German court convicts man over deadly 2014 attack in Syria

BERLIN (AP) — A German court on Thursday convicted a Palestinian man from Syria of a war crime and murder for launching a grenade into a crowd of civilians waiting for food in Damascus in 2014. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The 55-year-old, identified only as Moafak D. in line with German privacy rules, was arrested in 2021 in Berlin, where he had been living as a refugee. His trial opened in August.

The German capital’s district court found that the defendant on March 23, 2014, fired a grenade from an anti-tank weapon into the crowd in the Yarmouk district of Damascus, killing four people and seriously wounding two others.

It said that he was the commander of a checkpoint for a Palestinian group, probably the Free Palestine Movement, and on the day in question also was supposed to be overseeing a distribution of food packages by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees.

The court said that part of the district was at the time controlled by militias loyal to President Bashar Assad’s government.

The Yarmouk district, which grew out of a Palestinian refugee camp, was cordoned off by the Syrian government from July 2013 to April 2015, causing shortages of food, water and medical supplies.

The court said the defendant acted out of revenge against civilians in the district after his 25-year-old nephew was killed two days earlier by shots fired by opponents of Assad’s government.

He was convicted of a particularly serious war crime, four counts of murder, two counts of attempted murder and bodily harm. The court also determined that he bears particularly severe guilt, meaning that he won’t be eligible for release after 15 years as is usually the case in Germany.

The verdict can be appealed.

Germany’s application of the rule of “universal jurisdiction,” allowing the prosecution of serious crimes committed abroad, led last year to the first conviction of a senior Syrian official for crimes against humanity.

Justice Minister Marco Buschmann on Thursday proposed reforms to the system. Those would include allowing victims of crimes against humanity and war crimes to join trials in Germany as co-plaintiffs, and providing for interpretation at trials for non-German speaking media.

They also would see charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes encompassing “sexual slavery.”

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