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Prosecutors demand life sentence for French jihadist Tyler Vilus

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 on crimes committed in Syria between 2013 and 2015.
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 on crimes committed in Syria between 2013 and 2015. AFP - BENOIT PEYRUCQ

Prosecutors on Friday called for the maximum life sentence for French jihadist Tyler Vilus, who is on trial for crimes that were allegedly committed in Syria. The son of a radicalised woman known as 'Jihadi Gran,' he is believed to have climbed the Islamic State hierarchy to become an 'emir'.

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Prosecutors depicted Tyler Vilus as a "jihadist through and through," and argued that an "exceptional case" required punitive measures.

Thirty-year-old Vilus went on trial last Thursday on charges of belonging to a terrorist group, heading a unit of Islamic State group fighters and "aggravated murder" in Syria between 2013 and 2015.

He is accused of supervising numerous executions as a senior figure in the extremist group.

In April 2015, he was captured in a video by IS showing two members of the Syrian Free Army being executed. A man alleged to be Vilus is seen standing two metres away as the execution happens.

Paris attacks

Arrested in July 2015 in Turkey and now imprisoned in France, Vilus is also suspected of having links to the network that planned and carried out the November 2015 attacks in Paris in which 130 people were killed. 

He admitted to being in contact with the mastermind of those attacks but denied any involvement.

Vilus is one of the first in a generation of French jihadists to have travelled to Syria, and one of the rare individuals to have returned alive.

Very close to his mother, Christine Rivière, he invited her frequently to Syria and received financial support from her. Nicknamed 'Jihadi Gran', Rivière was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2018 for her 'firm commitment’ to Islamic State.

Intertwined with ISIS

Throughout the trial, investigators tried to prove that her son was equally as committed. They showed evidence displaying Vilus' many ties to the terror group, at once as a "recruter," "fighter," "police officer" and "emir."

"Every stage of the suspect's life is intertwined with the construction of the caliphate," insisted lead prosecutor Guillaume Michelin, describing an "extraordinary" man who used his intelligence to serve terrorism.

"When you remove the smoke curtains surrounding Tyler Vilus, all you see are corpses. It is up to you to put an end to this carnage," he told the Paris criminal court in his closing argument.

Mother's grief

In one dramatic scene of the trial, the mother of the suspect's second wife was called to testify and pleaded with judges to tell her where her daughter was.

"Since 2017, I have not had any news,” she said.

The president of the court replied: "Your daughter is believed to have died in 2017 in a bomb attack in Mosul, including her child." The mother broke down in tears.

Prosecutors have called for Vilus to be put away for life, with a minimum period of 22 years behind bars.

The verdict is expected later on Friday after the defence's closing speech.

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