Syria Islamist group urges France to free ex-spokesman

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The Syrian Islamist group Jaysh al-Islam on Saturday called on France to release one of its former members days after he was arrested and charged with war crimes.

The suspect, Majdi Mustafa Nameh, was arrested on Wednesday in France and charged on Friday with torture, war crimes and complicity in forced disappearances, a French judicial source told AFP.

Nameh, also known as Islam Alloush, was the former spokesman of Jaysh al-Islam, one of several hardline Islamist groups opposed to the Damascus regime.

A prominent part of the opposition that emerged in Syria after the civil war broke out in 2011, the group fought against Islamic State group jihadists but was also accused by rights groups of abuses.

In a statement on Saturday posted on Instagram, Jaysh al-Islam demanded that Nameh be freed and charges against him dropped, saying the accusations tarnish the group's reputation.

Jaysh al-Islam said that Nameh was its former spokesman and had left the group in 2017, ending ties with it.

The group was notably suspected of involvement in the December 2013 kidnapping of prominent Syrian activist Razan Zaitouneh, her husband Wael Hamada and two colleagues, Samira Khalil and Nazem Hammadi. They have never been found.

Zaitouneh was a vociferous critic of abuses by all parties in the Syrian conflict including the regime and groups like Jaysh al-Islam.

In June last year, rights groups including the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) filed a criminal complaint against members of Jaysh al-Islam for crimes committed by the group.

After three years of painstaking research, they alerted French authorities in January to Nameh's presence in the south of France.

The FIDH and two other groups behind the complaint alleged Nameh was involved "in the forced enlistment of children" in Jaysh al-Islam.

"Several victims also directly incriminate him for kidnapping and torture," their statement said.