Beirut, Lebanon – Germany has asked Lebanon to extradite Syrian General Jamil Hassan, Der Spiegel reported, after the notorious chief of Syria’s Air Force Intelligence Directorate was reportedly admitted to a hospital in Lebanon.
The German federal prosecutor had issued an arrest warrant against the general in June for committing crimes against humanity based on a complaint filed by Syrian refugees in Germany.
Thousands of Syrians have allegedly been tortured in detention centres under the direct control of General Hassan, Syria’s longest-serving intelligence chief and considered to be among the most powerful officials in the country.
Al-Masdar, an Arabic-language news outlet, first reported on Thursday that General Hassan was in Lebanon to seek medical treatment. There has been no official confirmation on his whereabouts since.
Anwar al-Bunni, a Germany-based Syrian human rights lawyer, told Al Jazeera that his sources informed him that General Hassan was being treated under the watch of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed political group and militia, and a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“I found out through sources in Syria and then through those in Lebanon that Jamil Hassan was in a hospital in Lebanon under Hezbollah’s protection,” said Bunni, who is helping former Syrian prisoners seeking justice in European countries.
“Germany’s foreign office called me to find out what I knew and I told them. I think they must have also collected their own intelligence.”
General Hassan is a member of al-Assad’s inner circle and a vociferous proponent of tougher tactics to quell the uprising that began in 2011. The US Treasury Department froze his assets because of his role in cracking down on protesters that year.
Patrick Kroker, a lawyer with the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights which has also facilitated the filing of the case against General Hassan in Germany, said that the idea behind Germany’s diplomatic move is to restrict the general’s movement and send a message that Berlin is determined to not just “chase but also catch Hassan”.
“This is big,” he said. “It means that Germany did not issue the arrest warrant for symbolic reasons but is really going after him.”
However, Germany has shied away from officially confirming the extradition request. Al Jazeera reached out to the country’s federal prosecutor’s office but had yet to receive a response at the time of publication.
Lebanon’s Interior Ministry denied receiving any notification from Interpol to arrest the general.
Michael Aoun, Lebanon’s president, said that if General Hassan was in Lebanon, his office did not know. “If he (General Hassan) sneaked in because of the difficulty of controlling the border, it must be investigated,” Aoun said.
Aoun’s political party, the Free Patriotic Movement, is an ally of Hezbollah in the Lebanese parliament. However, experts said information about the possible whereabouts of the Syrian general may well have been concealed from him.
“Lebanon is under the control of Hezbollah which will never let the Lebanese government send the Syrian general to Germany,” Bunni said.
Kroker agreed and said that while chances of Lebanon handing the general over might be slim, the message is clear. “He cannot rely on the benevolence of every country he travels to, not for long.”
Syria is not a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and its citizens, therefore, cannot be prosecuted in The Hague. Furthermore, Russia and China have vetoed several attempts to set up an international tribunal to adjudicate on the crimes, purportedly to protect high-ranking officials in the Syrian administration such as General Hassan.
However, Germany’s universal jurisdiction laws allow it to prosecute people for war crimes committed anywhere in the world. Just last week, two Syrian intelligence officials were apprehended by German law enforcement. Anwar R was arrested for his involvement in torturing Syrians between 2011-12 and Eyad A for assisting in the killing of two and torturing of at least 2,000 people.
Kroker attached huge significance to the arrests. “For the first time, there will be a trial and Syrians would be able to see that it is possible to get justice. In all likelihood, it would be a public trial.”
These two officials were in Germany while General Hassan is unlikely to ever set foot in Europe. Germany cannot prosecute in absentia, leading experts to believe that he would escape a trial.