Asma al-Assad risks loss of British citizenship as she faces possible terror charges

The British wife of Syria’s ruler, Bashar al-Assad, is facing possible terrorism charges and the loss of her British citizenship after the Metropolitan police opened a preliminary investigation into claims she has incited, aided and encouraged war crimes by Syrian government forces.

Asma al-Assad, 45, who was born and educated in London before becoming Syria’s first lady in 2000, is being investigated in response to legal complaints alleging her speeches and public appearances in support of the Syrian army implicate her in its crimes, including the use of chemical weapons.

Ten years into Syria’s ongoing civil war, the country’s military has been accused of deliberately attacking civilians, using starvation as a weapon of war and subjecting populations to rape and sexual violence, among other breaches of international humanitarian law.

Two UN commissions have concluded the regime has repeatedly deployed chemical weapons against civilians.

The Guardian understands the Met’s war crimes unit began its inquiries into Asma al-Assad earlier this year and is determining if there is enough evidence to launch a full investigation.

Already targeted by UK, US and EU financial sanctions, the former New York investment banker and daughter of a Harley Street cardiologist could be stripped of her British citizenship and subjected to an international arrest warrant if the investigation proceeds.

A King’s College graduate in French literature and computer science, Assad was for years the glamorous face of a regime that claimed to be modernising Syria after decades of repressive rule.

When protests broke out in 2011, and Syrian troops started killing demonstrators, the woman nicknamed the “desert rose” on a Vogue front cover eschewed several offers to flee Damascus with her children and staunchly supported the government’s brutal response to the uprising.

Legal filings submitted by Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers quote speeches in which Assad lauds the mothers of slain Syrian soldiers and cite footage of her warmly greeting female troops. They point to interviews where she claims to be supporting her husband out of personal conviction and glorified soldiers for defending the homeland.

“The evidence compiled, in our view, legally speaking, far exceeds what may be considered reasonable comment or mere propaganda and amount to the incitement, encourage and/or aiding and abetting of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Toby Cadman, the joint head of chambers at Guernica 37.

“Due to the fact that the investigation is ongoing and not wishing to affect the integrity of the process and respecting the duty to afford the first lady a fair trial once charged, it would not be appropriate to comment on specific evidence save to confirm that it comes from a number of sources and in our view is sufficiently strong to justify the bringing of criminal charges.”

The complaints allege that since the death of Bashar al-Assad’s mother in 2016, his wife has amassed growing political clout in the shattered country, which is largely pacified but in the grip of a dire economic crisis.

Assad was treated for breast cancer in 2018 and recovered and announced last week that she and her husband had contracted mild Covid-19. The US levelled sanctions against her in 2020 claiming she, her parents and brothers had become some of Syria’s “most notorious war profiteers”.