State Department: Assad trying to cover up mass killings in Syria

Syrian regime using crematorium to ‘cover up’ mass murders

The Trump administration on Monday accused the Syrian government of installing a crematorium at a prison outside Syria’s capital for the disposal of thousands of bodies of prisoners executed in mass killings.

A State Department official said that the U.S. believes Syrian President Bashar Assad is using the crematorium to cover up mass murders at the prison complex, Reuters reported.

The Syrian regime is using a site outside Damascus to cremate the bodies of thousands of prisoners it has abducted, jailed and murdered during the country’s long-running civil war, the U.S. State Department alleged Monday.

Acting Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs Stuart Jones showed surveillance photos that — combined with intelligence assessments and other reports — officials believe show Bashar Assad’s government is complicit in covering up evidence of mass killings at the Sednaya Prison. Located near Damascus, the prison previously has been called a “human slaughterhouse” by Amnesty International.

“We now believe that the Syrian regime has installed a crematorium in the Sednaya prison complex which could dispose of detainees’ remains with little evidence,” Stuart Jones said. “Credible sources have believed that many of the bodies have been disposed in mass graves.”

In light of the information about the mass killings, Jones said that Russia’s calls for “de-escalation zones” in the country would be met with “skepticism.”

Jones also charged that the “atrocities” were carried out “with unconditional support” from Russia and Iran.

The department released commercial satellite photographs showing what it said is a building in the prison complex that has been modified to support the crematorium. The photographs taken over the course of several years, beginning in 2013, do not definitely prove the building is a crematorium, but they show construction consistent with such use.

The U.S. conclusion is based in part on photos that show snow melting near the building believed to be the crematorium. But, when pressed, the State Department wouldn’t say for certain that the melting was caused by a crematorium.

The conditions at Sednaya – known to hold many of Assad’s political opponents, as well as violent Syrian rebels – are thought to be horrific, with 70 prisoners kept in cells designed for five people and up to 50 executions per day.

Amnesty International has previously called Sednaya a “human slaughterhouse,” estimating 13,000 people were killed there from 2011-2015. It is believed Assad’s regime kidnapped more than 100,000 people during that time.

In presenting the photographs, Jones said Syrian President Assad’s government “has sunk to a new level of depravity” with the support of Russia and Iran and called on both countries to use its influence with Syria to establish a credible ceasefire and begin political talks.

“In light of the failures of the past ceasefire agreements, we have reason to be skeptical,” he said. “The regime must stop all attacks on civilian and opposition forces.”

A report by the international rights group Amnesty International found that between 25 and 50 executions are performed at the prison every week. The complex is located just 45 minutes outside Syria’s capital of Damascus, the seat of the Assad government’s power.

President Trump ordered airstrikes on a Syrian airfield last month after Assad used chemical weapons on civilians, including children.

Sources: AP, FOX News, and The Hill