US imposes sanctions on 2 Turkey-backed Syrian militias and the groups' leaders

This is a locator map for Syria with its capital, Damascus. (AP Photo)

BEIRUT (AP) — The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on two Turkey-backed Syrian militias and the groups’ leaders accused of human rights abuses in Syria’s northwestern, opposition-held enclave.

The groups are operating in the town of Afrin, which has been under Turkish-backed opposition forces since 2018, following an Ankara-backed military operation. That offensive pushed Syrian Kurdish fighters and thousands of Kurdish residents from the area.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned The Suleiman Shah Brigade and The Hamza Division, as well as their leaders, Mohammad Hussein al-Jasim, Walid Hussein al-Jasim, and Sayf Boulad Abu Bakr.

The Suleiman Shah Brigade was accused of abductions and extortion of residents, especially Afrin's Kurdish residents, to force them to abandon their homes and flee or to "pay large ransoms for return of their property or family members".

The Treasury said The Hamza Division was also involved in running detention centers where it held abducted victims for ransom who were tortured and sexually abused.

Mohammad Hussein al-Jasim, who leads The Suleiman Shah Brigade, allegedly ordered his forces to displace Kurdish residents and give their property to Syrians from outside the area “often related" to fighters of the brigade.

The Treasury estimated that al-Jasim was ”likely generating tens of millions of dollars a year" through abductions, confiscations, and ransoms.

Al-Jasim's Turkey-based car dealership Al-Safir Oto was also listed, because he allegedly invested his money there. According to the announcement, commanders of his brigade managed the dealership's different branches. It was co-owned by sanctioned militia leader Ahmad Ihsan Fayyad al-Hayes, who heads the Ahrar Al-Sharqiya group.

His younger brother, Walid Hussein al-Jasim, was accused of several cases of sexual assault, as well as killing a prisoner unable to pay ransom in 2020.

Meanwhile, the head of The Hamza Brigades, Sayf Boulad Abu Bakr, was sanctioned for the “brutal repression of the local population.” The statement said he had been involved in the kidnapping of Kurdish women and severely abusing prisoners, sometimes killing them.