Alleged Daesh fighter faces Dutch war crimes charges

Judge Jantien Holleman at the courtroom in Schiphol. (Reuters)
Updated 09 July 2019

Alleged Daesh fighter faces Dutch war crimes charges

  • Oussama Achraf Akhlafa, 24, faces allegations of violating international law, after allegedly joining Daesh militants in Mosul in Iraq, and Raqqa in Syria, between 2014 and 2016

AMSTERDAM: An alleged Dutch-born Daesh militant went on trial in the Netherlands on Monday for war crimes in Iraq and Syria, including breaches of the Geneva Conventions, after posing with a crucified body and sharing images of dead victims online.

It is the first trial in the Netherlands dealing with war crimes by an alleged Daesh militant.

There is no international tribunal to prosecute widespread atrocities during Syria’s civil war which began in 2011, but prosecutors in several European countries have put on trial nationals who joined militant groups in the Middle East.

According to European police agency Europol, some 5,000 Europeans — most from Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands — went to fight in Syria and Iraq, of whom some 1,500 have returned.

Oussama Achraf Akhlafa, 24, faces allegations of violating international law, after allegedly joining Daesh militants in Mosul in Iraq, and Raqqa in Syria, between 2014 and 2016.

He is being tried under so-called universal jurisdiction, which enables war crimes to be prosecuted regardless of where they were committed.

Akhlafa is charged with breaking international law on the rules of armed conflict by violating the personal dignity of war victims, as well as membership in a terrorist organization.

Prosecutors said Akhlafa posed next to the crucified body of a man on a wooden cross and distributed pictures of an IS militant holding the head of a dead Kurdish fighter and the body of a dead woman with a foot on her.

In a statement, Akhlafa said he joined Daesh after becoming homeless in the Netherlands, but never hurt anyone.

“If I didn’t get in the photo I would be seen as disloyal” by Daesh, he told the court. 

“I posed in the photo. I take all responsibility for that. I am sorry and it was not my intent to humiliate this man.”

“I understand it creates an image, but madame, I didn’t kill anyone ... IS (Daesh) wouldn’t even give me a weapon.”

The judge read out witness testimony and quotes from online chats with the defendant in which he bragged about killings and said he was a sniper.


Syria regime forces on edge of key rebel-held town

Updated 19 min 38 sec ago

Syria regime forces on edge of key rebel-held town

  • Maaret Al-Numan is one of the largest urban centers in the northwestern province of Idlib
  • The regime and its Russian ally have escalated their bombardment against the militant-dominated region since December

BEIRUT: Syrian regime forces have reached the outskirts of a key city on the edge of the country’s last rebel-held stronghold, a monitor and a pro-government newspaper said Sunday.
The mainly deserted city of Maaret Al-Numan is a strategic prize lying on the M5 linking Damascus to Syria’s second city Aleppo, a main highway coveted by the regime as it seeks to regain control of the entire country.
It is one of the largest urban centers in the beleaguered northwestern province of Idlib, the last stronghold of anti-regime forces and currently home to some three million people — half of them displaced by violence in other areas.
The regime and its Russian ally have escalated their bombardment against the militant-dominated region since December, carrying out hundreds of air strikes in southern Idlib and the west of neighboring Aleppo province.
Over the past 24 hours, government ground forces have seized seven villages on the outskirts of Maaret Al-Numan, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor said Sunday.
They have now reached “the edges of the city and are... within gunfire range of part of the highway,” it said.
Pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan reported that loyalist forces were “just around the corner” from the city, whose “doors are wide open.”
Idlib and nearby areas of Hama, Aleppo and Latakiya provinces are dominated by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS) militant group, led by members of the country’s former Al-Qaeda franchise.
The regime of President Bashar Assad has repeatedly vowed to reassert control over the whole of Syria, despite several cease-fire agreements.
An AFP correspondent says Maaret Al-Numan has become a ghost town.
Assad’s forces, which are also battling HTS militants in western Aleppo province, are backed on both fronts by Syrian and Russian air strikes.
The fighting has left dozens of fighters dead on both sides.
Since 1 December, some 358,000 Syrians have been displaced from their homes, the vast majority of them women and children, according to the United Nations.
A cease-fire announced by Moscow earlier this month was supposed to protect Idlib from further attacks, but the truce never took hold.
Aid agencies and relief groups have warned that further violence could fuel what may potentially become the largest wave of displacement seen during Syria’s nine-year-old civil war.
Syrian government forces now control around 70 percent of the country and Assad has repeatedly vowed to retake Idlib.