BEIRUT ( Associated Press) — For journalist Amer Matar, a decades-long search for his younger brother has defined him and changed the course of his life, now researching and documenting crimes committed by the Islamic State group in Syria. dedicated to.
His brother, Mohamed Noor Matar, went missing in 2013 while reporting an explosion at the headquarters of a rebel group in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa. His lit camera was found at the blast site, and his family soon after received the news that he was in an IS prison. But since then there has been no further sign of him.
Mohamed Noor is among the thousands who are believed to have been captured by Islamic State, the extremist group that occupied large parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014, where it founded a so-called Islamic caliphate and for years the population. made cruel.
Three years after its territorial defeat, thousands are still missing and accountability for their captives remains elusive. Families feeling missing are left behind by a world that has largely moved on, while they struggle alone to uncover the fate of their loved ones.
“These violations can include crimes against humanity, war crimes and even genocide in some cases,” the Washington-based Syria Justice and Accountability Center said in a report published Thursday. “These families have a right to know the truth about the fate of their loved ones.”
The rights group says that between 2013 and 2017, when IS ruled much of northern and eastern Syria, the militant group detained thousands of missing people and whose families are living in a state of grief and uncertainty. .
The SJAC, in its report titled “Unearthing Hope: The Search for the Missing Victims of ISIS”, said about 6,000 bodies were recovered from dozens of mass graves excavated by IS in northeastern Syria, and from buildings destroyed by US airstrikes. Expelled – led the coalition during the military campaign that eventually killed IS.
According to the group, this could be about half of the total number of missing people in the Northeast, although estimates of missing have varied.
Mohamed Noor Matar became a civilian journalist during the Syrian Civil War, and he often documented the conflict with his camera. He went missing on August 13, 2013 while covering an explosion in Raqqa that took place outside the offices of the Ahfad al-Rasool faction, one of several rebel groups that were rivals of IS. He was 21 at the time and working on a documentary about Raqqa and its residents’ opposition to IS.
Four months later, Raqqa became the first provincial capital in Syria to come under full control of IS. When the extremists declared the so-called caliphate in June 2014, the city became their de facto capital. The group ruled Matar’s hometown of Raqqa with fear, set up several detention centers in different parts of the city, brutalized opponents and even beheaded the city’s Naeem Square – “heaven” in Arabic Keep the heads of the victims going.
In the report, the SJAC documented the vast web of detention facilities at the center of IS’s disappearance for the first time. Various wings of the IS security apparatus used this network of 152 police stations, training camps and secret security prisons before issuing death sentences to abducted civilians and members of rival armed groups, or briefly executing them in some cases.
It listed 33 detention facilities in the city of Raqqa alone.
The SJAC says alleged criminals who may have the evidence needed to identify the remains are in prisons of the US-backed Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces “without fair judicial processes”. It said other former IS members live in their home countries where they returned after the group’s defeat.
“The lasting defeat of ISIS cannot be secured without justice for the victims of the organization’s crimes, including the missing,” it said.
Amer Matar, who now lives in Berlin with his parents and siblings, said at one point he was told that Mohamed Noor was being held in a city prison. Some former prisoners, who had seen him there, provided personal details that only the family knew.
But by 2014, the family had lost any evidence of life.
Amer Matar has traveled to Syria several times over the years to obtain information about his brother, even as bodies were being exhumed to go to mass graves.
The International Commission on Missing Persons has begun collecting DNA samples from missing families, but they are progressing slowly, and Matar said his family has yet to provide samples.
Also Matar, a journalist, began collecting thousands of IS documents and 3D photographs of IS detention centers a few years ago. He now works with activists in Syria, Iraq, Germany, France, Japan and the US to set up a virtual museum about the extremists.
He said it aims to create a platform where families of missing people can access information about their loved ones, where they can virtually walk inside prisons, see the names of prisoners, read documents and witness sites of mass graves, and Get information about buried people. There, whether in Syria or Iraq.
When asked if his family has hope, Matar said, “The hardest question is about hope. Sometimes I lose hope because logic says there is no hope.”
Asked if he found evidence about Mohamed Noor in his research, Matar said, “My mother asks me this question every month or every few weeks. Sadly, my answer is, ‘We didn’t find anything. .’