Alleged Islamic State militant on trial in Netherlands for war crimes

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Court in Schiphol, Netherlands
Court in Schiphol, Netherlands -
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REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw
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A Dutch-born alleged Islamic State fighter was brought before a court in the Netherlands on Monday.

It is the first trial in the country considering war crimes committed by an alleged IS militant.

Oussama Achraf Akhlafa

After posing for a picture with a crucified body and sharing images of war victims' corpses online, Oussama Achraf Akhlafa was charged with violating the personal dignity of war victims and membership of a terrorist organisation.

The 24-year-old was being tried under "universal jurisdiction," which enables war crimes to be prosecuted regardless of where they took place.

There is currently no international tribunal to prosecute war criminals of the Syrian Civil War, however, several countries in Europe have tried alleged terrorist organisation members internally.

Between 2014-2016, Akhlafa is accused of joining IS militants in both Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. A total of approximately 300 Dutch nationals went to Iraq and Syria to join the war, said prosecutors.

The prosecution said Akhlafa distributed images of an IS militant holding the decapitated head of a Kurdish fighter and of a foot standing atop a dead woman's body.

In addition, he was accused of posing for a picture with the body of a man crucified on a wooden cross. Prosecutors are demanding a prison sentence of seven years and eight months.

A list of militants on the Islamic State's payroll recovered in Mosul, Iraq also saw Akhlafa named as a fighter.

Prosecutor Nicole Vogelenzang said that the personal information discovered in the list was so "detailed that it could not be about anyone other than Akhlafa”.

“He was there and knew Islamic State was a terrorist group,” she said, telling the court: “He ... even volunteered to carry out suicide attacks.”

The defendant claimed that he joined the IS after becoming homeless in the Netherlands but he did not hurt anyone, saying: "IS wouldn't even give me a weapon."

This defence is in conflict with the findings of the list, which disclose that Akhlafa fought in the sniper brigade for three months in Mosul, said Vogelenzang.

Quotes from online chats supported these findings, reporting him as saying: “Sniping is the most fun thing there is, but it is highly dangerous.”

According to the defendant, this message was only sent to impress women.

On his appearance in the photo with the crucified man, Akhlafa told the court that he "would be seen as disloyal" by IS if he hadn't posed for the photo.

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

Reda Nidaldha

The trial of Dutch-born Reda Nidaldha also began on Monday. The 24-year-old is accused of membership of a terrorist organisation and of recruiting radical jihadists.

Nidaldha allegedly attempted to recruit four people into IS via Facebook, purportedly speaking in a chat about his friends joining him in Raqqa, Syria.

The defendant denies all allegations of recruitment, saying that the Facebook messages were "not serious" and that he was joking.

“In 2014, I went to Syria to help people, women and children,” he told a panel of judges. “I didn’t join to fight. I provided basic medical assistance,” he said.

Europol, the European police agency estimated that approximately 5,000 European men and women joined the wars in Iraq and Syria, of which 1,500 have returned.