Swiss ex-sergeant convicted for leading Christian militia in Syria


ZURICH (Reuters) - A former Swiss soldier who commanded a Christian militia fighting Islamic State in Syria was found guilty on Friday of violating Swiss neutrality.

Hanna Johannes Cosar's case was a rare example of European countries prosecuting citizens for fighting against, rather than with, jihadist forces in Iraq and Syria.

Cosar was fined 500 Swiss francs ($499), a relatively lenient punishment, after being convicted by a Swiss military tribunal.

Cosar, whose family moved to Switzerland from Syria three generations ago, was accused of joining a private army whose avowed aim was to defend Syriacs, one of the world's oldest Christian communities, against Islamic State forces.

"As Christians we are not only fighting against the Islamic State, we are fighting against a state that hates us," Cosar, a former sergeant in the Swiss army, said in a 2014 interview with Israeli paper Haaretz, one of several appearances he made in the media.

After around two years of fighting he returned to Switzerland, where he was arrested in 2015.

Cosar had faced up to three years in prison under a Swiss law that has most frequently been used to prosecute fighters who join France's Foreign Legion without government authorisation.

On Friday he was convicted of breaching Switzerland's ban on fighting for another country without first obtaining permission from the government.

In addition to the 500 franc fine, he was also handed a suspended fine of 4,500 francs. He was acquitted of another charge of encouraging others to fight.

His Swiss attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

($1 = 1.0013 Swiss francs)

(Reporting by John Revill and Michael Shields; Editing by John Miller and Frances Kerry)