France is investigating Bashar al-Assad over alleged crimes against humanity, the Paris prosecutor’s office said, launching a case that highlights divisions among major powers over relations with the Syrian leader.
The investigation, which is also examining claims of torture and kidnapping by Assad’s forces, was opened “on the basis of indications received from the foreign ministry” on September 10, an official said.
An estimated 250,000 people have been killed in Syria’s four-year civil war between Assad’s troops, rebel groups, and IS militants, and 11m displaced.
The ministry’s dossier drew on some 55,000 photographic images smuggled out of the country by a former Syrian army officer, showing 11,000 alleged victims of forces loyal to Assad.
The competence of French courts to try those held responsible may hinge on the identification of French nationals among the victims. Even in that event, the prospect of a trial in France would appear remote.
In the face of sustained Russian support for Assad, France recently joined other western powers in softening earlier demands that Assad leave office as a precondition for peace talks.
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