Germany expels four members of Syrian Embassy, cites Syrian arrest of Germans

Activists protest against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad outside Syrian embassy in Berlin on February 3, 2012.

Story highlights

  • Germany is expelling four members of Syrian Embassy
  • Syrian ambassador called to German Foreign Ministry and notified
  • Government "made clear position to not accept actions against Syrian opposition member"
  • Expulsion follows arrest of two men accused of spying for Syria
Germany is expelling four members of the Syrian Embassy, citing the arrest this week of two men suspected of spying on Syrian opposition groups in Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in a statement released Thursday.
"After the arrest of two persons suspected of spying for Syria, I have ordered the expulsion of four members of the Syrian Embassy in Berlin," Westerwelle said.
The Syrian ambassador was called to the Foreign Office on Monday where the "German government made clear its position to not accept actions against Syrian members of the opposition in Germany," according to the statement.
The expulsion comes at a critical time for the Syrian government, which is under fire for a brutal crackdown on anti-government demonstrators calling for the end of the regime. Earlier this week, the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (the GCC), a politically and economically aligned group of countries bordering the Persian Gulf, announced it would expel their Syrian ambassadors and withdraw its Gulf State envoys from Syria.
Tunisia also announced plans to expel the Syrian ambassador from Tunis in response to the recent killings in Homs, Syria's third-largest city that has become a flashpoint in the 11-month long uprising.
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In Germany, federal prosecutors announced the arrests of Mahmoud El A., a 47-year-old with German and Lebanese citizenship; and Akram O., a 34-year-old Syrian, who they accused of having "systematically gathered information on Syrian opposition groups in the Federal Republic of Germany for years."
Acting on arrest warrants issued January 31, some 70 federal and state police officers also searched the apartment of six other suspects, prosecutors said.
The Berlin Prosecutors' Office denied any connection between the suspects arrested Tuesday and those involved in an attack on the Syrian opposition activist and Green Party politician Ferhad Ahma in Berlin last December.
The Syrian government has been accused of seeking retribution against relatives of Syrian activists working against the al-Assad regime from abroad.
The U.S. State Department announced last year that it had received reports that Syrian mission personnel had been conducting video surveillance of people participating in peaceful demonstrations in the United States. Other Syrian activists living abroad have also declined to be named or appear on camera for fear of reprisals against their families at home.
In August, a rebel military leader living in exile in Turkey disappeared from a refugee camp and reappeared days later in Syrian government custody. Evidence also suggested that the government carried out reprisal attacks against the man's family.