Swiss anti-Islamic State fighter faces trial in Switzerland

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defendant arriving at court
Swiss former army officer Johan Cosar, center, arrives at the Federal Criminal Court of Switzerland together with his lawyer Yasar Ravi, right, and the assistant of the defence lawyer, left, In Bellinzona.

A former Swiss army officer who fought in a Christian militia against the Islamic State in Syria appears in a military court in Bellinzona today. He is accused of undermining Switzerland’s defensive capabilities by joining a foreign army.

Born in St Gallen and raised in Ticino, Johan Cosar’s family belongs to the Syriac minority, one of the oldest Christian communities in the East of Syria. He was also a sergeant in the Swiss army.

He has admitted to co-founding and participating in the activities of a private militia, the Syriac Military Council. The militia’s mission is to defend the Christian populations of Syria, which are persecuted by the Islamic State.

After two years fighting for the militia, Cosar was arrested in Basel in 2015 upon his return to Switzerland, accused of illegally fighting for a foreign army.

Cosar who is now 37 is facing allegations that he undermined the defensive capabilities of the country by engaging in a foreign army, which is prohibited under Article 94 of the Swiss Military Penal Code.

In response to questions by Swiss public television SRF on Tuesday, Cosar rejected the accusations: “No, I do not consider myself guilty, absolutely not,” he asserts. He said that he has “defended innocent people,” and “I do not regret what I did – fighting a terrorist organisation – and if it happened in in Switzerland, I would be the first to commit myself to fight it.”

He appeared on the stand alongside his cousin, accused of helping him recruit soldiers through social networks such as Facebook and Youtube.

Cosar faces up to three years in prison under the military penal code. In similar cases, the military court has typically imposed financial penalties.