France investigating Assad crimes, al-Araby al-Jadeed publishes evidence
Paris prosecutors opened a preliminary inquiry on September 15 into alleged crimes committed by the Syrian government between 2011 and 2013, the source told AFP.
The French investigation is largely based on evidence from a former Syrian army photographer known by the codename "Caesar," who defected and fled the country in 2013, bringing with him some 55,000 graphic photographs.
Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France had a "responsibility" to take action.
"Faced with these crimes that offend the human conscience, this bureaucracy of horror, faced with this denial of the values of humanity, it is our responsibility to act against the impunity of the assassins," Fabius said in a statement sent to AFP.
While Assad is unlikely to ever take the stand in a French court, the inquiry could add to political pressure on the Syrian leader in the midst of a diplomatic row between the West and Russia and Iran over his fate.
The Syrian conflict has taken centre stage at the UN General Assembly, where US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have clashed over how to bring an end to Syria's civil war.
Exclusive excerpts in al-Araby al-Jadeed tomorrow
Al-Araby al-Jadeed will exclusively publish Thursday four chapters from a book, which includes the photographer's testimony, to be released next week by the Paris-based publisher Stock.
In the book, the photographer reveals that he was instructed by the military command to photograph the corpses of Syrian dissidents interrogated by Syrian intelligence in military hospitals as well as formal and secret detention centres who had been tortured to death.
Caesar, who fled Syria in July 2013 with his photo cache, says that the military hospitals of Mezzeh and Tishrin in Damascus alone recorded up to 50 deaths each day between 2011 and 2013.
According to Cesar, his mission was to provide photo evidence to the authorities to produce death certificates showing falsified causes of death for the victims who had died under torture.
The victims' families were often told their relatives died of heart attacks and other "natural causes." The photos were also used by intelligence officers as evidence of having fulfilled their duties to the "fullest," according to Cesar.
'Assad's secret killings'
On Tuesday, Obama said removing Assad was a vital step to defeating Islamic State militants, who have taken advantage of the chaos in Syria to bring large parts of the country and neighbouring Iraq under its rule.
Syria's four-year war has killed more than 240,000 people and Western diplomats have accused Damascus of killing more Syrians than IS by dropping barrel bombs - charges the government denies.
The brutal conflict has also displaced millions of people, a key driver behind Europe's refugee crisis.
The photographs that Caesar brought out of Syria show people with their eyes gouged out, emaciated bodies, people with wounds on the back or stomach, and also a picture of hundreds of corpses lying in a shed surrounded by plastic bags used for burials.
Entitled "Assad's secret killings," the dossier is being used by international bodies including the UN as part of an investigation into the regime's role in "mass torture".
The Syrian government has branded the report "political".
These "thousands of unbearable photos, authenticated by many experts, which show corpses tortured and starved to death in the prisons of the regime, demonstrate the systematic cruelty of the Assad regime," Fabius told AFP.
The inquiry will be led by France's war crimes body but Fabius also called on the UN and particularly its International Commission of Inquiry on Syria to press on with their investigations.