War criminal, senior thug in Assad’s ‘National Defense’ militia set to receive Belgian citizenship: report

Jun 25, 2020

The continuing investigative and monitoring operations to track war criminals carried out by Zaman al-Wasl have revealed that one of the most prominent and corrupt regime operatives in Salmiya in Hama governorate, identified as Hussein Abu Habla, who was involved in numerous crimes against humanity is now a resident in the Belgian capital, Brussels, and seems set to receive Belgian citizenship.

Abu Habla (pictured, far-right) was one of the leading local members of the National Defence militia, headed by Muhammad Fadel Wardah. In Salmiya, he was widely known for joining the ‘popular committees’ in the ranks of the regime’s ruling Baath Party, whose plainclothes militias are known as ‘shabiha’, at the very start of the Syrian revolution in 2011. He reportedly enthusiastically participated in the regime’s crackdown on peaceful demonstrations, launching brutal attacks on demonstrators, verbally and physically assaulting them using foul language, as well as working to incite regime loyalists in the city to attack Assad’s opponents and confiscate their properties.

One local witness, who asked not to be named, told Zaman Al-Wasl that Abu Habla had a small taxi office in Salamiya city which he used as a gathering place and assembly point for regime loyalist shabiha travelling from nearby towns and villages where they would discuss and coordinate attacks on peaceful anti-regime demonstrations and anyone opposing the regime and demanding its downfall.

The witness continued: "After the Assad regime began its military campaign and used the option of a military and security crackdown, it began adopting a policy of storming cities and villages to deter protests there, and worked to form armed militias in parallel to its army. Early on, he [Hussein Abu Habla] joined the ranks of the National Defense militia in the city of Salmiya, which was led by Muhammad Fadil Wardah, and participated in the fighting on the fronts of Homs and Hama. In this militia, Abu Habla assumed responsibility for the militia’s fuel, military vehicles, weapons and ammunition, in addition to playing a leadership and organizational role in sending members of this militia to checkpoints and barriers inside and on the outskirts of Salamiyah city.”
The witness further confirmed that Hussein Abu Habla was responsible for transferring peaceful demonstrators and opponents of the Assad regime detained by the militias from the National Defense militia’s center in Salamiya city to regime security and intelligence branches in the capital, Damascus, adding that In the period from 2011 to 2015, dozens of these detainees were subjected to enforced disappearance in Al-Assad’s prisons, with some of them dying under torture.

According to local sources, Abu Habla comes from a family of Assad regime loyalists, with many family members joining the ranks of the regime's numerous militias, and participating in killings. During these atrocities, Hussein played a prominent part in the killings, kidnappings, looting, and robberies practiced by these militias to intimidate Syrian dissidents. He is very definitely among the ranks of those who should be charged with multiple war crimes and crimes against humanity, like his prominent relative and fellow shabih, Sakhr Abu Habla, who is still in Salamiya and still perpetrating the same crimes.

Another witness told us that prior to the revolution and joining the regime militias’ ranks in Salmiya, Abu Habla ran a small taxi office in the city; after joining the National Defense militia, he was exposed to obscene wealth, as a result of the robberies, looting and confiscation of goods he was involved in and the massive ransoms paid by relatives of the missing to secure the release of detainees or kidnap victims (the militias routinely take this money despite knowing that the victims are already dead). This allowed him to buy a large amount of stolen real estate, cars and heavy machinery, such as cranes, which are still being hired out to make money for him.

The same source continued, saying, "In 2015, Abu Habla followed his wife who had preceded him to Belgium and applied for and obtained asylum since he went there through a process of family reunification. He currently lives in the Belgian capital Brussels, where he owns a number of taxis, and has bought a house in Brussels and he’s on the threshold of obtaining Belgian citizenship, with his application now in its final acquisition stages. He’s also involved in several illegal activities such as working to transfer funds to Syria illegally.”

The witness added, "Abu Habla visits Syria annually, since he went to Europe by way of family unification, and does not hold refugee status, so he runs his business in Syria, in addition to his previous and subsequent activities in bringing his militia members to Europe and Belgium in particular."

It is noteworthy that the relevant Belgian laws in this regard are based primarily on national laws for the settlement of disputes, and Belgium has many restrictions on filing a complaint when the crime occurs outside the country, including the need for the suspect to have been a Belgian citizen or held a Belgian residence at the time the crime was committed, orfor the victim to be a Belgian citizen or hold recognized refugee status in Belgium, or to have had residential status in Belgium for a period of three years at the time of the crime.

- Zaman al-Wasl

Original article (Arabic):