Crime & Justice

Hungary jails Syrian ISIS commander over imam beheading

By AFP and Al-Mashareq

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A picture taken October 27th, 2019 shows Mosul's heavily damaged al-Nuri Mosque in ISIS's former base in northern Iraq. ISIS elements blew up the historic mosque and its iconic 'hunchback' minaret as they made a last stand in the city, and laid mines in its vicinity. [Zaid al-Obeidi/AFP]

A Hungarian court sentenced a Syrian man to life imprisonment Thursday (December 3rd) for terrorism and crimes against humanity including the beheading of an imam in Syria in 2015.

The man was an "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) commander, and must spend at least 30 years behind bars, according to a statement from the Metropolitan Court of Budapest.

"His task was to make a 'death list' of 'enemies of Islam'," the court statement said.

"He was personally involved in the execution of several people, including the beheading of a tribal leader."

The man has been identified in local media as 28-year-old F. Hassan.

His lawyers said they would appeal the verdict, as did prosecutors, who had sought a life term without parole.

According to prosecutors, the defendant commanded a small ISIS unit in Homs province in 2015 tasked with terrorising and executing civilians and religious leaders who refused to side with the group.

Prosecutors said he personally took part in the beheading of an imam in the town of al-Sukhnah, and in the murder of another civilian in the area in May 2015.

His unit also killed at least 25 people in the town including women and children, prosecutors say.

Authorities in Malta, Greece and Belgium as well as in Hungary took part in the investigation, which was co-ordinated by the European judicial co-operation agency Eurojust.

Some 10 witnesses in Belgium and Malta, as well as in Hungary, gave testimony.

The man, who had been given refugee status in Greece, was held at Budapest airport in December 2018, after he presented forged travel documents for himself and a female travel partner. He was charged in September 2019.

His defence lawyer had argued that prosecutors' evidence -- including wire-tapped telephone calls, video footage of the murders and the man's own statements -- failed to support the accusations.

A history of criminality

ISIS overran swathes of Iraq and Syria in mid-2014, subjugating and terrorising local populations in areas under its control.

It removed moderate imams from mosques and replaced them with its own, hardline appointees, who along with al-hesba ("religious police") units enforced compliance with the group's harsh interpretation of sharia.

The group meted out severe punishment to those it accused of crimes such as blasphemy, apostasy, spying for the Syrian regime, collaboration with the international coalition or objecting to the presence or ideology of ISIS.

In the Syrian city of al-Mayadeen, for example, ISIS in 2015 brought charges against those who objected to the Friday sermon preached by an imam it had installed.

The same year, ISIS elements stoned to death a woman the group had accused of committing adultery, and forced homosexuals off the top of high buildings.

Other crimes ISIS committed during this era included mass executions -- among them the slaughter of Iraqi cadets and Syrian tribesmen -- beheadings, rapes, abductions, ethnic cleansing and selling women into sexual slavery.

ISIS elements who fled Iraq and Syria have not escaped punishment, however, facing arrest and trial for their crimes in countries such as France and Germany.

Late last month, Iraq's elite Counter-Terrorism Service announced it had arrested the so-called general administrative co-ordinator of ISIS, known as "Abu Naba", after his arrival at Baghdad airport.

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