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Prosecutors seek life term for French jihadist accused of Syria executions

A court sketch shows French jihadist Tyler Vilus at the start of his trial in Paris on June 25, 2020.
A court sketch shows French jihadist Tyler Vilus at the start of his trial in Paris on June 25, 2020. © Benoït Peyrucq, AFP

French prosecutors on Friday requested a life sentence on terror charges for jihadist Tyler Vilus, who is accused of overseeing executions in Syria as a senior figure in the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

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Vilus, 30, is facing charges of belonging to a terrorist group, heading a group of Islamic State (IS) group fighters and "aggravated murder" between 2013 and 2015.

Public prosecutor Guillaume Michelin asked the court for a life sentence, with no possibility of parole for 22 years.

Michelin said Vilus "hasn't changed one bit" since his time with the IS group.

"All the steps in the accused's journey are interlocked with the construction of the caliphate," said the prosecutor, referring to the Islamist-ruled area that the IS group wanted to carve out in Syria and Iraq.

"It is your responsibility to put a definite end to the bloodshed," he told the court.

Investigators suspect Vilus of being part of the "Al-Muhajireen" (the immigrants) brigade, a squadron that tortured and carried out summary executions, which he denies.

Vilus is also accused of supervising executions as a member of the religious police in the north-eastern Syrian town Ash Shaddadi, close to the Iraqi border.

In a 2015 video published by the IS group's propaganda outlet, a man alleged to be Vilus is two metres away as two kneeling and blindfolded prisoners — one belonging to the Free Syrian Army rebel fighters and the other a member of Bashar al-Assad's army — are executed with a bullet to the head.

In an interview with FRANCE 24, sociologist Farhad Khosrokhavar, an expert in radicalisation, described Vilus as a "charismatic personality" who became an "emir", or general, of the IS group and was heavily involved in propaganda efforts to attract people to Syria.

Vilus was arrested at an Istanbul airport with a Swiss passport in July 2015 and was subsequently deported to France.

His arrest and trial are being seen as a major coup for the French security services, as Vilus is believed to have known many French jihadists in Syria.

Vilus has admitted to being in contact with the man French secret services believe is the mastermind of the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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