A police car stands in front of the district court in Frankfurt
A police car stands in front of the district court in Frankfurt © Daniel Roland - AFP
A police car stands in front of the district court in Frankfurt
Last updated: December 5, 2014

Germany jails jihadist in first Islamic State trial

Germany jailed a jihadist militant for three years and nine months Friday in the country's first trial of a recruit of the Islamic State group fighting in Syria and Iraq.

Kreshnik Berisha, 20, born near the financial capital Frankfurt to a family from Kosovo, was found guilty of membership in a foreign terrorist organisation, said presiding judge Thomas Lagebier.

He avoided a heavier sentence because of his confession and his voluntary decision to leave the IS, the court said.

Prosecutors had called for a prison term of half a year more, the defence for six months less.

Berisha, who was 19 when he joined the IS, told the court he never joined active combat. State prosecutors argued that his statements did not suggest true remorse.

"I saw it as my duty to go to Syria to oppose oppression and tyranny," the bearded man had said in a statement read out by his lawyer.

Berisha was tried under juvenile law, which German courts can apply to defendants aged 18 to 21.

Thousands of Western volunteers have joined the IS battle to create a "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq, heightening fears that radicalised and battle-hardened fighters will launch attacks back in their home countries.

Germany's domestic intelligence service believes about 550 German nationals have joined the jihad in Syria and Iraq, 60 have died there in combat or suicide attacks, and 180 have returned to Germany.

- 'I didn't shoot people' -

The court outlined the path that led Berisha into the bloody conflict, and then back home, into a German prison cell.

The young trades school student,

"He was part of a circle of about 15 young men who shared the belief that it is the duty of a pious Muslim to join the armed holy war."

Berisha received weapons training with pistols and assault rifles, then joined a group of Turkish IS fighters and later a unit of European IS recruits in Aleppo.

He was sent to a battle with about 1,000 IS fighters near the city of Hama, and also armed confrontations on two other occasions, but only in the rear, not at the battlefront, and therefore "experienced very little combat action", the court found.

Berisha himself had told the court "I did not shoot at people".

He also served as an IS guard, manned road blocks, received paramedic training, and long hoped to receive training and then missions as a sniper.

All the while, the defendant stayed in phone and Skype contact with his family, who had alerted German authorities and had begged him to come home, the court said.

His family's pleas motivated Berisha's change of heart, as well as his discontent that jihadist groups fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were battling each other.

He travelled back to Turkey where a relative met him, then flew to Frankfurt, where he was arrested on arrival in December 2013.

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