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Latvian sentenced to ten years in prison for fighting on the side of ISIS in Syria

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUOn Thursday, 16 November, Latvian citizen Mārtiņš Grīnbergs was sentenced by Riga Regional Court to ten years and three months in prison for fighting on the side of Islamic State terrorist organization.

This means the previous ruling, which found Grīnbergs innocent of participating in crimes against humanity as a member of the criminal organization, is cancelled in favour of finding him guilty of illegal participation in an armed conflict.

After the sentence was read, Grīnbergs announced that he does not consider it fair, adding loudly that the ‘state is the real terrorist’.

Grīnbergs’ attorney, Raitis Mediņš, says the ruling of the regional court will be appealed in the Supreme Court. He did not comment on smaller details, saying that he needs to go through the full text first.

Grīnbergs said in his final words that he no longer believes in Islam, and that he has converted to Christianity instead. He said that he returned to Latvia voluntarily by requesting deportation from Turkey. He also said that he has cooperated with Finland and that he intends to help combat international terrorism.

The accused asked for a softer punishment, saying that if he was released, he would have more freedom to help society by telling his story and reminding what dangers people can expect when joining a terrorist organization. The accused also claimed that he had never picked up a gun and aimed it at anyone.

In the end, Grīnbergs asked the court to act fairly and also expressed regret for what he had done.

First instance court found him innocent of any crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, the court sentenced him to four years in prison for illegal participation in an armed conflict.

The prosecutor in charge of the case asked the court to sentence the accused to 11 years in prison. The ruling was appealed. The prosecutor’s office also submitted a protest, even though the young man denies his guilt in incriminated crimes.

According to Raitis Mediņš, his client did not participate in armed clashes with government forcer or civilians during his stay in Syria.

LTV had previously reported that the young man was born in Brocēni, knows English well and spent a lot of time on the internet in the past. He had registered on one of the largest Muslim forums when he was in 12th grade.

In his interview to LTV, the young man claimed he travelled to Syria because he was absorbed by the idea of an Islamic Caliphate, and that he ‘wanted to find the truth’. The young man said he wanted to join in the creation of the Islamic State as a non-combatant, saying that he wanted to help local residents. He also claimed that even while in Latvia he did not expect the level of cruelty coming from terrorists even though their crimes are widely reported by the media.

He used his own money to travel to Turkey. From there he made his way to the Syrian border and ended up at some Daesh group, which took away his documents and all of his possessions. He was then forced into combat training, from which, he said, there was no way to escape. It was then that he realized that it is not what he wants to do in Syria, so he started looking for ways to return to Latvia. Doing that was very difficult, because he was caught in one of his attempts and put in prison, where he spent five months. According to him, there were thousands of people there besides him. All of them, he said, had realized that Daesh ideology was of radical nature and wanted to get out.

Grīnbergs said terrorists had planned to punish him by sending into battle as ‘cannon fodder’. During transport, however, he and five others managed to escape, even though three of the escapees were shot. The young man eventually found his way to Turkey, where he was arrested by authorities. The young man asked them to send him back to Latvia.

Now the young man says Daesh recruiters told him that everything would be great in the Islamic State, that there would be justice and fairness. As it turned out, reality was exactly the opposite. He says he met no one else from Latvia in Syria.

This is the first court ruling made in Latvia in a case regarding illegal participation in an armed conflict.

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