Abu Hatem Shaqra, a commander from a Syrian fundamentalist group, graduated from a university in Turkey’s southeastern Mardin (Merdîn) province, journalist Ferid Demirel reported.
Shaqra had enrolled in the university’s political science department under the name Ahmed İhsan Fayyad el-Hayes.
He participated in Turkish military operations in Syria as part of the Ahrar al Sharqiya, an Islamist anti-Kurdish group accused by the United Nations of war crimes and believed to be responsible for the roadside execution of Syrian Kurdish politician Hevrîn Xelef in 2019.
Shaqra is “Ahrar al-Sharqiya’s leader and is directly complicit in many of the militia’s human rights abuses”, the US Department of Treasury said in its 2019 decision to sanction the group and Shaqra personally. According to the department, Shaqra was implicated in trafficking Yazidi women and children, and integrated Islamic State (ISIS) militants in the group’s ranks.
“Ahrar al-Sharqiya has killed multiple civilians in northeast Syria, including health workers. The militia has also engaged in abductions, torture, and seizures of property from civilians, barring displaced Syrians from returning to their homes,” the Treasury said.
In the commencement ceremony on Tuesday, Shaqra and a group of around 20 people posed with the flag of the National Army, formerly known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA), Demirel reported. Photos of the Syrian militiaman in graduation robes were posted on Facebook by his cousin.
Shaqra has attended high-level meetings with Turkey-backed factions in Syria, and was given an award by Turkey-backed forces in occupied Afrin, according to the journalist.
Future Syria Party Secretary General Hevrîn Xelef and her bodyguards were killed in October 2019 in Tell Abyad, during a Turkish incursion in the area code named Operation Peace Spring. Xelef was beaten on her head and legs until her bones broke, cut by blades, and dragged by her hair, before being gruesomely executed by five bullets, one to her head and four to her chest. Killers posted videos of the incident on social media.
As a diplomat, the 34 year old politician had participated in negotiations with international delegations, including from the United States and France.
While Ahrar al-Sharqiya originally denied involvement, the group later told the BBC that Xelef’s murder was committed from a unit that set up a checkpoint along the M4 highway “without permission”. The unit was seen crossing the border into Syria from Turkey, the BBC reported.
Brett McGurk, former US special envoy for the coalition to defeat ISIS, condemned the reports and called Xelef’s death a war crime.