A France-based Christian group has allegedly been supporting a militia in Syria loyal to the Bashar al-Assad regime and accused of war crimes in the western Hama province, local media reported. Though claiming to have come to the aid of the Christians in Syria without intervening in the conflict, SOS Chretiens d’Orient (Christians of the Middle East) has backed militias known by the Assad regime as the Mhardeh National Defense Forces (MNDF) since 2013, according to French news website Mediapart. The group is considered a “partner organization in national defense” by the French Ministry of Defense. Local businessman Simon al-Wakeel, who heads the MNDF, is accused of various war crimes during the civil war and can be seen in a YouTube video clad in a regime uniform thanking SOS. The MNDF started as a people’s movement but became a militia with al-Wakeel footing the bill. It has taken part in regime attacks on Hama and Idlib in 2019 The organization has also praised Mhardeh’s combat prowess, saying the group had been surrounded by opposition groups — a claim rejected by experts.