French militant gets 30 years for Syria crimes

The French court found that Tyler Vilus supervised executions as a member of the religious police in the north-eastern Syrian town Ash Shaddadi. (AFP)
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Updated 04 July 2020

French militant gets 30 years for Syria crimes

  • Investigators believed Tyler Vilus was part of the ‘Al-MuHajjireen’ (the immigrants) brigade

PARIS: A French court on Friday handed a 30-year prison sentence to a militant for crimes committed in Syria between 2013-15 including overseeing the execution of two prisoners while a senior figure in the Daesh extremist group.
Tyler Vilus, 30, who was found guilty on all charges, was also accused of belonging to a terrorist group, heading a group of Daesh fighters and “aggravated murder.”
Public prosecutor Guillaume Michelin earlier asked the court for a life sentence, with no possibility of parole for 22 years.
Michelin said Vilus “hasn’t changed one bit” since his time with the Daesh.
“All the steps in the accused’s journey are interlocked with the construction of the caliphate,” said the prosecutor, referring to the Islamist-ruled area that Daesh had at the time carved out in Syria and Iraq.
“It is your responsibility to put a definite end to the bloodshed,” he told the court.
But the presiding judge said he wanted to give him “a glimmer of hope” so that he could “evolve,” even though he could have been sentenced to life on being convicted of all charges.
Investigators believed Vilus was part of the “Al-MuHajjireen” (the immigrants) brigade, a squad that tortured and carried out summary executions, which he had denied.
However, the court found that Vilus supervised the executions as a member of the religious police in the north-eastern Syrian town Ash Shaddadi, close to the Iraqi border.
In a 2015 video published by the Daesh’s media department, a man alleged to be Vilus is two meters away as two kneeling and blindfolded prisoners — one belonging to the Free Syrian Army rebel fighters and the other a member of Bashar Assad’s army — are executed with a bullet to the head.
His arrest and trial were seen as a major coup for the French security services, as Vilus is believed to have known many French militants in Syria.
Vilus had admitted to being in contact with the man French secret services believe is the mastermind of the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.


US begins highest level Taiwan visit in decades

Updated 13 min 20 sec ago

US begins highest level Taiwan visit in decades

  • During the three-day visit Health Secretary Alex Azar will meet President Tsai Ing-wen
  • Under President Donald Trump, US relations with Taiwan have warmed dramatically

TAIPEI: A senior member of US President Donald Trump’s administration landed in Taiwan Sunday for Washington’s highest level visit since switching diplomatic recognition to China in 1979, a trip Beijing has condemned.
During the three-day visit Health Secretary Alex Azar will meet President Tsai Ing-wen, who advocates Taiwan being recognized as a sovereign nation and is loathed by China’s leaders.
Azar is the most senior US cabinet member to visit Taiwan in decades and his visit comes as relations between the world’s two biggest economic powers plunge to historic lows.
In recent days, Trump has ordered sweeping restrictions on popular Chinese apps TikTok and WeChat and the US Treasury Department slapped sanctions on Hong Kong’s leader over a tough law that curbs dissent.
Washington has billed the Taiwan trip as an opportunity to learn from the island’s fight against the coronavirus and to celebrate its progressive values.
“This trip is a recognition of Taiwan’s success in combating COVID-19 and a testament to the shared beliefs that open and democratic societies are best equipped to combating disease threats like COVID-19,” a health and human services department official told reporters ahead of the visit.
But Beijing balks at any recognition of self-ruled Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory and vows to one day seize, by force if necessary.
It has described Azar’s visit as a threat to “peace and stability,” while China’s defense minister warned against Washington making any “dangerous moves.”
As well as meeting Tsai, Azar will hold talks with his counterpart Chen Shih-chung and Foreign Minister Joseph Wu.
He will also meet coronavirus experts and give a speech to public health students as well as alumni of a training program with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Taiwan has become a poster child for defeating the coronavirus thanks to a well-honed track and tracing program as well as firm border controls.
Despite its proximity and economic links to China it has recorded fewer than 500 infections and seven deaths.
In contrast the US has recorded the most deaths in the world with more than 160,000 fatalities.
As public disapproval has grown for his handling of the epidemic, Trump has pivoted from his previous focus on striking a trade deal with China to blaming the country for the coronavirus crisis.
The two countries have clashed on a range of issues, from trade to espionage allegations and Beijing’s human rights record such as the mass incarceration of Uighur Muslims and the political crackdown in Hong Kong.
Washington remains the leading arms supplier to Taiwan but has historically been cautious in holding official contacts with it.
Under Trump, relations with Taiwan have warmed dramatically and he has approved a number of major military sales, including F-16 fighter jets.
The last cabinet minister to visit Taiwan was in 2014 when the then head of the Environmental Protection Agency led a delegation.