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Amnesty International Accuses Turkish Troops, Mercenaries Of War Crimes In Syria


A human rights group has accused Turkey of war crimes in Syria. Many of those fighting for Turkey are not Turkish; they're Syrians who originally armed themselves to fight the Syrian regime. Today, Amnesty International accused those militias of gruesome executions of Kurds, including an execution of a prominent Kurdish politician.

NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Dohuk, Iraq near the Syrian border. And a warning to listeners, this report contains graphic details.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: This shaky video shows a group of men in uniform surrounding a black armored car pockmarked with bullet holes. A man lies on the ground next to the car.



ESTRIN: Another pig, an armed man says. The Kurdish Red Crescent says the man killed was the driver of 35-year-old Hevrin Khalaf, a Syrian Kurdish political leader. Her mother, Suad Mohammed, told local Kurdish TV what happened next.


SUAD MOHAMMED: (Speaking Arabic) They could have killed her with a bullet or two, but they mutilated her body with bullets.

ESTRIN: Amnesty International quoted a medical report saying she was dragged out of her car, beaten and shot to death on a major highway in northeast Syria. Khalaf headed the Kurdish Future Syria Party. Zozan Aloush was her close friend.

ZOZAN ALOUSH: She was really working for gender equality, even inside the party. And I cannot describe her more than she was friendly and believing in equality. So really sorry for her. We lost our really - leadership.

ESTRIN: Amnesty says it gathered testimonies from 17 people - from rescue workers to civilians - verified video and reviewed medical reports. It says Turkey and its allied militias carried out, quote, "serious violations and war crimes, including attacking a school with displaced families inside." Youssef Hammoud, the spokesman of the Syrian militias fighting on Turkey's behalf, tells NPR they're investigating the killings and tries to explain his soldiers' background.

YOUSSEF HAMMOUD: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: He says many are as young as 18 and grew up during Syria's civil war, without going to school for the last eight years. Many took up arms to fight the Syrian regime. And they live in a disintegrated society under continuous war, he says. Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Syria researcher, is in contact with many of the Turkish-backed fighters.

ELIZABETH TSURKOV: Some of them are from Idlib, but the overwhelming majority of people who've been displaced from their homes.

ESTRIN: Some are hardline Islamist militants. Some have criminal records and are accused of looting as they fight. Some just need a job, she says.

TSURKOV: But they do not want to admit to themselves that they are fighting for money, so they make up all sorts of reasons for fighting.

ESTRIN: Now they're accused of doing Turkey's bidding - to rid the area of Kurdish forces Turkey sees as a threat. Kurdish forces themselves may have also violated international law, Amnesty says. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to reporters after meeting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.


MIKE POMPEO: To the extent there are abuses that are identified, we'll ask each leader - certainly President Erdogan and his team and others - to investigate any allegations of abuse that have taken place.

ESTRIN: The U.S. says it expects Turkey to ensure the safety of religious and ethnic minorities. Kurdish authorities say more than 200 Syrian civilians have been killed. And Turkey says nearly 20 have been killed by mortars fired by Syrian Kurdish fighters. Now the sides have agreed to a five-day pause in fighting.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Dohuk, Iraq near the Syrian border.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALEXICO'S "SPINBALL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.