A court in the Russian city of Kazan has sentenced an ethnic Tatar to three years and 10 months in a general corrective prison colony for fighting in a militant group in Syria.
The defendant, 27-year-old Raif Mustafin, was also sentenced to a further year of limited freedom after his release, according to which he will be barred from relocating and attending public events.
The trial of Mustafin was held in open court in Kazan and is the first case of a Kazan Tatar being prosecuted for fighting in Syria.
Mustafin was found guilty of involvement in an armed formation that is not provided for by federal law, as well as participation in a foreign country in an armed formation that is not stipulated under the legislation of that country, for purposes contrary to the interests of the Russian Federation.
State prosecutors had asked the court to hand down a harsher sentence of five years and 10 months in prison. However, the judge passed a lighter sentence, citing mitigating circumstances, including Mustafin's clean record and the fact that he gave prosecutors the names of other Russian nationals with whom he fought in Syria.
Who Did He Fight With?
It's not clear which group Mustafin fought with in Syria, although the Islamic State group is mentioned in one news report.
Mustafin told prosecutors that he fought in the Tatar "jamaat" (fighting group), which had around 30 militants from Tatarstan and neighboring regions. In February, disagreements arose among the militants and Mustafin returned to Russia.
Previous news reports said that prosecutors alleged Mustafin used his fluent Arabic to first join an Arabic-speaking group and later became part of the Tatar jamaat.
It is also noteworthy that Mustafin went to Syria in December 2012. Reports of Russian-speaking fighters in Syria began to emerge in the summer of 2012, with the first report of Umar al-Shishani, now the Islamic State (IS) group's military commander in Syria, appearing in September of that year.
It was not until April 2013 that IS's predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq, declared that it was merging with the Al-Qaeda-backed Syrian group Jabhat al-Nusra and renaming itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
By the summer of 2013, Umar al-Shishani's faction, Jaish al-Muhajireen wal-Ansar, was fighting alongside what was then known as ISIL, and in December 2013 Umar al-Shishani and a group of militants joined ISIL permanently. It is credible that Mustafin later joined a Tatar jamaat in IS.
Although the court said that one of the mitigating factors in Mustafin's sentencing was the fact that he had helped investigators by providing the names of his fellow militants, a Federal Security Service (FSB) operative who testified at the trial said that Mustafin had not given them any new information at all.
The operative, Albert Gatullin, said that the FSB already knew about Mustafin's "colleagues" in the Tatar jamaat and that he had refused to give any information about other militants about whom the FSB were seeking information.
Four other Tatarstan residents on trial for similar cases
The prosecutor, Ildus Saidovich, told the local "Sobytia nedeli" newspaper that there are four other residents of Tatarstan on trial for similar offenses. Saidovich said that there were also cases prepared against six Tatarstan residents who are still fighting in Syria.
"There are six individuals who are known to us, the evidence has been collected but they have not returned yet, they are on the wanted list," Saidovich said.
-- Joanna Paraszczuk