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French jihadist to be retried as prosecutors seek life term

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Paris (AFP)

A French jihadist given a 30-year jail term last week for crimes committed in Syria, will be retried after prosecutors appealed Thursday seeking life imprisonment.

On Friday, a court jailed Vilus, 30, for crimes committed between 2013 and 2015 when he was a senior figure in the Islamic State extremist group, including overseeing the execution of two prisoners.

Vilus was found guilty of all the charges against him, including membership of a terror organisation, heading a group of IS fighters, and "aggravated murder".

The judges handed down a 30-year prison term, of which Vilus would have to serve at least two-thirds, or 20 years, before parole can be considered.

France's National Anti-Terror Prosecutor's office had sought a life sentence, with a minimum 22 years to be served, and said Thursday it had filed an appeal against the ruling.

The appeal automatically gives rise to a retrial in front of a court that will be specially constituted as this concerns a terror case.

At the original trial, public prosecutor Guillaume Michelin sought the highest sentence arguing Vilus "hasn't changed one bit" since his time with the Islamic State.

"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 IS had carved out in Syria and Iraq.

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

But the presiding judge said he wanted to leave the convicted man with "a glimmer of hope" and an opportunity to "evolve".

The trial court found that Vilus had supervised 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 released by the Islamic State's media department, 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 Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's army -- are executed with a bullet to the head.

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

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

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