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“The Gravedigger,” a codename he is using because of ongoing threats against him and his family, is a key eyewitness to crimes against humanity & war crimes committed in Syria by the Syrian regime and its allies.
Before the war, he worked for the Damascus municipality overseeing civilian burials. In mid-2011, after the start of the Syrian Revolution, regime intelligence officers recruited him to dispose of corpses coming through hospitals from detention centers.
In 2020, he was a key witness in Germany’s first Syrian war crime trial, which helped convict former Syrian intelligence official Anwar Raslan to life imprisonment for committing crimes against humanity. The court described the crimes as systematic practices by the Assad regime.
From mid-2011 to 2018, the Gravedigger worked at two mass grave sites. The first was in a civilian cemetery in the town of Najha south of Damascus, where he worked until 2013. Before dawn, he would drive workers to the sites using a white Nissan bus adorned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s photos. He was also given a military uniform and a permit to cross checkpoints.
Large refrigerator trucks meant to transport food brought the corpses from the hospitals to the graves. The Gravedigger’s team would dump the bodies in the graves.
“Twice a week, multiple trailer trucks would come and each truck would have upwards of 100 to 400 or more bodies. They were tortured to death, you could see clearly the signs of torture on their bodies…This was a systematic machinery of death,” he told CBS news.
Satellite images of the Najha cemetery during that period show graves filling up. The Gravedigger oversaw workers burying bodies & received papers from the hospitals indicating the number of bodies transferred from each detention facility.