While Bashar al-Assad’s regime continues to suppress and slaughter pro-reform Syrians at home, his security forces have intensified a campaign to intimidate and decimate any Syrian opposition in Europe.
Assad’s crackdown in Germany may even have resulted in the execution-style murder of a 35-year-old Syrian in his automobile. On New Year’s Eve, just south from Hannover in the town of Sarstedt, two men fired gunshots at a Syrian man in his car while he was stopped at a red light.
And, in addition to the murder, two men believed to be Syrian agents stormed the Berlin apartment of a prominent Syrian dissident in late December. The agents, who were likely commissioned by the Assad regime in Damascus, attacked German-Syrian politician Ferhad Ahma on Christmas Eve in his Berlin apartment.
According to an article in the online Der Spiegel magazine, Ahma, an opponent of Assad’s government, is listed as number 236 on an internal security document of Assad’s regime. He is a member of the Syrian National Council, a group seeking to remove the Assad regime because of its brutal repression of the civilian population, which has resulted in the deaths over 5,000 Syrians.
The list consists of 287 names of exiled Syrians and was brought to the fore by kurdwatch.org. The people on the Syrian regime’s security list are being sought for “criminality against the state” in Syria—the catch-all phrase the Syrian regime’s uses to stifle all dissent.
Ahma told the German media that two men beat him with “clubs” and “as a friend came who was there to visit, and began to scream, a neighbor who was alarmed opened the door. The perpetrators fled. I was lucky that I was not alone at home.”
As a result of the attack, Ahma suffered wounds and bruises to his body. The German case is not the first example of the Syrian regime working to repress dissidents in foreign countries. Syrian critics in the U.S. have complained to the State Department in Washington about Syrian intelligence agents working to intimidate and silence opponents of the Syrian regime in the United States.
Ahma suspects that the two men are Syrian intelligence agents. In a reference to Syrian intelligence operations in Europe, Ahma told the German media, “One knows that from France and Switzerland.”
Ahma fled Syria 15 years ago and is active in the local Berlin Green Party. He works as a translator in connection with integration affairs.
The German Foreign Ministry requested a meeting with Syria’s ambassador to discuss the attack on Ahma. However, the German government, which has traditionally had close relations with Assad’s regime, did not summon the Syrian ambassador to the Foreign Ministry, which would have meant a formal diplomatic complaint.
The Foreign Ministry warned the Syrian ambassador to Berlin, Radwan Lutfi, “threatening Syria’s opposition in Germany with violence or intimidation will in no way be tolerated.”
According to a 2010 report by the German domestic intelligence agency Verfassungschutz, “The Syrian intelligence agencies monitor in Syria and abroad opposition groups and individual persons whom the Syrian agencies see as a danger for the regime.”
Given Syria’s lawless diplomatic and intelligence behavior abroad, and its bloody crackdown within its borders, isn’t it time to expel its diplomats?
Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.