First German trial of 'Islamic State jihadist' opens



FRANKFURT, Carsten Hauptmeier- An alleged German jihadist went on trial Monday accused of fighting in Syria for the Islamic State group, amid calls for tougher action to prevent attacks in Europe by militants.
In the first German criminal proceedings involving IS, Kreshnik Berisha, a 20-year-old born near the business capital Frankfurt to a family from Kosovo, has been charged with membership of a foreign terrorist organisation.



He could face 10 years in prison if convicted by the city's superior regional court.
However the court proposed a deal as the trial opened in which Berisha would get a lighter sentence in exchange for a full confession. Defence lawyers said they would respond to the offer this week.
The heavyset Berisha, wearing a full beard, a black T-shirt, hoodie and grey sweatpants, sat impassively as proceedings began.
The trial is taking place under tight security amid a Western crackdown on IS over the threat posed by citizens returning home from Syria and Iraq, after gaining weapons training and combat experience.
Berisha, who reportedly belonged to a local Jewish football club in his youth, is believed to have become radicalised when he fell in with a group of Muslim fundamentalists while on a job training programme.
Federal prosecutors say Berisha travelled to Syria via Turkey in July 2013 with other Islamists planning to join the fighting to create an Islamist "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq.
"He wanted to take part in building a theocracy under Sharia law," prosecutor Horst Salzmann told the court.
"He gave an oath. He was ready to die for their goals."
Soon after his arrival, Berisha allegedly underwent firearms training and was put to work as a medic and a guard.
In the six months he spent in Syria, he is believed to have fought in at least three battles on the side of the jihadists against President Bashar al-Assad's troops.
He returned home for reasons that are unclear to German authorities in December 2013 and was arrested at Frankfurt airport.
Prosecutors say there is no evidence he was plotting an attack in Germany. A verdict is not expected before mid-November.
- 'Not a dangerous person' -
The three judges hearing the case said they had held talks before the trial with the defence and the prosecution about a shorter jail sentence of between three years and three months and four years and three months.
In exchange, Berisha would confess to the charges against him and provide detailed responses to questions about IS's inner workings.
"We don't want to do everything in our power to obstruct his future," presiding judge Thomas Sagebiel said.
Defence attorney Mutlu Gunal, who said his client would reply to the offer at the next hearing on Friday, insisted that Berisha was "grateful" to be back in Germany.
"The fact that he returned of his own accord shows he turned his back (on IS)," he said, adding that he believed Berisha suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder from his experiences in Syria.
"I can assure you, this is not a dangerous person."
The court heard phone conversations Berisha had with his family while still in Syria.
A woman, apparently his sister, is heard telling him to come home: "Your 'brothers' there won't love you like your family does," she said. "You are young, dumb and naive."
Authorities estimate around 400 German nationals have travelled to Iraq and Syria to battle for the militants.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere announced Friday that Germany had outlawed active support of Islamic State including the recruitment of fighters and social media propaganda.
"We must prevent radical Islamists bringing their jihad to our cities," he said.
Germany has launched 140 criminal probes against alleged IS fighters or supporters, news weekly Der Spiegel reported.
France on Monday hosted an international conference to shore up a coalition against IS militants.
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Tuesday, September 16th 2014
Carsten Hauptmeier
           


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