BEIRUT — The body of a doctor who British officials say was effectively "murdered" by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad was handed over Saturday to the Red Cross, an official said.
Officials transported the remains of Abbas Khan, a 32-year-old orthopedic surgeon from London, into Lebanon, where British Embassy staff in Beirut were expected to receive them, Red Cross official Samar El Kadi said.
Khan's death appears to have come only days before he was due to be freed, said British lawmaker George Galloway, who had been negotiating with Syrian authorities to secure the doctor's release. Galloway said he'd been told that Assad himself had ordered the doctor's release and that Khan had been expected home before Christmas.
Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the BBC that Khan took his own life.
"He took off his pajamas, hooked it to something in the window . . . and committed suicide," Mekdad said. The claim was dismissed as "utter nonsense" by Khan's brother, Shah Nawaz. Hugh Robertson, charged with the Foreign Office's Mideast remit in the Middle East, has said Assad's government "in effect murdered a British national who was in their country to help people."
Syrian government troops seized Khan in the northern city of Aleppo in November 2012 after his family said he entered the country on a humanitarian mission. Khan said in letters cited by the BBC that his captors repeatedly beat him for sport, and that he was forced to abuse other prisoners.
More than 1,000 people are thought to have died in the custody of Syrian state security, according to London-based Amnesty International. The United Nations General Assembly in recent days also approved a resolution expressing outrage at "widespread and systematic gross violations" by Syrian authorities.
Syria's civil war, now into its third year, has killed more than 120,000 people, according to activists, while millions have been forced from their homes by the fighting.
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