By Stephanie van den Berg
Amsterdam, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Lawyers for a Syrian accused of war crimes in the Netherlands for allegedly participating in an execution during the country's civil war denied on Monday that their client was a member of the radical Nusra Front.
Ahmad al Khedr, also known as Abu Khuder, faces charges of murder and membership of a terrorist group under Dutch universal jurisdiction laws. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if found guilty.
This is the first time a Syrian national has been charged with war crimes under Dutch jurisdiction laws. The case against Al Khedr marks only the second time a Dutch court has looked at crimes committed during the war in Syria, the earlier case targeting Dutch Islamists who fought in the conflict.
At a pretrial hearing in a high-security courthouse near Schiphol airport, the 47-year-old Al Khedr was clean shaven and wore a light blue shirt.
Al Khedr allegedly led a battalion known as Ghuraba’a Mohassan, or Strangers of Mohassan, but his lawyer said he had been lying when he told a journalist he was a member of the Nusra Front.
"That was not true," Andre Seebregts told the court.
Prosecutors say the defendant participated in the summary execution of a captured Syrian soldier in July 2012. Videos of the execution circulated on the internet, they said.
Seebregts said Al Khedr admitted being at the site of the execution, but denied he participated in the killing.
"My client was there to ask if the officer could be traded for his two brothers (who were held by Syrian government forces)," Seebregts said.
Dutch authorities say Abu Khuder, who was arrested in May, had been in the Netherlands since 2014, where he had been granted temporary asylum. The charges against him are based on witness testimonies provided by German police.
The next hearing was set for Nov. 18.
Under Dutch law, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on foreign soil can be prosecuted under universal jurisdiction if a suspect resides in the Netherlands.
The latest incarnation of the Nusra Front, which was part of al Qaeda until 2016, is Tahrir al-Sham. An amalgamation of Islamist groups dominated by the former Nusra, it is the most powerful armed group in Syria’s northwest.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Anthony Deutsch and Ed Osmond)
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