Trial of ISIS fighter linked to Paris attackers begins in France

The 30-year-old Frenchman faces life in prison over accusations he held a senior position in ISIS

A court sketch made on June 25, 2020 at the Paris courthouse shows French jihadist also called the Islamic State "emir" Tyler Vilus speaking during the opening of his trial at the special assizes of the Paris' courthouse, on the crimes committed in Syria between 2013 and 2015. Tyler Vilus faces the French justice on June 25, 2020 for his affiliation to a terrorist group, for having led a group of combatants and for "aggravated murder". At 30 years old, he faces life imprisonment. - 
 / AFP / Benoit PEYRUCQ
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The trial of a French ISIS fighter accused of overseeing executions in Syria and leading a squadron of foreign fighters whose members went on to commit the 2015 terror attacks in Paris has begun in the French capital.

Tyler Vilus, who has become known as one of the most senior French Islamist extremists for the role he played in Syria from 2013 to 2015, is accused of associating with terrorists, leading a terror organisation and of committing organised murder.

His trial is the first in France of a former ISIS fighter over crimes committed in Syria.

French authorities suspect the 30-year-old man of being a member of the notorious ISIS morality police in Syria, for which he oversaw executions, as well as directing the Katiba Al Mouhajirine, a foreign brigade of French and Belgian fighters.

The group, which comprised roughly 40 men, included in its ranks three members of the ISIS cell that carried out the November 13 terror attacks in Paris in 2015: Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Samy Amimour and Ismail Mostefai.

The Mouhajirine group is accused of torturing and executing members of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s army as well as members of the Free Syrian Army.

Mr Vilus has admitted to being in touch with Abaaoud who masterminded the 2015 attacks.

According to French newspaper Le Monde, speaking in court, Mr Vilus admitted he had fought with ISIS in Syria but claimed his role in the terror group had been overblown.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on November 16, 2015, in Paris, the Eiffel Tower is illuminated with the colors of the French flag, in tribute to the victims of the November 13 Paris terror attacks. Kurdish-led forces announced on March 23, 2019 they had fully captured the Islamic State group's last bastion in eastern Syria and declared the total elimination of the jihadists' "caliphate". / AFP / Ludovic MARIN

"We are not going to lie to each other: yes, I was engaged in jihad, yes, I participated in Islamic State … But I am given a role in Syria that I did not have,” he said.

Born in Troyes, 140km south-east of Paris, Mr Vilus converted to Islam in 2011 before travelling to Tunisia where he joined a conservative mosque. He told the court 90 per cent of the men who worshipped there had travelled to Syria.

Mr Vilus first went to Syria in 2012 and then decided to settle in the war-torn nation in 2013, saying it was his intention to fight against the Syrian regime in Damascus.

Though he denies supervising executions as a member of ISIS religious police, footage released by the terror group’s propaganda arm in 2015 has shown a man alleged to be Mr Vilus standing nearby as a rebel fighter and a Syrian army soldier are shot in the head.

Similarly, a 2014 video has shown Abaaoud and the other members of the Mouhajirine who were allegedly commanded by Mr Vilus as they desecrated a number of corpses in the Aleppo region before burying them in a mass grave.

Mr Vilus’s mother was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2017 after she travelled to Syria three times to visit her son. Given the moniker Mamie Jihad in the French press, Mr Vilus wrote to his mother in 2013 to confirm he had become the head of the Mouhajirine brigade.

Mr Vilus was arrested in Istanbul in July 2015 while attempting to travel on a Swiss passport. He was later deported to France.