This Syrian refugee wants justice after his brother was tortured and killed by


As he cries out for help, they taunt him in Russian, drowning out his agonized screams with laughter. In the background of the video, which was uploaded online, a nationalist Russian military song, “I am Russian special forces,” plays.

The victim in this harrowing amateur video is Mohamad, a 31-year-old Syrian construction worker and father of four young children, who disappeared on his way home from a job in neighboring Lebanon in March 2017.

Mohamad’s final words were those of the Shahada, a declaration of his Muslim faith.

The men who killed and decapitated Mohamad scrawled graffiti in Cyrillic on his lifeless chest. It said “for VDV and reconnaissance,” a reference to the Russian airborne forces.

At least one of the men in the video has been identified by the independent investigative Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta as a mercenary from the shadowy Wagner group — a private military outfit that has links to the Kremlin-connected oligarch Yevgeny Prigozhin, known as “Putin’s chef” for his ties to the Russian President.
Rights groups file landmark legal case against Russian Wagner mercenaries

The Kremlin denies any connections to Wagner and insists that private military companies are illegal in Russia. Prigozhin has previously denied being connected to Wagner. Neither he nor anyone from his companies would talk to CNN in recent years despite multiple attempts seeking comment, including for this report.

“These people risk their lives and by and large this is also a contribution in fighting terrorism … but this is not the Russian state, not the Russian army,” said President Vladimir Putin in 2019.

Russian forces have been operating in Syria since 2015, and there is substantial evidence to show that Wagner’s presence in the country is connected to the Russian military deployment.

Analysts say it’s inconceivable that Wagner would exist without Putin’s approval. Indeed, its training camp in southern Russia is attached to a Russian special forces base.
Four years after Mohamad’s murder, three NGOs from Syria, France and Russia filed a landmark legal case against Wagner for the role it allegedly played in the atrocity, as well as the perpetration of possible war crimes by the men seen in the video.
The lawsuit was filed in March on behalf of Mohamad’s brother, Abdullah. It is the first time anyone has tried to hold a member of Wagner accountable for what rights groups say is a growing list of atrocities committed by the mercenaries, whose expanding global footprint has allowed Moscow to advance an off-the-books foreign policy in places like Syria, Ukraine, Libya, the Central African Republic, Sudan and Mozambique
Abdullah spoke to CNN from an undisclosed location in order to keep his family, who still live in Syria, safe.

Abdullah, a refugee who fled Syria in 2017, has never spoken publicly about his brother’s killing before. He broke his silence in an exclusive interview with CNN, he says, to draw international attention to the tragedy that devastated his family.

To protect family members still living in regime-controlled areas of Syria, Abdullah requested that CNN conceal his full identity and the location of the interview.

“My brother is gone, he will never come back,” Abdullah said. “I want the world to hear about my brother’s case, so these criminals are held accountable.”

Final phone calls to family

In one of Mohamad’s last phone calls, in April 2017, he told Abdullah he had been detained by the regime as he crossed back into Syria, after working in Lebanon for about eight months. He said he had been taken to Damascus and forced to join the military, but that he planned to desert.

Ten days later, Mohamad called to say he was being sent to Homs the next day and that he would escape at night.

It was his last call to his family.

“He said, ‘Give my best to my father and my mother, ask them to forgive me, I am going to do something, I am going to leave, I don’t know if I will be able to get back to you or not,'” Abdullah recalled.

We tell Syria's human stories so that the 'victors' don't write its history

He said his brother had asked him to “take care of my wife,” adding: “I am entrusting you with my family.”

“It was that kind of talk, it was as if he knew something was going to happen to him,” Abdullah explained.

Mohamad never met his youngest daughter.

With the Syrian civil war raging, and poor internet and phone connections in their remote village, it was hard for Mohamad’s family to find out what had happened to him.

It wasn’t until a video showing his torture emerged online months later that his loved ones discovered the true horror that had befallen him.

“One day a guy from our town sent me a video clip, he said: ‘Watch the video, it could be your brother.’ Of course, I recognized my brother — from his clothes, his voice, his appearance,” Abdullah said, his voice pained. “He was being tortured by soldiers, they were not Syrian, we did not understand what they were saying.”

As Mohamad writhed in pain, his captors laughed as they tortured him.

Abdullah told other family members about what he had seen in the video, but did not share it with them, fearing what it would do to their elderly parents.

“When I saw that first video, I still had hope he was still alive,” he said. “He was being…

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