Robert Fisk reports in The Independent:
In a scandal that will inevitably embrace the Syrian and the British governments, a British prisoner in the hands of the Syrian state security police has been found dead in a Damascus prison only four days before he was to be handed over to British MP George Galloway to be taken home to Britain on the instructions of President Assad himself.
Dr Abbas Khan, who was arrested by Syrian government forces while working as an orthopaedic surgeon in the Aleppo region and held incommunicado for more than a year, “committed suicide” in the state interrogation centre at Kfar Soussa in Damascus, according to Syrian security authorities. Khan’s mother, Fatima, who was herself in Damascus and had seen her son four times in the past four months, was eagerly awaiting his release this weekend when she received a telephone call from a Syrian official to say that he had hanged himself with his pyjamas.
His family in London – where Abbas was born – had received a bundle of letters from him in the last few weeks expressing his delight at his imminent release. “He was saying ‘I can’t wait to be back with you guys’,” his sister Sara told me today. “He did not commit suicide.” Dr Khan leaves a young wife and two children. Even in Damascus, his death elicited expressions of shock and disbelief. Unable to bring herself to identify her son’s body, his mother told her family she was leaving Damascus at once for Beirut.
George Galloway was flabbergasted. When I telephoned him, he described Khan’s death as “inexplicable”. He had just booked his air ticket to Damascus when he heard the news from Dr Khan’s family – and then from the Syrian deputy foreign minister himself. “As yet, no satisfactory explanation has been given to me. The idea of a man committing suicide four days before he was to be released is impossible to believe. The Syrian government knows my stand on the war and on (American) intervention. A Syrian minister called me on behalf of the president (Assad) to come to Damascus before Christmas and take Abbas Khan home. We need an explanation.”
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We are extremely concerned by reports that a British national has died in detention in Syria. “We are urgently seeking clarification of this from the Syrian authorities.”
It comes as no surprise that Khan was arrested by the Syrian regime after treating women and children in rebel-held areas of Aleppo. Even an Assad apologist like Galloway can’t swallow the “suicide” explanation– although I must inform him that the chances of an honest explanation from the regime are close to zero.
More to come, surely.