Three alleged former Syrian secret service officers have been arrested in Germany and France on suspicion of participating in torture and crimes against humanity, prosecutors in both countries said Wednesday.
All three were arrested on Tuesday in a "coordinated" operation by German and French police, the federal prosecution in the German city of Karlsruhe said.
Anwar R., 56, and 42-year-old Eyad A. were detained in Berlin and Rhineland-Palatinate state, prosecutors said. Both left Syria in 2012.
The same day, another Syrian was detained in the Paris region for "acts of torture, crimes against humanity and complicity in these crimes", the Paris prosecutor's office said.
The suspect, who is in his 30s, is accused of participating in acts of violence against civilians from March 2011 until 2013 when he worked for Syria's mukhabarat, or secret service, a source familiar with the case said.
The Syria conflict began in March 2011 with a series of mass protests demanding civil liberties, prompting a harsh crackdown by the regime which quickly began using "brutal force" against anti-government protesters, German prosecutors said in a statement.
"The Syrian secret services played an essential role in this. The aim was to use the intelligence services to stop the protest movement as early as possible."
Anwar R. allegedly led a secret service division that operated a prison in the Damascus area, and had participated in the torture and abuse of prisoners from April 2011 to September 2012.
"As head of the investigative department, Anwar R. directed and commanded prison operations, including the use of systematic and brutal torture," it said.
- Torture, death in custody -
Eyad A., a former officer who had manned checkpoints and hunted protesters, had allegedly aided and abetted two killings and the physical abuse of some 2,000 people between July 2011 and January 2012.
In the summer of 2011, he manned a checkpoint near Damascus where around 100 people per day were arrested then jailed and tortured in the prison headed by Anwar R.
More than 360,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict with millions more displaced.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 60,000 people have died from torture or harsh conditions in regime custody since the conflict began.
Several other legal cases are now pending in Germany against the Assad regime.
Last year, German prosecutors issued an international arrest warrant for Jamil Hassan, a top Syrian official who headed the notorious airforce intelligence directorate and is accused of overseeing the torture and murder of hundreds of detainees.
Although the alleged abuses did not happen in Germany, the case has been filed under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows any country to pursue perpetrators regardless of where the crime was committed.
The Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights has also joined with torture survivors to file criminal complaints against 10 high-ranking Syrian officials, accusing them of crimes against humanity and war crimes.