“Severe Torture Forced to Confess what not Committed”

Account of the Disappeared Safwan Ahmad al-Katini by the Air Force Intelligence

Safwan Ahmed al-Katini, from Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province, born on 24 March 1973, owned some agricultural lands and worked in investing them; he is married with one son who did not see his father as his wife was pregnant when he was arrested.

On Friday, 30 August 2011, dozens of Air Intelligence elements raided the house of Safwan’s family in Khan Sheikhoun. The elements asked whether there were men in the house, but the wife replied that there were not, so the officer in charge, a huge and a scary man, broke into the house, according to the testimony of Safwan’s wife[1], took off the door of the bedroom with his gun and arrested Safwan. Then, the officer started beating him in front of his family, and the wife couldn’t stand that so she attacked the officer and knocked him down but the officer directed his gun towards her, insulted her, threatened her, and was about to kill her even though she was nine months pregnant, the wife testified to Syrians For truth and Justice/STJ.

Afterwards, the elements searched the house and asked Safwan about the weapons he was “hiding”; Safwan, known to be a peaceful man, was shocked by the accusation that he denied. It is worth mentioning that the demonstrations had not reached Khan Sheikhoun in the early days of the uprising and there was not any form of arming. Safwan had no opposition activity and was not even a follower of the news, according to his wife’s testimony, who added:


“The rest of the elements searched the house and vandalized the furniture, stealing a lot of money, belongings, new clothes and cell phones, as well as stealing a total of 15,000 Syrian pounds, equivalent to $300 at the time. As soon as he was arrested, Safwan was managed to call his brother and left the line open so his brother could hear the great insults that Safwan faced, the interrogation with him, and the question about his family and his 70-year-old father, who entered the hospital because of his illness a day before the incident, which was a  small hospital and owned by al- Katini family. We learned later that the patrol had warrants for arresting the hospital’s owners due to a talebearing of aiding the wounded.”

On the same day, elements of the Air intelligence arrested several young men in Khan Sheikhoun, some of them are still missing till now. According to Safwan’s wife, they drove them to the city square, halted them blindfolded against the wall, threatened and terrified them, and then took them to the so-called Reservoir area, a barren piece of land containing old tanks for aviation fuel turned to what resembled a torture camp by the Air intelligence elements and voices of the tortured were heard far distances from the area.

Later, several of the detainees, including Safwan and his cousin who was arrested later, were then transferred by large trucks known as “meat fridges”[2] to the Military Security Branch in Idlib, headed by Brigadier Noufal al-Hussein, who oversaw the torture of Safwan personally, according to Safwan’s wife who heard that from one of the mediators whom she hired for a sum of money.

According to Safwan’s cousin, who was arrested with him and released later, Safwan was subjected to brutal torture. He was first tortured psychologically, then they started beating him up, and at the beginning of the interrogation, the military security elements pulled off Safwan’s right eye, broke his back and pulled out his toenails. He suffered a lot of psychological effects from the brutal torture inflicted on him; he was sometimes babbling, and sometimes beating himself, he also suffered from Chronic Skin Scabies and infections.

Safwan’s family learned that he had been taken to the “Balloonah” Prison affiliated to the military police in Homs and that he was on the way to be brought to the court. After that, they heard news of his transfer to Sednaya Prison, according to some released persons who met Safwan in the court and the prison and contacted his family later. However, when the family inquired about Safwan at the Central Military Police branch in Qaboun, Damascus, they denied his presence or any trace of him in their records.

It should be noted that Safwan’s family resorted to a mediator from the relatives, a former minister who met Brigadier Noufal al-Hussein personally and asked him to release Safwan but after the Brigadier heard the name of the detainee Safwan al-Katini, he apologized for not being able to release him because of a large politician problem, in his words, that al-Katini family face in the branch. The Brigadier showed the former minister Safwan’s file where an X mark was placed next to his name, and mentioned his confessions “under torture”; Safwan had confessed to be a financier of terrorism and that he possessed weapons and carried out terrorist acts.

The family was subjected to several attempts of extortion, including a request for a sum of           $ 8,000 in exchange for the release of Safwan, but the family demanded his release first, the condition that the brokers did not like and led to the failure of the deal.

After a while of Safwan’s arrest, his wife called her own phone number to find out who stole her phone, a security officer answered and told her that the phone had become his own, and threatened her not to stop the line from the company. Later, the same element called her back and tried to harass her and take advantage of her longing to find out her husband’s fate, so the wife was forced to resort to Turkey under the pressure of blackmail and threats.

Safwan’s wife and her son suffered a lot of financial pressures due to the absence of their sole breadwinner, and the lack of any financial resource, so the wife was forced to work in Turkey after she emigrated with her son. She and her son were subjected to great exploitation, she and her son suffered a lot of psychological effects as the child always asked her about his father and the reason for his absence. Safwan’s wife was not even able to secure the proper clothing for the son and was forced to dress him clothes of a girl relative because of poverty, and had not been able to send him to school yet.

An activist shared Safwan’s wife some of the leaked photos, pictures of Caesar, of detainees who died under torture, the images were full of dead people whose physical torture was clearly marked by deformities and bulges. The wife identified one of the dead in the pictures that was very similar to Safwan and was missing the right eye, but his face was swollen and bluish so the wife could not assert that this was her husband’s photo.

Safwan’s wife concludes her testimony saying:


“I want to know if my husband is alive or dead. So that I can live according to the news given, if he is alive, I will wait for him, and if he is dead, I will stop hoping to see him. The lack of knowledge of the fate of the disappeared is too difficult and sometimes harder than death.”


[1] This interview was conducted on July 19, 2017, via the Internet.


[2] Trucks used to transport meat, the Syria government used them in transporting prisoners.

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