London postman who joined Isis charged with involvement in massacre and war crimes after denying killing

Video showing Harry Sarfo at execution in Palmyra sparks new charges for returned Isis fighter

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The Independent Online

A returned Isis fighter who denied killing anyone during his three months in the “caliphate” has been charged with involvement in a massacre in Palmyra.

Harry Sarfo, a former London postman who grew up in the UK after moving from Germany as a child, was caught on video herding captives to be executed in the Syrian city’s streets.

The 28-year-old described the atrocity as his worst memory of his time with Isis in an exclusive interview with The Independent last year, identifying it as one of the events that drove him to flee the terrorist group’s “barbarity”.

Harry Sarfo’s appearance in an Isis propaganda video issued in August 2015, where two prisoners were executed by militants

The graphic footage emerged as Sarfo serves a three-year prison sentence in Germany for joining a terror organisation, undergoing firearms training and appearing in Isis propaganda.

His original conviction did not include any reference to killing, but the new evidence has sparked an investigation by federal prosecutors into “collective murder” and war crimes.

“The defendant is accused of involvement in the killing of six prisoners by members of the so-called Islamic State in mid-June 2015,” a spokesperson for federal prosecutors said.

“He is therefore strongly suspected of six-fold collective murder and engaging in [common purpose] war crimes, as well as membership of a foreign terrorist organisation.”

Footage of the massacre obtained by the Washington Post shows Sarfo with a group of Isis fighters led by Austrian Isis fighter Mohamed Mahmoud and German militant Yamin Abou-Zand.

He had already appeared in a propaganda video that showed the pair shooting Syrian captives dead in the ancient ruins of Palmyra, while calling on Isis supporters to travel to Isis territories or “kill infidels wherever you find them” in Europe.

Former London student in Isis execution video

In the second video, which was not released by Isis’s propaganda agency, Sarfo is seen apparently herding one of six captives wearing combat fatigues with their hands bound into a public square in Palmyra.

Sarfo stands immobile by a wall for opening seconds of the fusillade, but he then pulls out a pistol and aims it at the men on the ground.

The camera is briefly obscured but Sarfo appears to fire towards unmoving victims. It is unclear whether a bullet hit and whether the captives were already dead.

An indictment from German prosecutors accused Sarfo of “leading one of the prisoners himself to the place of execution, armed with a pistol, and preventing the others from fleeing”.

There has been no comment from Sarfo or his lawyer since the footage emerged, but he spoke about the massacre extensively in previous interviews – without revealing the extent of his own involvement.

The former militant described Mahmoud bringing captives to his accommodation and asking: “Who wants to kill them today? Together we are going to make a nice video.”

Harry Sarfo (top right) was seen pointing a gun towards captives during an Isis execution in Palmyra, Syria, in June 2015 (Washington Post)

Sarfo claimed he did not volunteer to take part and described the “execution of six men shot in the head by Kalashnikovs” as his worst memory of his time as an Isis militant in an interview with The Independent.

“I’ve realised that what they are claiming to be Islamic is totally un-Islamic,” he said last year, calling Isis “the path to hell”.

“Instead of freeing the Syrian people and uplift them, they've created another regime. I didn't want people to remember me that way and I knew that as long as I wasn't involved in any of these barbaric things, I could return home and tell the world my story.”

He was arrested at Bremen Airport after fleeing from Syria into Turkey and flying back to Germany in July 2015. 

Sarfo, a German citizen of Ghanaian descent, converted to Islam aged 20 in London, where he attended Leyton Sixth Form College and Newham College of Further Education.

He worked at Wickes and as a postman for Royal Mail before being sent back to Germany to serve a prison sentence for involvement in a 2010 armed robbery at a supermarket.

After being jailed with a known al-Qaeda recruiter, Sarfo said he “learned the ideology of jihad” and joined an extremist mosque after being freed, deciding to join Isis in April 2015 after being repeatedly searched, detained and questioned by counter-terror police.

He claimed he trained in Isis’s special forces in its Syrian territories but fled the group before taking part in any operations, maintaining he did not kill anyone and refused to launch terror attacks in Europe.

Germany’s federal court of justice is considering the new charges against Sarfo and may add any additional punishment on to his ongoing prison sentence. Udo Würtz, the suspect’s lawyer, declined to comment.

The case comes as a 19-year-old Syrian man goes on trial in Germany on suspicion of fighting for Isis in Syria and then scouting out potential terror targets for the group.

Shaas al-M allegedly passed information on landmarks including the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag to Isis contacts after arriving in Europe in August 2015, while helping at least one jihadi travel to Syria.