Swiss citizen who fought with Christian group against ISIS faces military court

  • Written by:

Wladimir van Wilgenburg
Former Swiss army officer Johan Cosar faces a military court for joining a foreign military force. (Photo: Social Media)
Syria Syriac Christian ISIS Switzerland

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A former Swiss army officer who fought against the Islamic state as part of a Christian armed group in Syria appeared in court on Wednesday for violating military regulations.

Johan Cosar is a leader in the Syriac Military Council, founded in 2013 to protect Christian populations in Syria and is part of the US-led coalition backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The SDF has now almost defeated the Islamic State in its last pocket of territory in Deir al-Zor Province.

According to the Swiss Military Penal Code, citizens are not allowed to join foreign armies.

Born in Switzerland’s northern city of St. Gallen and raised in Ticino, Cosar’s family belongs to the Syriac minority, one of the oldest Christian communities in eastern Syria, Swiss Info reported on Wednesday. He was also a sergeant in the Swiss army.

He follows in the footsteps of his father, Sait Malki Cosar, who was detained by the Syrian government in August of 2013 and later died under mysterious circumstances in a regime jail.

According to Swiss Info, Cosar admitted to co-founding and fighting for the Syriac Military Council, which has since fought not only to protect Christians, but also in cities like Raqqa that have a Muslim Arab majority.

Cosar was arrested in 2015 after returning home from Syria.

Johan Cosar arrives at the court on Wednesday. (Photo: Keystone)

In response to questions by Swiss public television station SRF on Tuesday, Cosar rejected the accusations, and said he did not regret “fighting a terrorist organization – and if it happened in Switzerland, I would be the first to commit myself to fight it.”

In recent years, many Christians in northern Syria fled to European countries from conflict involving militant groups like the Islamic State, several of which targeted Christian communities. Cosar, however, was one of the few Syriacs in Europe known to not only return to Syria to fight but also helped found and train the Syriac Military Council.

Bassam Ishak, President of the Syriac National Council of Syria, an umbrella group for Syriac civil society organizations worldwide, told Kurdistan 24 that Cosar “was not only defending Syriacs in Syria but also the national security of countries like Switzerland.”

“It’s ironic to sue him for defending the national security of his country. He deserves to be honored as a national hero instead.”

Metin Rhawi, head of foreign relations of the European Syriac Union, said it’s very frustrating that Cosar is facing legal consequences for his actions. He argued that Cosar defended the Syriac community, and humankind against the evil organization of the Islamic State, but “now he ends up in court in Switzerland.”

“We, of course, respect Swiss law, but we hope that the Swiss court will find Johannes [Johan] free from guilt.”

Rhawi said that Cosar fought against the Islamic State in self-defense. “If Johan did not defend [his people] this bravely, we could have had 100,000s of Christians get killed and maybe get in[to a] situation with Daesh [ISIS] controlling a bigger area.”

“As a Syriac, I am very proud that Johan had the courage to stand up for his community, for his values, and the future.”

Rhawi added that the Syriac community “always stands alone.” This was the case, he stressed, while although there are over 2 billion Christians in the world. “Now again we can see Johan, standing alone in court.”

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

Editing by John J. Catherine