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His brother was tortured and killed by Russian mercenaries. Now this Syrian refugee wants justice

July 21, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 23%. 2 min read.

Russian mercenaries have been accused of grave human rights abuses that in some cases could amount to war crimes. One Syrian refugee is hoping to bring his brother's killers to justice.

At least one of the men in the video has been identified by the independent investigative Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta as a mercenary from the shadowy Wagner group -- a private military outfit that has links to the Kremlin-connected oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as "Putin's chef" for his ties to the Russian President.

Russian forces have been operating in Syria since 2015, and there is substantial evidence to show that Wagner's presence in the country is connected to the Russian military deployment.

Four years after Mohamad's murder, three NGOs from Syria, France and Russia filed a landmark legal case against Wagner for the role it allegedly played in the atrocity, as well as the perpetration of possible war crimes by the men seen in the video.

The lawsuit was filed in March on behalf of Mohamad's brother, Abdullah.

It is the first time anyone has tried to hold a member of Wagner accountable for what rights groups say is a growing list of atrocities committed by the mercenaries, whose expanding global footprint has allowed Moscow to advance an off-the-books foreign policy in places like Syria, Ukraine, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique

To protect family members still living in regime-controlled areas of Syria, Abdullah requested that CNN conceal his full identity and the location of the interview.

"My brother is gone, he will never come back," Abdullah said.

In one of Mohamad's last phone calls, in April 2017, he told Abdullah he had been detained by the regime as he crossed back into Syria, after working in Lebanon for about eight months.

"One day a guy from our town sent me a video clip, he said: 'Watch the video, it could be your brother. ' Of course, I recognized my brother -- from his clothes, his voice, his appearance," Abdullah said, his voice pained.

"About two months later, the second video emerged, that is when we believed our brother died," the softly spoken 27-year-old, now visibly distraught, told CNN.

We were always together," Abdullah said.

Since Wagner's footprint has grown across the Middle East and Africa, a key launchpad has become the Russian military base at Latakia on Syria's Mediterranean coast.

"Syrian activists and victims of the atrocities perpetrated by all parties to the conflict in Syria have been working tirelessly since 2011 to obtain accountability," they said, adding that: "There are limited avenues for victims and their families to obtain justice and redress. "

Abdullah says his brother's death has left him facing a series of challenges, from caring for Mohamad's wife and children to dealing with the trauma of the horrors he saw in those videos.

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