Moscow court convicts student for trying to reach Syria

AP News
Posted: Dec 22, 2016 10:51 AM
Moscow court convicts student for trying to reach Syria

MOSCOW (AP) — A Moscow court on Thursday sent a 20-year-old university student to prison for 4 1/2 years for trying to join Islamic State group fighters in Syria.

The Moscow District Military Court ruled in an unusually harsh verdict that Varvara Karaulova, a student at the prestigious Moscow State University, was "preparing to join a terrorist organization." The judge rejected her pleas that she had no intention to fight in Syria.

More than 3,000 Russians are believed to have traveled to Syria to fight alongside Islamic State militants. Most of them, unlike Karaulova, are men from predominantly Muslim regions.

Russians convicted of fighting in Syria typically have been sentenced to two or three years in prison. In many cases they have received amnesties and entered rehabilitation programs aimed to help them return to their communities.

Karaulova, a convert to Islam, insists that she fell in love with a man she met online and wanted to marry him in Syria.

In her closing argument Wednesday the student apologized to her parents for what she called a "teenage rebellion" and said she cannot forgive herself.

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Karaulova was detained last year in Turkey reportedly while trying to cross the border into Syria after her father filed a missing person's report.

Karaulova's lawyer Sergei Badamshin on Twitter posted a copy of an appeal the defense filed after the verdict.

Ilya Novikov, another attorney representing Karaulova, said the verdict sets a bad precedent that could discourage parents from reporting possible militant recruitment of their children.

Novikov said the defense hoped to appeal the conviction in part because it offered no chance of early parole.