Iraqi court sentenced captured Russian ISIS fighter to death

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : Iraq’s High Judicial Council announced that a criminal court in the capital Baghdad has sentenced a Russian man to death by hanging. The foreign Islamic State member from Russia confessed to “carrying out several terrorist operations against the security services since 2015″, said Abdul Sattar Bayraktar, spokesman of the Supreme Judicial Council in a statement on Tuesday. The use of “irregular warfare” by major geopolitical powers and the questionable legal status of captured insurgents might revigorate the debate that was started when the U.S. began designating captured persons as “unlawful combatants” and began holding them in a legal limbo.

death-penalty_hangingThe Russian man was accused of being part of the al-Zarqawi brigade, an elite armed wing of the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIS, ISIL, Daesh). The High Judicial Council reported that Iraqi security forces arrested the defendant during the liberation of Mosul after the individual ran out of ammunition.  In accordance to Article four of Iraq’s anti-terrorism law, he has been sentenced to death by hanging, Bayraktar added.

The sentencing may turn out to become controversial as “irregular”, so-called hybrid warfare, using terrorist organizations often touted as “rebels” increasingly replaced “regular” warfare with declared or undeclared wars but with regular forces whose status under international law is unambiguously clear.

A US’ training circular for special operations forces and fon “students” identified Training Circular TC 18-01, for example, stresses clearly that the United States, for the foreseeable future, will primarily be engaged in irregular warfare. nsnbc international published the restricted document (HERE). It would be naive to assume that the USA is the only country operating with irregular warfare, or in other words, that for example China or Russia don’t.

Ultimately, assessing the situation realistically, we are facing the age-old my rebel is your terrorist problem. Designating ISIS or other Islamist insurgents as terrorist while positioning Kurds as “rebels”, or designating Islamist Lebanese Hezbollah as terrorists while designating “Turkmen militia” in Syria as “rebels” ultimately tells very little about the legal status of combatants in new, irregular wars. nsnbc international could – thus far – not identify the man.  The Russian Embassy in Iraq had not released any information on the case.

Photo courtesy Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service, July 2017

Photo courtesy Iraq’s Counter-Terrorism Service, July 2017

The fact that there may be controversy in the pipeline can also be seen by the fact that the execution of the Russian citizen would not be unprecedented. Iraq executed a foreign convict in February 2016 in Nasiriyah prison in Dhi Qar province, but the Justice Ministry did not reveal the individual’s identity or other details in that case either. Among the “prominent” prisoners is also  the 16-year-old German Linda Wenzel who ran away from home after converting to Islam was found by Iraqi troops in Mosul. The runaway teenager said she just wants to go home. She could theoretically face the death penalty.

Russian President Vladimir Putin estimated in 2015 there were “5,000 to 7,000 fighters from Russia and other CIS [former Soviet] member states fighting for ISIL” in Iraq and Syria. The US intelligence community estimates that some 40,000 foreign fighters have joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria since the terror organization first declared its caliphate in 2014 in Mosul.

It still remains unclear just how many ISIS fighters, including foreigners, have been captured and are awaiting court trials since areas once controlled by ISIS in recent months have been liberated. It is also unclear how many of these fighters who eventually have been captured will be facing the death penalty while they are being held in a legal limbo; In a “legal” situation not unlike the one of the many who have been and those who are still “hanging on” at the U.S. prison facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

CH/L – nsnbc 13.09.2017

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