Germany arrests former Jabhat al-Nusra extremist accused of massacring 36 civilians in Syria

Syrian man accused of killing Syrian government employees in March 2013

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A man accused of massacring 36 civilians in the Syrian civil war has been arrested in Germany as a crackdown against suspected extremists continues.

He and another detained Syrian national were allegedly members of al-Qaeda's affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, which was linked to Isis at the time.

The German federal prosecutor’s office said Abdalfatah HA, 35, joined the terrorist group in 2013.

Syrian government loses ground to Nusra Front and ISIL

A spokesperson said he was charged with killing 36 Syrian government employees who were protected under international law, in a war crime with “low motivations” – a legal definition in German that encompasses racially and religiously motivated crimes.

Abdalfatah HA was among members of a jihadi unit who were deployed to carry out a death sentence handed out by a self-styled Sharia court, prosecutors said.

He was arrested alongside another Syrian man, 26-year-old Abdulrahman AA, in police operations in Giessen and Düsseldorf.

He is alleged to have founded the unit of Jabhat al-Nusra with another suspected prosecuted in Germany, managing its funding and transport.

Both he and Abdalfatah HA were trained as fighters and equipped with Kalashnikovs, fighting in operations against Syrian government forces including the capture of the country’s largest weapons depot near Mahin in November 2013.

The pair are to be investigated by Germany’s federal court of justice in the latest case opened as part of an intensified wave of terror probes in the country.

Another member of their cell, bombmaker 31-year-old Abd Arahman AK, was arrested in Germany in June. 

Representatives for the federal prosecutor’s office and interior ministry told The Independent they could not confirm whether the suspects arrested on Wednesday and Thursday were asylum seekers, or when they had arrived in Germany.

Jabhat al-Nusra was started as the Syrian affiliate of al-Qaeda, linked to its Iraqi branch headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

He declared the merger of the two groups to create the “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” in April 2013, but an ensuing power struggle with Jabhat al-Nusra leaders resulted in Isis breaking away and being cut off by al-Qaeda.

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 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi attempted to merge al-Qaeda in Iraq and Jabhat al-Nusra in 2013 (REUTERS)

Jabhat al-Nusra has also attempted to distance itself from al-Qaeda, announcing the severing of ties and rebranding itself in efforts to avoid international air strikes and gain backing from Syrian rebel groups.

Its most recent incarnation is as a leading member of the Islamist alliance Tahrir al-Sham, which aspires to operate its own Islamic “emirate” in Syria.

Members of Isis, the Taliban and other extremist organisations have been identified among more than a million asylum seekers who have arrived since the refugee crisis.

The revelations have increased pressure on Angela Merkel, who promised increased security operations following a string of Isis-inspired terror attacks in the country.

Immigration and extremism are two of the key issues leading into Germany’s federal elections in September, where the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland party is expected to enter the Bundestag for the first time.

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