The Liwa al-Tawhid case in Germany

Members of Liwa al-Tawhid during clashes with the Islamic State in Aleppo countryside - August 13, 2015 (Anadolu Agency)

Members of Liwa al-Tawhid during clashes with the Islamic State in Aleppo countryside - August 13, 2015 (Anadolu Agency)

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Enab Baladi – Baraa Khattab

The Federal Court of Justice in Germany has announced charges against three Syrians for membership in Liwa al-Tawhid faction, considering it a foreign “terrorist” organization.

According to a court statement issued on January 23, the accused were active members in what it described as a foreign “terrorist” organization, based on paragraph “1” of Article “129/b”, in conjunction with paragraph “1” of Article “129/a” of the German Criminal Code.

The statement clarified that the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office charged the founder of Liwa al-Tawhid (Muhamad R.) for leading combat tasks and seizing Aleppo, and for the correspondent and spokesperson of the faction (Anas K.) for his involvement in “publicly propagandizing the group” by producing articles about its activities, in front of the State Security Council at the Supreme Court in Berlin.

The last charge was directed against “Youssef K.” for his work in the media sector and regularly accompanying “Anas K.” to combat zones, and preparing reports, films, and photographs for “propaganda purposes.”

Outside Germany’s terrorist designation

The court’s characterization of Liwa al-Tawhid as a “terrorist” organization has raised eyebrows, as Germany does not classify it as a “terrorist” organization, according to its 2022 annual report on the “Protection of the Constitution.”

The report, presented by the German Federal Minister of the Interior, Nancy Faeser, along with the President of the Federal Parliament, Thomas Haldenwang, on the “Protection of the Constitution,” on June 20, 2023, included more than 20 Islamic organizations classified as terrorist in Germany, among them the Islamic State and al-Qaeda organizations in Saudi Arabia and Morocco, Hezbollah and Muslim Brotherhood, and others, with their numbers in Germany mentioned.

It also comprised non-Islamic organizations such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and left-wing and right-wing Turkish extremist organizations.

Although the report did not explicitly mention Liwa al-Tawhid, it did cite the existence of 370 terrorists under the classification of “other terrorist organizations.”

According to the website of the German Federal Ministry of Justice, Article “129” applies to criminals and “terrorist” organizations outside the European Union member states and is only applicable if the perpetrator or victim is German or located in the country.

How did the case start?

Enab Baladi contacted one of the three accused “Anas K.,” a refugee in Germany since 2016 from the town of Bayanoun in the northern countryside of Aleppo, to learn about the case details. He clarified that the court proceedings started on September 8, 2021.

Anas said he worked as a journalist for “Smart” agency, based in Gaziantep, Turkey, and was not affiliated with Liwa al-Tawhid.

Anas described September 8, 2021, as a “dark” day for him and his family when they woke up in the morning to loud knocking at their door. He told Enab Baladi, “At first, I thought they were thieves, or a fire had broken out in the building.” When he opened the door, he found armed police spread throughout the house.

Anas did not understand what was happening, but panic engulfed the family until the translator accompanying the police explained their presence. Initially, he was told everything looked normal, after which the translator read about 20 pages containing the charges against him.

The translator requested documents proving Anas’s work as a journalist, as he had declared upon arrival in Germany, and they requested to search the house and the hard drive (the storage device) he possessed.

Anas kept two storage devices, according to what he told Enab Baladi, containing everything he had filmed during his journalistic work in Syria, and all he had documented of violations against civilians from bombings, destruction, video reports, distribution of humanitarian aid, and battles against the Syrian regime in Aleppo and its countryside, and “records and names of martyrs and pictures of a whole country’s history he kept to be a witness to the era.”

Anas handed that over to the police, fully confident that the law was on his side and that he was in a country of freedom and democracy, as he told Enab Baladi. The police then asked him to come to the car for some questions, and the interrogation about his life from childhood until his arrival in Germany began, lasting eight hours.

Anas has no information about the actions the court will take, but he will attend the session, whose date has not yet been determined, accompanied by his lawyer.

The director of the Syrian Center for Legal Studies and Research, Anwar al-Bunni, told Enab Baladi that while the issue is concerning, it seems there is a complaint against the three individuals. He pointed out that the public prosecutor did not arrest them, a sign they are not classified as “terrorists.”

Al-Bunni explained that the court proceedings should be awaited since it does not classify Liwa al-Tawhid as a “terrorist” organization unless there are complaints against the accused of attacking or killing civilians, in which case “the issue will differ.”

What is Liwa al-Tawhid?

Liwa al-Tawhid is considered an Islamic armed group that operated in Aleppo governorate between 2012 and 2014 and consisted of approximately ten thousand fighters aiming to fight the Syrian regime and establish a religious state based on Islamic Sharia, according to the court’s definition.

The statement added that to achieve its goals, Liwa al-Tawhid cooperated with other foreign “terrorist” groups and organizations in the region, especially “al-Nusra Front” and “Ahrar al-Sham Movement”.

International criminal law specialist lawyer al-Mutassim al-Kilani told Enab Baladi that according to the German Criminal Code, dealing, communicating, or providing any logistical support to a “terrorist” organization is considered participation in that organization, and therefore prosecution follows under international criminal law as a contributor to “terrorist” activities.

That is what the German judiciary based its arguments on, as Liwa al-Tawhid was cooperating with two factions considered “terrorist” organizations by the judiciary, such as the Ahrar al-Sham Movement and al-Nusra Front, al-Kilani said.

He continued that in such a situation, the possible actions to be taken are for these individuals to prove that during the period of the faction’s cooperation with the organizations classified as “terrorist” by the German judiciary, they were not with Liwa al-Tawhid and that their activities were peaceful and unrelated to carrying weapons and military support, among other things.

Liwa al-Tawhid was formed by unifying several brigades belonging to the Free Syrian Army on July 18, 2012, and fought against Syrian regime forces in Aleppo province, under the leadership of Abdel Qader al-Saleh.

Liwa al-Tawhid controlled about 70% of Aleppo city before the regime regained it through an intensive military campaign and Russian air cover at the end of 2016, leading to dozens of massacres and the displacement of the besieged residents in the eastern districts of the city, along with opposition fighters to Idlib and the Aleppo countryside.

 

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