France has issued an arrest warrant for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad over his regime’s alleged use of banned chemical weapons against civilians in Syria, a judicial source told CNN on Wednesday.
According to the source, two investigative judges on Tuesday issued four warrants against Assad, his brother Maher al-Assad, and two other senior officials, for complicity in crimes against humanity and complicity in war crimes.
It is believed to be the first time a nation has issued an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity for a sitting head of state in another country.
An Interpol ‘Red Notice’ is expected to follow, according to Michael Chammas, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, who spoke to CNN from Germany.
A Red Notice is a request to law enforcement worldwide to locate and provisionally arrest someone pending extradition, surrender, or similar legal action, according to Interpol.
The legal case was brought forward by the Syrian Centre for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) and the Syrian Archive in March 2021 “over the use of banned chemical weapons against civilians in the town of Douma and the district of Eastern Ghouta in August 2013, in attacks which killed more than 1,000 people,” the plaintiffs said in a statement Wednesday.
Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Moscow and Washington, which came two months after a chemical attack on an opposition-held Damascus suburb killed hundreds of victims. The UN concluded in 2014 that the attack involved the use of the nerve agent sarin.
Since then, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has concluded several times that Syria has used chemical weapons against rebels trying to oust the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad.
Earlier this year, the OPCW produced a detailed report following a fact-finding mission that investigated a 2018 attack on the town of Douma, in which 43 people were killed. The report found that the Syrian air force dropped two cylinders of chlorine gas in 2018 on the town.
Syria regularly denies having any connection to chemical weapons attacks in Syria and has rejected past OPCW investigations into its chemical attacks as “fabricated”.
The OPCW has several times released reports finding that chemical weapons were used on civilians in Syria. However, it did not explicitly say those attacks were carried out by the Assad regime until a report released in April of 2020.