Assad says 'terrorists' among Syrian refugees
DAMASCUS - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dismissed a report by Amnesty International accusing the authorities of hanging up to 13,000 people over five years in a government prison, in an interview published Friday.
The human rights group on Tuesday alleged the gruesome mass executions amounted to war crimes and crimes against humanity, saying they are probably still taking place at the Saydnaya prison near Damascus.
The report "put into question the credibility of Amnesty International," Assad told Yahoo News. "It's always biased and politicized. And it's shame for such organization to publish a report without a shred of evidence."
Amnesty said it had interviewed 84 witnesses, including guards, detainees and judges, and alleged a pattern of regular summary executions.
Asked about the report's contention that the hangings were authorized by officials at the highest levels of government, Assad replied: "It's not true, definitely not true.
"We're living in a fake news era," he added. "Everybody knows this."
Syria's justice ministry dismissed the report as "completely false" earlier this week.
More than 310,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Assad said some of the millions of refugees who have fled his country's conflict are "terrorists".
Asked about US President Donald Trump's claim that extremists are hiding among refugees, Assad agreed, saying "you can find it on the net."
"Those terrorists in Syria holding machine guns or killing people, they are peaceful refugees in Europe or in the West," the Syrian leader said.
He did not specify how many of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees he meant, saying "you don't need a significant number to commit atrocities."
He also rejected Trump's plan to carve out safe zones for civilians in Syria.
The US president said last month that he "will absolutely do safe zones in Syria" for people displaced by the violence in a bid to reverse their migration to Europe and elsewhere. He did not provide details.
"Safe zones for the Syrians could only happen when you have stability and security. Where you don't have terrorists. Where you don't have flow and support of those terrorists by the neighboring countries or by Western countries," Assad said.
"It's not a realistic idea at all."
The White House last month ordered the Pentagon and State Department to draw up a plan to "provide safe areas in Syria and in the surrounding region."
The announcement came ahead of a surprise ban on refugees from Syria traveling to the United States, which a court has since suspended.
Other US politicians and officials have long supported the idea of safe zones in Syria, including Democrats such as Trump's presidential rival Hillary Clinton.
Critics say it would risk the US military becoming bogged down in Syria's civil war.