Assassination of Syrian Kurdish leader a ‘dangerous escalation’

The assassination of a prominent Kurdish minority leader in Syria may be a dangerous turning-point in the authorities’ crackdown on protests that have swept the country since March, Amnesty International said today.  Mesh’al al-Tammo, the spokesperson of the Kurdish Future Current party and a founding member of Syria’s new opposition National Council, was shot dead last Friday by unidentified gunmen in Qamishly, near Syria’s border with Turkey. One of his sons, Marcel, and Syrian Kurdish woman activist Zaheda Rashkilo were critically injured in the attack, which took place at the house of a friend of Mesh’al al-Tammo. “This was a cold-blooded murder and those who committed this dreadful crime must be identified and brought to justice,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s Director for the Middle East and North Africa. “If the Syrian government or its agents were responsible, this killing may herald a dangerous escalation in the brutal repression unfolding in Syria.”Syrian activists accuse the Syrian authorities and say Mesh’ al al-Tammo was targeted because of his leading role in mobilising the Kurdish minority to join anti-government protests.  The Syrian government has blamed “armed terrorists” and described the Kurdish leader as a “martyr.”“The Syrian authorities must immediately establish an independent investigation, or the finger of suspicion will fall ever more heavily on them,” said Malcolm Smart.   “They should invite the UN to send international experts to help carry out an investigation and to ensure that it is both independent and thorough.” An eyewitness to the killing told Amnesty International that the Kurdish leader was having lunch with his son and others at a friend’s house last Friday when several masked gunmen burst in and demanded that he leave with them.  When he asked who they were, they opened fire, fatally wounding him and Zaheda Rashskilo in the legs as she tried to protect him.  “I heard the sound of shooting and Zaheda’s screams. I ran over to the house and found Marcel bleeding outside… He said ‘Go and check on my dad!’ At that point the others brought Mesh’al’s body out of the house… He died as a result of injuries caused by eight bullets which were mostly concentrated around the heart area,” the witness told Amnesty International.Mesh’al al-Tammo was buried the next day. Thousands of people attended his funeral, during which Syrian security forces reportedly opened fire on mourners, killing two and injuring others.  At least 51 people are reported to have been killed since Friday as the authorities continue to attack protesters across the country. Amnesty International now has the names of more than 2,400 names people killed since mid-March.Mesh’al al-Tammo was a former prisoner of conscience. He was jailed for his political activities as spokesperson of the Kurdish Future Current party from August 2008 until June this year, when he was released following a limited amnesty by President Bashar al-Assad.He escaped a previous attempt on his life on 8 September 2011. Another member of the National Council, Riad Seif, is reported to have been attacked by unidentified assailants on 7 October, which left him with a broken arm. The murder of Mesh’al al-Tammo came three days after Russia and China vetoed an already watered down binding resolution on Syria at the UN Security Council.  “In failing to pass a legally binding resolution on Syria, the UN Security Council failed the people of Syria and indirectly gave the Syrian authorities a green light to continue the bloodshed,” said Malcolm Smart.  “It is vital that the international community renews its efforts to halt the repression in Syria, including by referring the country’s leaders to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  The grave human rights violations being committed in Syria now demand nothing less.”