Syria Executes Dozens Over Deadly Human-Sparked Wildfires

Syria executed two dozen people on Wednesday after they were charged for igniting wildfires last year that burned nearly 60,000 acres of forests and also killed three people.

The country’s justice ministry said in a statement on Thursday that the 24 executed individuals were charged with “committing terrorist acts that led to the death and damage to state infrastructure and public and private property through the use of flammable material.”

Although capital punishment is common in war-torn Syria, the number of those put to death on Oct. 20 was larger than usual.

In addition, the ministry said that 11 other people were sentenced to hard labor for life, including four to temporary penal labor. Five minors were handed jail sentences that range between 10 to 12 years over similar charges, it added.

The identities of the executed and jailed individuals were not disclosed, and no details were provided on where and how the executions took place.

The suspects, according to news agency Middle East Eye, were identified late last year in an interior ministry probe into wildfires in the provinces of Latakia, Tartus, and Homs.

“They confessed that they had started fires at several locations in the three provinces, and they also confessed to convening meetings to plan the fires,” which happened intermittently in September and October 2020, according to the ministry.

Syrian officials detained dozens of people after they confessed to plotting plans to ignite fires in August last year. They confessed to starting fires in September that affected 280 towns and villages and damaged 370 homes, the ministry added.

The wildfires that devastated forest areas in central and northwestern Syria last year also led to dozens of people being hospitalized due to suffering from burns and breathing difficulties. The coastal province of Latakia and Homs were hit the hardest.

Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad made a public visit to the Latakia region after the fire was brought under control, where he toured areas that suffered heavy damage. Qardaha in Latakia is the hometown of al-Assad.

The law in Syria allows capital punishment for offenses including murder, terrorism, arson, espionage, treason, rape, and army desertion, among several other offenses. The death penalty is usually carried out by hanging.

The wildfires happened at the same time multiple Middle Eastern countries faced similar fires last year, including Turkey and Lebanon.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.