict enters its 13th year. The war has killed nearly half a million people and left large parts of the country destroyed.
“As a result of today’s action, Yousef, as well as his wife, Anan Wasouf, and their immediate family members, are ineligible for entry into the United States,” the State Department said.
The 6-minute-43-second video clip stamped with the date April 16, 2013, shows intelligence members with a line of around 40 prisoners in an abandoned building in Tadamon, a suburb of Damascus near the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk. For much of the war, the district was a front line between government forces and opposition fighters.
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The prisoners are blindfolded, with their arms tied behind their backs. One after another, the Branch 227 gunmen stand them at the edge of a trench outside the building filled with old tires, then push or kick the men in, shooting them as they fall.
In a cruel game, the agents tell some of the prisoners that they are going to pass through a sniper’s alley and that they should run. The men tumble onto the bodies of those who went before them. As bodies pile up in the trench, some still move, and the gunmen shoot into the pile.
Then the gunmen set the bodies on fire, presumably to erase evidence of the massacre.
The State Department said Yousef, a warrant officer in the Syrian security services, was involved in “gross violations of human rights” for his involvement in the killing of 41 unarmed civilians.
The statement said the U.S. calls on President Bashar Assad’s government “to cease all violations and abuses of human rights, including but not limited to extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and torture.”
It said the footage of the killings in Tadamon and ongoing atrocities in Syria “serves as a sobering reminder for why countries should not normalize relations with the Assad regime absent enduring progress towards a political resolution.”
Following the Feb. 6, earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria killing more than 50,000 people, including about 6,000 in Syria, some Arab foreign ministers made rare visits to Damascus and met Assad for the first time since the conflict began in March 2011.
Calls have been rising in recent months for Syria’s return to the Arab League. Syria was expelled from the 22-member organization and boycotted by its neighbors after its uprising-turned-conflict broke out.