US Treasury imposes sanctions on Turkish-backed Syrian groups for human rights abuses

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The US Department of State announce the imposition of sanctions by the US Department of the Treasury against prominent Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA) factions due to their involvement in human rights violations within the areas they control in Syria. The recent imposition of sanctions targeting the Suleiman Shah Brigade, the Hamza Division, and their leaders — Mohammad Hussein al-Jassem, Walid Hussein al-Jassem, and Sayf Boulad Abu Bakr.

Both groups operate within the occupied city of Cafrin (Afrin) and its surrounding areas in northwest Syria. This region has been under the occupation of Turkish forces since its invasion of the region in March 2018.

According to the Treasury Department’s press release:

“The Suleiman Shah Brigade is a prominent element of the armed opposition to the Syrian government and a component of the Syrian National Army, a coalition of Syrian armed opposition groups. The Suleiman Shah Brigade operates in the Afrin region of northern Syria, where it exerts significant control over the civilian population. The brigade subjects the populace of this area to abductions and extortion. The brigade has targeted Afrin’s Kurdish residents, many of whom are subjected to harassment, abduction, and other abuses until they are forced to abandon their homes or pay large ransoms for return of their property or family members.

The Hamza Division, another armed opposition group operating in northern Syria, has been involved in abductions, theft of property, and torture. The division also operates detention facilities in which it houses those it has abducted for extended periods of time. During their imprisonment, victims are held for ransom, often suffering sexual abuse at the hands of Hamza Division fighters.”

The sanctions entail the freezing and reporting of assets — property and financial interests — belonging to the sanctioned individuals and entities. Such measures apply to assets situated within the United States or under the control of US individuals or entities, requiring reporting to the OFAC. Entities owned, directly or indirectly, by 50 percent or more by blocked individuals are also subject to these measures.

Transactions involving the property or financial interests of designated individuals are generally prohibited as per OFAC regulations, extending to both individuals within the United States and US persons. This encompasses transactions involving or passing through the United States.

Brian Nelson, Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, stated, “Today’s action demonstrates our continued dedication to promoting accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses, including in Syria.”

Despite mounting evidence of human rights abuses allegedly committed in areas under Turkish control, the international community has yet to call for the exclusion of Turkey’s proxies, such as the Turkish-backed Syrian Interim Government, from the Syrian peace process.

This is not the first instance of the US Treasury imposing sanctions on SNA factions. In July 2021, the Treasury announced sanctions on entities linked to Ahrar al-Sharqiya and its leaders, Ahmad Ihsan Fayyad al-Hayes and Raed Jassem al-Hayes. This marked the first time that the US had sanctioned a Turkish-backed faction in Syria. The Treasury held Ahrar al-Sharqiya responsible for the assassination of Kurdish politician Hevrin Khalaf in October 2019.