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Syria: Wagner fighters reportedly detained and offices raided

Syrian officials say people with previous connections to paramilitary questioned, though a Telegram account linked to the group denies anyone was detained
A man holds the Russian national flag in front of a Wagner group military vehicle with the sign read as Rostov, 24 June 2023 (AFP)
A man holds the Russian national flag in front of a Wagner group military vehicle with the sign read as Rostov, 24 June 2023 (AFP)

Arabic media outlets have reported that Wagner Group fighters and offices in Syria have been targeted following the paramilitary's failed mutiny in Russia on Saturday.

A Telegram channel linked to Wagner said that none of the group's fighters had been detained, and Syrian officials told Russia Today that investigations at Russia's Hmeimim airbase took place with people who had links with Wagner in the past as "a precautionary measure".

AlHadath, a Saudi-funded TV channel, reported that the Russian military police and Syrian intelligence launched an arrest campaign against Wagner in Syria on Friday evening.

It said they rounded up Wagner leaders, including recruiters and fighters, when the group's leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was beginning his march on Moscow. Thousands of Wagner fighters crossed from Ukraine into Russia last weekend, taking control of two Russian cities and marching towards Moscow.

Fewer than 200km from the capital, the Wagner columns paused, only to turn back after a deal was struck allowing Prigozhin to move to Belarus.

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Police raids

AlHadath reported that the Russian military police raided three offices belonging to Wagner in Damascus, Hama and Deir Ezzor.

The channel said they also arrested three of Wagner's officers, one of whom is a lieutenant colonel. Two colonels were reportedly arrested in Hmeimim, a key air base for Russia and close to its warm-water naval base in the eastern Mediterranean city of Tartous.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergey Vershinin, flew to Damascus over the weekend to urge Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Assad to prevent Wagner fighters from leaving the country without Moscow’s permission, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal.   

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AlHadath said Wassim al-Dimashqi, a prominent Wagner recruiter, and his Russian translator were arrested on Saturday by the Russian military forces in Sweida, south of Damascus.

Sky News Arabia reported that a US official in the Pentagon and a German defence official confirmed the arrests.

However, a Telegram channel called Orchestra Wagner, which is closely linked to the paramilitary group, said the reports about the detention of fighters in Syria were "not true". However, it did not deny its offices were raided.

Waiel Olwan, an Istanbul-based Syrian analyst, told AlHadath channel that the Russian military took these moves as "precautionary measures", placing Wagner's members under house arrest at Hmeimim airbase to prevent them from meeting with anyone.

He said Wagner members did not rebel against Russian forces in Syria while Prigozhin marched on Moscow. He said Wagner took orders from Russian military police in Syria, which now control the group's office in Hmeimim.

Wagner has fought alongside the Syrian government since 2015, at the peak of the civil war in Syria. An estimated 21,000 Syrians were recruited to fight in the ranks of the mercenary group, some of them later transferred to fight in Africa.

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