FRANCE - Justice

Parents seek justice in French court for IS group beheading

French jihadist Maxime Hauchard in a IS propaganda video featuring the beheadings of captured Syrian military servicemen
French jihadist Maxime Hauchard in a IS propaganda video featuring the beheadings of captured Syrian military servicemen © Screengrab from Islamic State group video

More than a year after their son, a Syrian army soldier, was beheaded by Islamic State armed group militants, Fayza and Ghassan M. have filed a civil lawsuit against one of the alleged killers in a French court.

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In what could be a landmark case for international justice and the campaign against the Islamic State, a Syrian couple is suing a French national in a French court for his alleged role in their son’s murder.

The couple filed the suit in response to a 16-minute online video which showed the beheadings of 18 men identified as, “Nusayri officers and pilots in the hands of the Khilafa [caliphate]”. “Nusayri” is the term employed by the jihadist group for Alawites, the Shiite minority sect to which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad belongs.

The 18 condemned men in the video were Syrian military officers and included Fayza and Ghassan’s eldest son, Ghaith.

Now, more than a year after that grim video appeared online, the couple has traveled from the central Syrian city of Homs to Paris, where they hope to seek justice for their son.

Born and raised in a Catholic family in Le Bosc-Roger-en-Roumois, a sleepy village in northern France, the accused, Maxime Hauchard, is an unlikely jihadist who personifies some of the bewildering profiles of foreign fighters who have signed up for the IS group cause.

In a July 2014 interview from Syria with French TV station BFM, Hauchard revealed that he had converted to Islam at 17 after watching YouTube videos. He then traveled to the West African country of Mauritania for religious instruction, but left when he found the education "not strict enough". In August 2013, posing as a humanitarian worker, the Normandy native traveled to Turkey and crossed the border to Syria, where he is believed to be currently living.

The 24-year-old Frenchman was one of the unmasked IS group jihadists, many of them foreign fighters, who were filmed beheading captives in the 2014 video.

Shortly after the video’s release, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve confirmed that French intelligence services had analysed the video and concluded that “it is strongly presumed that the person [in the video] is Maxime Hauchard, born in 1992”. An international arrest warrant has been issued for his arrest. 

'France has allowed killers to come to Syria'

On 25 March, the couple presented their evidence to a French judge. Their lawyer, Fabrice Delinde, told reporters it was “the first time that a Syrian family is a plaintiff in a case implicating a French jihadist who has gone to Syria called”.

Attempts by Ghaith’s parents to bring the case to court in France were initially rejected, but the Paris appeals court later ruled it was admissible.

For Ghassan, the unprecedented legal move makes perfect sense. “France has allowed killers to come to Syria to kill our sons,” says Ghassan. "The Syrian justice system cannot function in the current context. It is up to France to judge its citizens when they commit atrocities in our country." 

- with France 24

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