A Syrian militia leader suspected of war crimes and close to President Bashar al-Assad attended a meeting of the Special Olympics committee in Paris during August 2023.
Omar al-Aroub, second-in-command of the Ba’ath Brigades, posted a photo of himself in Paris on social media on 31 August, which he visited as head of the Syrian Paralympic Committee.
Between 24 and 29 August 2023, the heads of national Paralympic committees held a meeting in the French capital.
Officials from Paris 2024 – the name of the upcoming games – confirmed to French media outlet TF1 Info that Aroub had attended the meeting.
Aroub’s presence in the country has provoked outrage among many Syrians who pointed out that the Ba’ath Brigades – the armed wing of Syria’s ruling Ba’ath Party – were responsible for helping violently repress anti-government protesters.
“Omar Aroub is one of the leaders of Assad’s [Ba’ath Brigades] accused of war crimes, and he is travelling in Paris as part of the preparation for the 2024 Olympics,” tweeted the France-based Syrian activist Firas Kontar on 5 September.
“How is this possible and how did he obtain his visa?”
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Syria’s ongoing conflict has raged since 2011 when security forces loyal to Assad opened fire on peaceful pro-democracy protesters, eventually sparking a civil war and foreign interventions that ultimately ensured Assad’s survival.
The war has killed more than 500,000 people and driven millions from the country, turning them into refugees.
In recent years, a number of Syrians have been prosecuted for war crimes in Europe.
Last year, a former senior Syrian government security official was sentenced to life in prison in Germany, accused of overseeing dozens of murders at an interrogation facility early in the war.
In spring this year, France issued an order to prosecute a range of senior Assad government officials for crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Among those targeted were Ali Mamlouk, head of the National Security Bureau of the Ba’ath party, Jamil Hassan, former head of the Syrian Air Force Intelligence Directorate, and Abdel Salam Mahmoud, another air force intelligence officer.
The indictment is, however, unlikely to see any of the accused appear for trial.