Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s key military unit in charge of protecting Damascus is running secret prisons holding hundreds of suspected regime opponents, a Syria-based human rights group said in a report yesterday.
The Violations Documentation Center said the al-Assad regime’s 4th Division runs detention centers in its bases in and around Damascus. The division is led by Maher al-Assad, the Syrian president’s younger brother. It is deemed a pillar of loyalist forces and is charged with defending Damascus, the seat of Bashar al-Assad’s power.
The group, which has tracked the dead, wounded and missing since the start of the uprising in March 2011, said it interviewed “several” former detainees who had been held in small cells and beaten.
Bashar el-Ahmed, a 31-year-old schoolteacher, said he was taken blindfolded to the detention center and realized after he was arrived that he was underground. He said guards started beating him and other detainess with batons, electric prods and cables “the moment we arrived.”
The report said el-Ahmed had been accused of rights activism.
The center’s claims could not be independently verified, but other rights groups, including the US-based Human Rights Watch, have said that thousands of opposition members, protesters and their families have been detained since the revolt started.
None of the former detainees were able to give the exact location of the secret prison because they said they had been blindfolded during their transfer from an intelligence branch, the report said. They also said they had been held in small cells crammed with dozens of other prisoners.
The report did not say when the detentions occurred. Fighting has flared in recent weeks in the suburbs of Damascus as regime forces move against neighborhoods used by rebel groups.
Meanwhile, 11 civilians were killed when a Syrian warplane bombed a Kurdish village in the oil-producing Hasaka Province in the northeast of the country on Sunday, Kurdish activists said.
The raid, which killed mostly women and children, is the biggest loss of Kurdish life from loyalist attacks so far, they said.
The circumstances of the attack on the impoverished village of Haddad, 60km northeast of Qamishli City, are not clear, but it appears that a rebel force specializing in raiding oil wells had deployed on a hill near the village, the Kurdish sources said.
The Kurdish National Council said in a statement that the attack was a “serious escalation by the regime.”
Additional reporting by Reuters