The perpetrator of the Tadamon massacre in Syria still works on a military base | Syria

The Syrian intelligence officer at the center of one of the most shocking acts of the civil war – the Tadamon massacre – still works at a military base outside Damascus and has since been accused by colleagues of having led up to a dozen other massacres.

Amjad Yousef, a major in one of Syria’s most feared intelligence units, operates out of Kafr Sousa base, where he has spent most of the past six months since the Guardian revealed his role in the murder of dozens of people in a death pit in Tadamon, a suburb of the Syrian capital in 2013.

A former colleague of Yousef said he acknowledged the murders during a phone call with a mutual friend. “He said ‘Yes, I did. That’s what I had to do at the time. Nobody was shocked that we knew him. And we know the regime,’ the former colleague said at the Guardian.

The images shocked the Syrian diaspora and drew condemnation across Europe and in Washington. France, Germany and the Netherlands have all opened war crimes investigations using universal jurisdiction laws and are tracking down any perpetrators who may have escaped to European soil.

German investigators believe they have identified an associate of Yousef now living in Germany and are preparing a case against the former intelligence officer. Tadamon’s revelations have also caused an uproar in Syria, rattling the country’s leaders, who typically keep a tight grip on state secrets, and sparking widespread anger even among President Bashar al-Assad’s supporters.

After the revelations, nearly 100 long-term prisoners were released from government cells. Some had been locked up for more than a decade.

Yousef’s former colleague told the Guardian the major had been a feared presence in Tadamon for the past decade and had regularly snatched women from the streets of the suburbs, many of whom were never seen again. “I saw him pull women out of a bread queue one morning. They were innocent. They had done nothing. They were either raped or killed. Nothing less.”

Yousef was identified through research conducted by Professor Uğur Üngör and researcher Annsar Shahoud from the Institute for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Amsterdam. The academics leaked 27 videos, which were downloaded from the laptop used by Branch 227 of the Syrian intelligence services, of which Yousef was the deputy head. The sources who leaked the videos fled Syria earlier this year and their identities are being sought by the country’s military intelligence, which has opened an investigation into how the material was leaked.

A hidden war crime: Images highlight the horrors of the war in Syria – explanatory video

In never-before-seen video, seen by the Guardian, Yousef pulls up to six women through a pit as his death quad looks on, and sometimes joins in the slaughter. The pit is then set on fire and a bulldozer brings ash and debris to fill it, in what appears to be an attempt to remove evidence of the war crime.

The former colleague said that a dozen other massacres had taken place in Tadamon and that the local population knew the place well. “All the people were Sunni,” he said. “It was sectarian cleansing. Nothing else. It was the Alawites who eliminated the Sunnis.

A sectarian dimension to the killings had been suspected, but two other former colleagues of Yousef had suggested they were also aimed at warning communities in or around Tadamon not to collaborate with opposition groups.

The source said that all of the Tadamon massacre sites were no-go areas for local residents and that the final death toll from Branch 227 could be as high as 350.

The videos marked one of the only instances in the Syrian war where senior regime officials were shown committing atrocities. The unit recorded the videos to show senior leaders – and even the Syrian political regime – what had happened.

Assad reacted angrily when France announced in August that it would open a war crimes investigation, telling Paris it was using the allegations as a pretext to try to recolonise Syria.

France said its counterterrorism prosecutor’s office had received the videos. “The alleged actions are likely to constitute the most serious international crimes, in particular crimes against humanity and war crimes. The fight against impunity is a question of justice for the victims. It is also an essential prerequisite for building a lasting peace in Syria. After a decade of crimes against the Syrian people, France remains determined to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice,” a government spokesperson said.

Additional reporting by Leena Saedi

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