Syrian regime ex-brigadier appears in Swedish court for war crimes charges

The highest-ranking Syrian regime military official to be tried in Europe has appeared before a Stockholm court over the allegations of war crimes during Syria's civil war.

Former brigadier general Mohammed Hamo, 65 who lives in Sweden, appeared before the court on Monday to defend himself against various charges such as "aiding and abetting" war crimes in Syria. He could get a life jail sentence.

The war between President Bashar al Assad's regime and armed opposition groups erupted after the government repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests in 2011.

It has killed more than half a million people, displaced millions, and ravaged Syria's economy and infrastructure.

Wearing a dark blue shirt, jeans and sneakers, Hamo listened carefully and took notes as prosecutor Karolina Wieslander read out the charges.

Wieslander said Hamo had contributed -- through "advice and action" -- to the Bashar al Assad regime's warfare, which "systematically included attacks carried out in violation of the principles of distinction, caution and proportionality."

"The warfare was thus indiscriminate," Wieslander told the court.

The charges concern the period of January 1 to July 20, 2012. The trial is expected to last until late May.


The prosecutor said the Syrian regime army's "widespread air and ground attacks" caused damage "at a scale that was disproportionate in view of the concrete and immediate general military advantages that could be expected to be achieved."

In his role as brigadier general and head of an armament division, Hamo allegedly helped coordinate and supply of arms to units.

Hamo's lawyer, Mari Kilman, told the court her client denied criminal responsibility.

"In any case he has not had the intent towards the main charge, that indiscriminate warfare would be carried out by others," Kilman said.

Kilman said the officer could not be held liable for the actions "as he had acted in a military context and had to follow orders."

Hamo also denied all individual charges and argued that Syrian law should be applied.

Several plaintiffs are to testify at the trial, including Syrians from cities that were attacked and a British photographer who was injured during one strike.

'Complete impunity'

"The attacks in and around Homs and Hama in 2012 resulted in widesp read civilian harm and an immense destruction of civilian properties," Aida Samani, senior legal advisor at rights group Civil Rights Defenders, told AFP.

"The same conduct has been repeated systematically by the Syrian army in other cities across Syria with complete impunity."

This trial will be the first in Europe "to address these types of indiscriminate attacks by the Syrian army", according to Samani, who added that it "will be the first opportunity for victims of the attacks to have their voices heard in an independent court".

Hamo is the highest-ranking military off icial to go on trial in Europe, though other countries have tried to bring charges against more senior members.

In March, Swiss prosecutors charged Rifaat al Assad, an uncle of Syrian regime leader Bashar al-Assad, with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

However, it remains unlikely Rifaat al Assad -- who recently returned to Syria after 37 years in exile -- will show up for the trial, for which a date has yet to be set.

Swiss law allows for trials in absentia under certain conditions.

In November, France issued an international arrest warrant for Bashar al Assad, accusing him of complicity in crimes against humanity and war crimes over chemical attacks in 2013.

Three other international warrants were also issued for the arrests of Bashar al Assad's brother Maher, the de-facto chief of the army's elite Fourth Division and two generals.

In January 2022, a German court sentenced former colonel Anwar Raslan to life jail for crimes against humanity. This was the first international trial over state-sponsored torture in Syria and was hailed by victims as a victory for justice.