Former Swiss army officer given suspended sentence for fighting in Syria

Johan Cosar arrives at the court on Wednesday, 20 February 2019 Keystone / Ti-press / Alessandro Crinari

A former Swiss army officer who fought in a Christian militia against Islamic State in Syria has been given a suspended sentence and small fine by a military court in Bellinzona. He was found guilty of undermining Switzerland’s defensive capabilities by joining a foreign army.

This content was published on February 22, 2019 - 13:11

The court gave him a sentence of suspended day fines over 90 days and an additional fine of CHF500 ($500). He was acquitted on the additional charge of recruiting and attempting to recruit Swiss citizens for a foreign army.

Cosar told Swiss public television SRF External linkthat he would appeal the verdict.

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 neutral Switzerland, accused of illegally fighting for a foreign army.

Cosar, who is now 37, faced 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 a television interview with Swiss public television SRF on TuesdayExternal link, Cosar had rejected the accusations, saying that he did not consider himself guilty, that he had “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. His cousin was acquitted. 

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