00:49, June 29 45 0 theguardian.com

2018-06-29 00:49:29
Italian officials allegedly met with Syria's top military adviser

A secret meeting that is alleged to have taken place between a senior military adviser to Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, and top Italian officials has come under scrutiny from human rights organisations.

Italy’s decision to host the clandestine meeting violated EU rules, the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) has claimed.

In its legal complaint, filed against Italy at the European commission, the ECCHR has alleged a meeting took place in early 2018 between Ali Mamlouk, the head of Syria’s national security bureau, and Marco Minniti, a former intelligence chief who was serving as Italy’s interior minister at the time. It claimed the meeting violated an EU travel ban that was put in place against Mamlouk in 2011. Italy’s head of intelligence, Alberto Manenti, also allegedly attended.

Initial unconfirmed reports in February stated that Italy had provided Mamlouk with a private jet to fly to Rome, but the alleged meeting was not officially recognised or announced. The ECCHR stated in its complaint that it had “received confirmation about the visit and the meetings by several government officials as well as journalistic sources”.

Minniti served under the government of the former centre-left prime minister Paolo Gentiloni, who has since been replaced by the new interior minister, Matteo Salvini – the populist leader of the far-right party League. Manenti remains in his post.

Reports had suggested the alleged meeting involved a discussion of national security issues.

Mamlouk was singled out and placed on a “blacklist” by the EU in 2011 – a decision that put travel and financial restrictions on the military and intelligence official – because of his alleged involvement in violence against demonstrators in Syria. According to the complaint, the European council’s decision obliged all EU member states to take “necessary measures to prevent entry into, or transit through, their territories”.

Mamlouk is known to be one of the most high-ranking security officials in Syria and reports directly to Assad. Human rights organisations said Mamlouk’s national security bureau was allegedly responsible for arbitrary arrests and torture, as well as the execution of Assad’s political opponents.

The ECCHR added that European allies were not informed of the alleged meeting, including the high representative of foreign affairs and security policy, Federica Mogherini, who is Italian and a member of the Democratic party, which was in control of the government at the time.

The Italian government – now led by a different party – did not have an immediate response to the claim.

Other human rights groups, including Amnesty International, said it supported the decision to file the complaint. The groups called on the commission to initiate a formal infringement procedure against Italy, and said the Syrian government needed to be “held to account because justice shall not be set aside in the interest of intelligence cooperation”.

Topics