PARIS (AP) — The one-time spokesman for the notorious Syrian rebel faction the Army of Islam , who was arrested in southern France last week and charged with torture and war crimes, arrived in the country on a short-term visa, the French Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
The ministry said during an online briefing that Islam Alloush was issued a “short-term visa … based on a complete file, after questioning by the appropriate ministerial services.” The request was reportedly made at the French consulate in Istanbul.
Short-term visas are usually for 90 days and allow access to Europe’s Schengen area of 26 countries. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Alloush had traveled beyond France, or when he arrived.
Alloush, whose real name is Majdi Ne’mah, was arrested in Marseille on Jan. 29 and days later handed preliminary charges linked to his activities in Syria. Besides torture, war crimes, and complicity in the two, he also was charged with “enforced disappearance,” according to the International Federation of Human Rights, which revealed Alloush’s arrest on Friday.
The NGO noted suspicions that in 2013 the Army of Islam abducted, detained and tortured the noted human rights lawyer Razan Zaitouneh and three others. Zaitouneh was one of five laureates of the 2011 Sakharov Prize that honors human rights defenders. The group denied the accusations.
Preliminary charges in France mean the suspect could be freed if an investigation turns up nothing, or formally indicted and sent to trial.
The conservative Army of Islam was one of the strongest groups based near Damascus until their defeat in 2018 and departure to northern Syria. Its founder, Zahran Alloush, was killed in an airstrike near Damascus in December 2015. One of the most powerful Syrian rebel factions, the group was headquartered in Douma, the most populated area of eastern Ghouta, outside Damascus.
Islam Alloush left the group in 2017, telling The Associated Press at the time that he resigned to work as a researcher under his real name.
The International Federation of Human Rights and two other NGOs had filed a complaint against the Army of Islam last June for various alleged crimes.
Bassem Mrou in Beirut, Lebanon contributed to this report.