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Armenian Probe Of ‘Syrian Mercenaries’ Completed


Armenia -- The entrance to the Investigative Committee building in Yerevan.

An Armenian law-enforcement agency has completed a criminal investigation into two Syrian men who were captured during last year’s war in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Karabakh’s Armenian-backed army claimed to have captured the men during fierce fighting with Azerbaijani forces stopped by a Russian-mediated ceasefire November 10. They were handed over to Armenia to face a string of criminal charges, including terrorism.

Armenia’s Investigative Committee reiterated on Monday that the Syrians, identified as Muhrab al-Shkheri and Yusef al-Haji, are mercenaries who were recruited to “terrorize civilians” in Karabakh and commit other war crimes. The committee said it has asked a prosecutor overseeing the probe to formally approve its findings and pave the way for their trial.

It was not clear if the arrested suspects will plead guilty to the accusations.

In their testimonies shown on Armenian television late last year, they admitted being recruited and paid by Turkey. Armenian officials portrayed that as further proof that scores of Syrian mercenaries fought in Karabakh on Azerbaijan’s side.

The Armenian claims have been backed by France and, implicitly, Russia.

French President Emmanuel Macron accused Turkey of recruiting jihadist fighters from Syria for the Azerbaijani army shortly after the outbreak of large-scale hostilities in and around Karabakh on September 27. Russia also expressed serious concern about the deployment of “terrorists and mercenaries” from Syria and Libya in the Karabakh conflict zone.

Azerbaijan denied the presence of any foreign mercenaries in its army ranks. It dismissed the Syrians’ televised confessions as a fraud.

Multiple reports by Western media quoted members of Islamist rebel groups in areas of northern Syria under Turkish control as saying in late September and October that they are deploying to Azerbaijan in coordination with the Turkish government.

Armenian authorities said in December that the captured Syrians are not prisoners of war and cannot be covered by the ceasefire agreement that calls for the exchange of all POWs and civilian captives held by the conflicting parties.

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