Johan Cosar, a Swiss citizen who has been fighting against Islamic State (IS) militants in Syria, was arrested in Basel upon his return to Switzerland, accused of illegally fighting for a foreign army.
The 32-year-old Cosar, who was born in St Gallen and grew up in Locarno, is currently free on bail but faces up to three years in prison if convicted of fighting for a foreign military force without permission, according to Swiss Public Television, RSI.
Military justice proceedings against Cosar were launched last autumn while he was still in Syria. In December 2014, Cosar told the Swiss newspaper Le Temps that his intention in travelling to Syria was never to fight – instead, he first worked as a journalist for Italian-language Swiss media.
“I didn’t go to Syria intending to fight,” he said. “I found myself in the middle of a civil war, in a situation where you have to take up arms to protect yourself.”
Cosar is of Syriac origin – a Christian minority currently among groups being targeted by IS fighters. After going to Syria to “see with my own eyes what was happening on the ground”, as Cosar told Le Temps, the former Swiss army sergeant helped found the Syriac Military Council, a group intended to help Christian minorities defend themselves against IS aggression.
“I started looking at their lack of organisation, so I began to give some tips to the Assyrian guys here on starting the militia, and that became my new role,” he recently explained to the magazineForeign Policy.
However, although he relied on his Swiss army training in building up the Syriac Military Council, Cosar has frequently told the media that his decision to fight in Syria has nothing to do with Switzerland, nor does it pose a threat to the country where he was raised.
“I didn’t do anything against Switzerland and I’m sure the Swiss understand this,” he told German news outlet Deutsche Welle last year.
According to Article 94 of Swiss military law, any Swiss “who enlists in foreign military service without the authorisation of the cabinet will be punished with a fine or a prison sentence of up to three years”.