German authorities arrested two alleged former Syrian intelligence officials on Tuesday accused of crimes against humanity.
The prosecution said the suspects were arrested in Berlin and in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. The men were Anwar R., a 56-year-old high-ranking member of the General Intelligence Directorate in Syria, and Eyad A., a 42-year-old member of a unit that operates a checkpoint in the region around the capital, Damascus.
Both men are said to have fled Syria in 2012. According to the authorities, a third man was arrested in France under the joint investigation. The third man was not named, but prosecutors said he was allegedly a subordinate of Anwar R.
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The arrests are based on allegations that the suspects tortured detainees between 2011 and 2012 in a detention center of the Syrian intelligence service during the anti-government riots.
"At the latest in April 2011, the Syrian regime began to suppress all anti-government activities of the opposition with brutal violence nationwide," said a prosecutor. "The Syrian intelligence services played an essential role. The goal was to use the intelligence services to stop the protest movement as soon as possible. "
Anwar R. is accused of having participated in the mistreatment of prisoners in a prison guarded from Damascus between April 2011 and September 2012. He is said to have used systematic and brutal torture while interrogating anti-government demonstrators.
The other man, Eyad A., is accused of "participating in the killing of two people and torture and physical abuse of at least 2,000 people between July 2011 and January 2012".
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The arrests were celebrated by the European Center for Constitution and Human Rights (ECCHR), an NGO that worked with the survivors of the abuse.
The organization said the arrests may, for the first time in the world, mean that a criminal investigation is "investigating the responsibility of senior members of Syrian intelligence services for President Bashar al-Assad for torture".
The brutal crackdown on activists by the Syrian secret police was cited as one of the reasons why the protests became a civil war in the country about eight years ago.
It remains unclear how the two men came to Germany, even though hundreds of thousands of Syrians have managed to gain refugee status and claim to be persecuted in their homeland.
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"If the suspect is brought to justice, torture survivors will enter the case as private parties," said ECCHR Secretary General Wolfgang Kaleck in a statement.
"[The arrest of the alleged criminals] sends a very important message to the survivors of Assad's torture system. Without justice, there will be no lasting peace in Syria, "he added.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.