Germany will this week start its first war crimes trial over atrocities in Syria, as a mass refugee influx brings not only witnesses and victims but also suspects into the country.
- Germany's federal prosecutor investigates suspected war crimes
- Refugees coming into Germany provide new evidence
- Suspects being trialled for kidnappings and torture
Aria L., a 21-year-old German national and suspected jihadist, posted on Facebook photos of himself posing next to two decapitated heads in Syria — and his case is not the only one from the war-torn country to occupy German justice.
"Ten investigations linked to Syria or Iraq are currently being examined by the federal prosecutor, on top of more than 30 cases against former jihadists over their membership in a terrorist group," said a spokesman for the prosecutor's office.
Among other key war crimes suspects are Ibrahim Al F., a 41-year-old Syrian and the alleged leader of an Islamist rebel group known for kidnapping and torturing civilians in Aleppo.
Another suspect is Suliman A.S., a 24-year-old Syrian suspected of having kidnapped a UN soldier in 2013.
Such investigations have gained momentum particularly as 1.1 million asylum seekers arrived in Germany last year, about 40 per cent of whom fled the wars in Syria and Iraq.
Authorities dealing with asylum requests have picked up and sent 25 to 30 tips every day to prosecutors, as since 2013 Germany requires applicants to complete a form asking if they have witnessed war crimes or could name perpetrators of violations.
"The refugee influx has provided new opportunities for prosecutors to collect specific information," said Geraldine Mattioli, an expert on international justice at Human Rights Watch.
Search for justice 'has to start somewhere'
Investigators dealing with Syrian cases face the additional challenge of access — with the war still raging, they are unable to travel there to gather evidence.
Although propaganda images posted by jihadist fighters on social networks offer a glimpse of the atrocities, it is difficult to authenticate the photos or their provenance.
With the mass arrivals of refugees however, Germany is taking a proactive stance by collecting information bit by bit, and filing it away country by country, rather than wait for specific accusations before taking action.
The hope is that each minute detail being collected could one day help build a broader picture or point to a specific trend.
One shortcoming is that the process rarely targets high-ranking officials of President Bashar al-Assad's regime, as comparatively few Syrian soldiers have become refugees arriving in Europe, Ms Mattioli said.
At the same time, Ms Mattioli said the search for justice "has to start somewhere."
The proceedings carried out by Germany, the Netherlands, France, Sweden and Finland, are, for the moment, the only ones that seek to curb impunity in Syria.