BEIRUT: An 18-year-old Syrian woman whose mutilated body was discovered in a morgue is believed to be the first female to die in custody during the country's 6-month-old uprising, Amnesty International said Friday.
The family of Zainab al-Hosni found her corpse by chance as they searched for her activist brother's body in the restive city of Homs, the New York-based rights group said. The family said she had been decapitated, her arms cut off, and skin removed.
"If it is confirmed that Zainab was in custody when she died, this would be one of the most disturbing cases of a death in detention we have seen so far," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Amnesty said Zainab was abducted by plainclothes individuals believed to be members of the security forces on July 27, apparently to pressure her activist brother Mohammad Deeb al-Hosni to turn himself in.
The deaths of Zainab and her brother bring to 103 the number of people who have been reported killed in Syrian custody since the uprising began in March, Amnesty said.
Overall, the U.N. estimates 2,600 people have been killed since the revolt began in March, and there is no sign of either side giving up.
The protest movement has proved remarkably resilient, although the opposition has no clear leadership that could offer an alternative to President Bashar Assad, whose family has ruled Syria for more than 40 years.
On Friday, Syrian security forces opened fire on thousands of protesters calling for the opposition to unite against Assad's regime. Friday protests have become a weekly ritual in Syria, despite the near-certainty that security forces will respond with bullets and tear gas.
The protests came as the European Union agreed on an investment ban in the Syrian oil sector to put more pressure on Assad to end his deadly crackdown.
An activist group, known as the Local Coordinating Committees, said security forces killed one person outside al-Maari mosque in Damascus. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said security forces killed another man near the restive central city of Homs.
An activist in Homs, Majd Amer, said there was unprecedented security presence in the city.
"They have been deploying here since last night," said Amer as cracks of gunfire could be heard in the background.
The Syrian government has banned foreign journalists and placed heavy restrictions on local coverage, making it difficult to independently verify reports.