Cameron says Syria must answer for British doctor’s death

December 23, 2013 - 10:04:06 am
LONDON: British Prime Minister David Cameron has written to the family of a British doctor who died in a Syrian jail, saying Damascus must “answer for” his “sickening” death, a source said yesterday.

Syria claims Abbas Khan, who was arrested last year after travelling to Aleppo to treat wounded civilians, committed suicide. But a British minister said this week that he was “in effect murdered” by the regime.

A British government source confirmed that Cameron had written to Khan’s family.

It is understood that he wrote: “Abbas’s death is a sickening and appalling tragedy and it is right that the Syrian regime should answer for it.”

Relatives of the doctor, a father of two children, have dismissed Syria’s claim that he took his own life just days before he was due to be freed and handed over to a British lawmaker.

The body of the 32-year-old orthopaedic surgeon was flown back to London from Beirut yesterday. An autopsy will be conducted to determine how he died.

The family’s lawyer, Nabeel Sheikh, said relatives were “relieved that his body has been repatriated” and that the body was being transferred to a coroner’s court in east London, where tests would be carried out.

Sheikh said that pathologists would be looking for signs of torture on the body.

“The family hopes that all relevant tests as deemed necessary are carried out so as to ensure the post-mortem is concluded without delay and the body laid to rest as soon as possible,” Sheikh said, adding that the tests would begin late Sunday or on Monday.

The autopsy will be carried out by an interior ministry pathologist, but the family has asked a well-known pathologist, Nat Cary, to also “independently observe and participate” in the tests, Sheikh said. Police are “actively involved given the circumstances surrounding Dr Khan’s death are highly suspicious”, the lawyer added.

London’s Metropolitan Police said its Counter Terrorism Command was providing family liaison support and would “seek to assist the coroner when appropriate”.

Khan’s body was escorted out of Syria on Saturday by the International Committee of the Red Cross and returned to family members waiting in Lebanon. 

Khan’s sister Sara yesterday described the regime’s explanation for his death, which emerged earlier this week, as “despicable”.

“We want the British government to help the family in getting those answers from the Syrians as somebody needs to own up for this absolutely cruel injustice that has been done to my brother,” she told Sky News.

The family say Khan paid the ultimate price for trying to help innocent civilians caught up in Syria’s brutal 33-month war.

The doctor’s brother, Shah Nawaz Khan, blasted Britain’s handling of the case and suggested that British authorities — like their Syrian counterparts — were suspicious of the doctor because he was a Muslim of Indian origin. AFP
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