Accused fighter of the Islamic State on trial in the USA – KGET 17

NEW YORK (AP) – An American citizen accused of serving as a sniper and training weapons for the Islamic State group has been brought from the battlefield in Syria into New York custody.

Even in prison, Ruslan Maratovich Asainov kept a makeshift version of the militants’ black flag right above the desk in his cell, according to trial testimony this week.

“What’s the problem? That’s mine. It’s religious,” then-prison lieutenant Judith Woods recalled him when she went to confiscate the hand-drawn painting in 2020.

Years after the fall of the extremist group’s self-proclaimed Islamic caliphate, the trial is a reminder of the lasting and far-reaching consequences of a war that has drawn tens of thousands of foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq. Their home countries are still struggling with what should become of them.

Jurors, who are expected to begin deliberating as early as Monday, were given a refresher course on IS’s chilling rule and its sophisticated recruitment of far-flung supporters who are savvy on social media to come and take up arms. Prosecutors say Asainov did so and rose through the ranks of the group, eventually becoming an “emir” who taught other members how to use weapons.

In post-arrest videos shown at his trial, he gives his occupation of “sniper” to FBI agents and readily tells them that he has instructed them in everything from rifle maintenance to ballistics to weathering — and, of course, “how to really pull the trigger.”

“Oh, it’s a long lesson,” he explains, sitting on the bed in the room where he was held. “I would give, like, a three-hour lesson, just on that, just to pull the trigger.”

Jurors were shown photographs, said to be of Asain in camouflage, aiming a rifle, and a handmade flag that Woods said she took from his cell. Witnesses included his stunned ex-wife, who testified that he had turned from a Brooklyn family man into a fanatic. She said he came from Syria to complain about their daughter wearing a Halloween costume and sent a photo of the bodies of what he said were comrades killed in battle, New York’s Daily News reported.

Asainov decided not to testify. One of his lawyers, Susan Kellman, said he went to Syria because he wanted to live according to Islamic law. He pleaded not guilty – Kelman entered the plea on his behalf because, she said, he was not abiding by the American legal system.

Regardless, Asainov, 46, listened politely to government witnesses one day this week, alternating between stroking his chin and folding his arms across his chest.

IS fighters seized parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014 and declared the establishment of a so-called Islamic caliphate there, at a time when Syria was already wracked by civil war. Fighting devastated multiple cities before Iraq’s prime minister declared the caliphate defeated in 2017; the extremists lost the last part of their territory two years later, although sporadic attacks continue even now.

At the height of the fight, as many as 40,000 people from 120 countries showed up to join, according to the United Nations. There are no comprehensive US statistics on Americans among these foreign fighters; A 2018 report by the George Washington University Program on Extremism found at least 64 who had joined jihadist fights in Iraq and Syria since 2011.

Since the defeat of IS, some foreign members and their families have been held in detention facilities in Syria because their countries have refused to take them back. Other accused foreign fighters have returned to their countries, including some who have been prosecuted.

Recent US cases include a Kansas mother who led an all-female IS battalion, a Minnesota man who served in a battalion that trained foreign fighters for suicide attacks in Europe, and the Detroit area convicted this week of training and then spent more than two years with the group.

Born in Kazakhstan, Asainov is a naturalized American citizen. He lived in Brooklyn since 1998, married and had a child.

Then, in December 2013, he flew to Istanbul on a one-way ticket and went to Syria to join what he later described in a message as “the worst terrorist organization in the world that has ever existed,” authorities said.

“You’ve heard of ISIS,” he said in another text message in January 2015, according to prosecutors’ court filings. “We’ll get you.”

By that April, Asainov told an acquaintance — a government informant, in fact — that he had been fighting in Syria for about a year, according to court documents. In various exchanges, he is said to have invited an informant to come to Syria and help with IS media operations, asked for $2,800 to buy a scope and sent photos of himself in uniform and with a rifle, saying he “didn’t want to show off” but was showing what which is “just normal” in his new life.

Authorities announced in July 2019 that Asainov had been captured by US-backed forces in Syria and handed over to the FBI.

He faces charges that include providing material support to a US-designated foreign terrorist organization. If convicted, he could be sentenced to life in prison.

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