Dec 6, 2018, 10:17 AM ET

Chicago woman believed to have been tortured, killed in Syria: Human rights group

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A U.S. citizen who had been held in Syria by the regime of Bashar al Assad for nearly three years was killed in its custody, according to a human rights group and the State Department.

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Layla Shwekani, who was born and spent her early years in Damascus, but lived in the Chicago suburbs, was a "humanitarian activist," according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. She had returned to Syria in 2015 and was detained in February 2016 by regime forces.

"She was registered in civil registry department as dead in December 28, 2016, we believe she was executed in Saydnaya military prison in Damascus Suburbs governate," the group wrote in a newly released report.

Shwekani was born in 1990 and held a degree in information architecture from Arab International University in Daraa, Syria.

PHOTO: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is pictured giving an interview to a journalist from Russia Today in the Damascus, in a handout picture released by the official Telegram page of the Syrian Presidency on May 31, 2018.Syrian Presidency Telegram Page/Handout/AFP/Getty Images
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is pictured giving an interview to a journalist from Russia Today in the Damascus, in a handout picture released by the official Telegram page of the Syrian Presidency on May 31, 2018.

The report, released Dec. 2, details 15 people killed by torture in Syria in November.

The State Department confirmed to ABC News that they're "aware of reports of the death of a U.S. citizen in Syrian regime custody," but they declined to comment further because of privacy.

Her local mosque in Willowbrook, Illinois, said they held a funeral prayer for her last Friday after the family recently found out she was killed, according to the local Chicago CBS affiliate, adding that her family declined to be interviewed.

The Syrian civil war has claimed more than 500,000 lives, according to monitoring groups. An additional 60,000 people have gone missing since the war began, according to the International Commission on Missing Persons.

The U.S. has accused Assad's regime of war crimes from torture and extrajudicial killings to the use of crematoriums and chemical weapons, but it no longer calls for his immediate removal. Instead, the Trump administration has expressed its desire that a political transition to take place.

Releasing information has been a common practice by the Assad regime more recently -- as the war's battlefields quiet down, it has started to issue death notices for political prisoners it executed in an effort to resolve the cases of thousands of missing Syrians.

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  • Len Herr

    "believed " is the keyword.. any evidence to back it up? Lots of ppl are killed around the world in various circumstances.. what is the evidence in the case.. just that she was a US citizen and was killed in Syria? Well what was she doing there in the first place? When you go into a war-zone do not think your US citizenship going to be a bullet-proof shield..

  • Disqus 30

    I'm not saying Assad deserves to live, but sometimes there's worse people and situations.
    Look what happened in Iraq. Saddam was a bad guy, yes, but he kept ISIS in check.
    Pick your poison.

  • Former Earthling

    Sounds a bit suicudal.

  • Tegbessou Géléhéso

    The Middle East is a money pit and any attempt to bring peace to the region is building a bridge to nowhere. It's time we focus on domestic issues and let the world take care of itself...

  • mm

    It is not a good idea as an American to travel abroad, so risky.

  • helicohunter

    Unfortunately, he's still a butcher. The problem is that the alternatives are also butchers. There are no "good guys" who could take over leadership of Syria. I hope he is one day prosecuted for crimes against humanity, but the U.S. currently doesn't have power to do much. Of course, Donnie won't even try.

  • helios

    We need to nuke the h*ll out of them - every man, woman and child. And their pets too! Meanwhile...Saudi Arabia (with our help) is responsible for 85,000 children starving to death. WTH is wrong with this country?

  • Jan Fearing

    Your 'source' as usual, is a group that supports terrorist groups in Syria. I just returned from my sixth trip to that beautiful country. The people there are so SICK of main stream media lies promoting even al Qaeda as 'freedom fighters'. Enough of this crap.

  • SurfshackTito (TheSecular)

    Sadly. This is her fault.
    She should've never stepped into territory controlled by groups linked to Al-Qaeda.
    I get you guys don't like Assad. But the Rebels are terrible people.

  • MickC

    I'm appalled at Assad, but the reports by the American media today follow the rule: "Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story. Right away, there's a lot of deception aimed at the reader.

    So lets see: she was born in Damascus and spent her "early years" in Syria. Considering she graduated from college in Syria, unless she was a remarkable child prodigy that was in the 2010's.
    Hey, that is THIS decade.
    But she's a "Chicago woman" who happened to be in Syria from 2015 on.
    How long was she in Chicago?
    Did she hold dual USA/Syrian citizenship - a ridiculous notion that few other nations in the world recognize for adults - she would have been treated as a Syrian citizen in almost every nation on Earth?
    Was she a member of a rebel group - the term "humanitarian activist" implies she was actively involved in something?
    Such information is withheld from the reader.
    I think I'll see if the story is only at BBC North America. They tend to be more forthcoming with the truth.

  • Steve Fleming

    Once you get out of that vile third world country why would you go back.
    Just stupid.

  • ItsOnlyaFleshWound

    Sorry, but NO "political transition" is going to take place. Assad, with the help of his Russian backers, will probably get the ENTIRE country (maybe minus Idilib) back because he and Putin were smart enough to make this all about ISIS; casting Assad as the "LESSER EVIL." They used "Kill Logic" and barrel-bombed whole neighborhoods in Aleppo and other cities into submission, murdering thousands, as well as chemical weapons Assad was supposed to have destroyed. And, inasmuch as neither Russia nor Iran has the resources to help Assad REBUILD Aleppo and al-Raqqa, this new Syria promises to be a ZOMBIE state, bereft of much of its infrastructure and population--so look for ISIS 2.0 to rise out of the ashes at some point. SCARY.

  • Rubber Banned

    It's a no win in the Middle East. When a dictator is removed, civil war and a failed state follow and the power vacuum is filled by terrorists.

  • OtherMrNiceGuy

    Yeah... the USA admits it bungled this war as well. Get out of the mideast.

  • normarae

    "There are really good people on both sides," Amoral, White Nationalist, dangerously insane, conman, Traitor Donald J. Trump../s

    The Amoral $wamp bottom feeding Elected Republicans will stand by Traitor Trump, on this just like they did ( Utah, Republican Congressman Chris Stewart) with the Murder of U.S. Journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump, won't condemn Assad,because he his BFF with Trump's BFF Putin, who they are all BFF with a murderous Saudi Prince..Bigly sad..Covfefe!

    "When Money speaks, the Truth is silent."..Russian Proverb.

  • fmd160

    Instead, the Trump administration has expressed its desire that a political transition to take place.

    Of course Trump thinks this way when he dances around the subject of dictators and other bad actors. There are only bad actors when they oppose him, testify against him, disagree with him or don't worship him.

  • GayEGO

    If our government does not prosecute Assad for this crime, Donnie is failing BIGLY!