A court in Russia's North Caucasus Republic of Kabardino-Balkaria has sentenced a 22-year-old man to four years in a penal colony for fighting in Syria.
The man, named as Murat Nagoyev, is alleged to have traveled to Syria via Egypt and then Turkey in October 2012 to participate in the armed conflict against the Syrian government.
Nagoyev has been under investigation since January, when he was detained in Moscow. The prosecution had asked the court to impose a five-year prison term.
The 22-year-old man had pleaded guilty to being in Syria, but said he had gone there to protect Circassian women and children. Syria has had an ethnic Circassian community since the early 1860s, when the Russian-Circassian war of 1864 forced them to migrate from their homelands.
Since the Syrian civil war began, many Syrian Circassians have fled Syria, and over 1,000 have settled in Kabardino-Balkaria. However, local activists have accused Russia of treating the Syrian Circassian refugees badly, saying that they have not been given any government-funded benefits and that some have even been refused Russian visas.
Russia's North Caucasus
Although he admitted being in Syria, Nagoyev denied a charge in the indictment against him that he had received payment to go to Syria. Nagoyev also denied other charges of possessing weapons and drugs.
Speaking in court on November 24, Nagoyev said that he had been a "victim of circumstances" and asked for leniency.
Few details have been released about the evidence against Nagoyev, apart from his admission that he was in Syria.
Nagoyev's mother, Larissa Nagoyeva, told the Caucasian Knot news website that the main evidence against her son was given by a secret witness known only as "Ivanov."
Nagoyeva denied that her son had ever touched either weapons or drugs and that he had spent about one month in Syria. "My son is an athlete, a judo fighter," Nagoyeva was quoted as saying.
According to Nagoyeva, her son had gone to Egypt to study Arabic, but that she does not know how he came to be in Syria. Nagoyev had not been known to the law enforcement authorities before he went to Egypt, she said.
Nagoyeva said she believed that her son had been influenced by someone while he was in Egypt. When he saw what was going on in Syria, he came back to Russia, she added.
Nagoyev is not the only resident of Kabardino-Balkaria known to have gone to Syria after being in Egypt. A 31-year-old man is thought to be fighting in Syria after traveling there via Egypt.
Video evidence has shown that residents of the neighboring Karachai-Cherkessia Republic are also fighting in Syria. A video released in January shows a group of men from Karachai-Cherkessia calling on others from the republic to carry out terrorist attacks, including against the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
One prominent Islamic State militant, Umar Shishani's second-in-command Abu Jihad, is an ethnic Karachai and is thought to have spent time in Egypt.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk