June 26, 2020
A court sketch shows French jihadist Tyler Vilus at the Paris courthouse on June 25, 2020. © Benoït Peyrucq, AFP
By France 24 with AFP
A French jihadist went on trial Thursday on terror charges amid accusations that he oversaw executions in Syria as a senior figure in the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
Tyler Vilus, 30, is facing charges of belonging to a terrorist group, heading a unit of IS group fighters and “aggravated murder” between 2013 and 2015. He faces a life sentence if convicted.
Investigators suspect him 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 of Ash Shaddadi, close to the Iraqi border.
In a 2015 video published by the IS group’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 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 was the mastermind of the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.
Vilus’s mother, dubbed “Mama Jihad” in the French press, travelled three times to Syria in support of her son and was sentenced to 10 years in prison in June 2017 for her “unfailing commitment” to jihad.
Before the hearing, Vilus’s lawyer Louis-Romain Riché deplored that the accused had been kept in isolation for four and a half years, despite his “very calm” behaviour.