Documents smuggled out of Syria over three years contain enough evidence to put President Bashar al-Assad and 24 senior officials in front of a war crimes tribunal, investigators say. The Commission for International Justice and Accountability, working with 50 Syrian investigators, managed to get its hands on half a million pages of reports from government offices calling for mass arrests and detentions for crimes including "discussing the events in a negative manner" during the 2011 protests that sparked the conflict, reports the Guardian. At least one investigator was killed and several others were detained and tortured while pursuing the documents, which were followed up with 400 interviews. Three prosecution cases already prepared name Assad, Interior Minister Mohammad al-Shaar, and assistant secretary of the Ba'ath party Mohammed Said Bekheitan, along with the country's Central Crisis Management Cell and National Security Bureau.
"The work has caused a lot of stress in my family," says the chief investigator, identified only by a pseudonym. "There are long absences and constant fear. But I still believe in the cause of justice." Russia has so far vetoed any attempt by the UN security council to try the Assad regime in the international criminal court. However, sources say investigators have also uncovered undeclared traces of chemical weapons, including sarin and ricin, at three military locations in Syria. That may suggest Assad violated a 2013 deal negotiated by Russia and the US in which he agreed to dismantle Syria's chemical arsenal, though there is no proof that the chemicals were used after the agreement was signed, the New York Times reports. "This is a pretty strong indication they have been lying about what they did with sarin," a source tells Reuters, noting Syria has failed to provide a "satisfactory explanation about this finding." The UN is reviewing claims that the Assad regime is also using chlorine bombs.