Stu­dent who fol­lowed IS lover to Syria faces trial

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

MOSCOW: Po­lice in bul­let-proof vests guard a mil­i­tary court for the ter­ror­ism trial of Var­vara Ka­raulova, a slim 20-year-old with braided hair who clutches a page of hand­writ­ten notes. Ka­raulova was study­ing phi­los­o­phy at the renowned Moscow State Univer­sity when she tried to en­ter Syria last year after fall­ing in love on­line with an Is­lamic State fighter. Ka­raulova’s trial on ter­ror­ist-re­lated charges is the most high-pro­file yet of a Rus­sian head­ing to Syria-where Moscow war­planes are bomb­ing in sup­port of ally Pres­i­dent Bashar Al-As­sad-and sup­port­ers say au­thor­i­ties are us­ing her to send out a warn­ing. A large num­ber of the for­eign fight­ers with the ji­hadist IS group in Syria are from Rus­sia, and Moscow claims 2,700 of its na­tion­als and cit­i­zens from other ex-Soviet re­publics have been killed in the anti-IS op­er­a­tion. But most of those from Rus­sia fight­ing in Syria come from Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties prin­ci­pally in the volatile North Cau­ca­sus re­gion.

‘I didn’t join any­thing’

As an eth­nic Rus­sian woman from a priv­i­leged back­ground, Ka­raulova is a rar­ity. She is charged with pre­par­ing to par­tic­i­pate in a “ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion” and if con­victed faces up to five years in jail with the ver­dict ex­pected in a week or two. She is plead­ing not guilty, ar­gu­ing she never in­tended to fight but sim­ply wanted to be with the man she loved. In court she is known as Alexandra Ivanova after chang­ing her name to try to avoid me­dia at­ten­tion. “I didn’t join any­thing, I’m not a ter­ror­ist and ab­so­lutely never in­tended to be­come one,” she said at the open­ing of the trial on Oc­to­ber 5, quoted by In­ter­fax news agency. Her de­fense lawyer Sergei Badamshin said the jus­tice sys­tem is mak­ing an ex­am­ple of her, even though “fam­i­lies of ter­ror­ists are not pun­ished in our coun­try. ”“This is un­doubt­edly a show trial,” he said. “Un­for­tu­nately, they chose a vic­tim who has noth­ing to do with IS’s ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties. ”“Why it was her-I can’t say.”

‘Win­ner in life’

Ka­raulova grew up in a mid­dle-class fam­ily in a leafy area of Moscow and left school with all A grades, Badamshin said. “She’s a win­ner in life.” Then Ka­raulova be­came in­ter­ested in Is­lam and be­gan wear­ing a head­scarf, and on May 27, 2015, she dis­ap­peared. Her fa­ther re­ported her miss­ing and traced her to Turkey, where she and a group of other women were caught by bor­der guards as they at­tempted to cross into Syria. After her re­turn to Rus­sia in a blaze of pub­lic­ity, in­ves­ti­ga­tors ini­tially said she had com­mit­ted no crime. But al­most half a year later, she was de­tained and charged. She is be­ing held in the no­to­ri­ous Le­for­tovo jail un­der tight su­per­vi­sion, her lawyer said. At the trial held in Moscow Dis­trict Mil­i­tary Court, Ka­raulova speaks clearly but briefly, and keeps a copy of the Crim­i­nal Code on the seat in her glass cage. At one point a wit­ness de­scribed her as weigh­ing around 75 kilo­grams and she flares up: “Did the wit­ness weigh me?” She re­fuses to an­swer ques­tions about her re­li­gious views, but is now bare­headed and wears col­or­ful dresses, her eyes ringed in dark liner.

She says she got to know a man through a so­cial net­work­ing site, who used var­i­ous names in­clud­ing Vlad, Ar­tur Sokolov and Adam, but whose real name is re­port­edly Ai­rat Sam­a­tov, a Rus­sian ci­ti­zen, who in­ves­ti­ga­tors say is fight­ing with IS. Her lawyer says Ka­raulova was go­ing through a pe­riod of teenage low self-es­teem that made her vul­ner­a­ble to such tac­tics. “She’s a closed, re­served per­son... No one knew what was go­ing on in­side her, not her par­ents, not her friends,” Badamshin said. For her, it was first love, he says, while rais­ing the pos­si­bil­ity that the mes­sages to her were not even all writ­ten by the same per­son, due to stylis­tic dif­fer­ences. — AFP


MOSCOW: Moscow State Univer­sity stu­dent Var­vara Ka­raulova sits in­side a de­fen­dants’ cage dur­ing a hear­ing at Moscow’s Dis­trict Mil­i­tary Court.

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