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Russia jails student who followed IS lover to Syria

Varvara Karaulova tried to cross into Syria from Turkey in 2015 [AFP]

Date of publication: 22 December, 2016

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Photography student, Varvara Karaulova was detained in 2015 as she tried to enter Syria from Turkey claiming she travelled there to be with her lover.
A 21-year-old Russian student who tried to enter Syria to join her boyfriend, an Islamic State group militant, was sentenced to four and a half years in prison by a Russian military court on Thursday.

Varvara Karaulova was detained in 2015 as she tried to enter Syria from Turkey. She was at the time a photography student enrolled at the prestigious Moscow State University.

In court, Judge Alexander Ababkov said that the "criminal activity of the defendant continued for quite a long time" and that Karaulova had criminal intent.

He added that she was a "supporter of radical Islamist views" and decided to join the militant group while fully aware of its intention to "create an Islamic caliphate."

After being charged last year with preparing to participate in a "terrorist organisation", Karaulova pleaded not guilty, saying she was motivated by love for a Russian IS-recruit.

Defence lawyer Sergei Badamshin criticised the verdict as a "very harsh, unjustified sentence".

"We have already appealed," he added.

Karaulova's defence team argued that Russian authorities are trying to make an example of her to prevent others from trying to head to Syria, where Moscow is conducting a bombing campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Russians convicted of fighting in Syria typically have been sentenced to two or three years in prison. In many cases they have received amnesties and entered rehabilitation programmes aimed to help them return to their communities.

Over 3,000 Russians are believed to have travelled to Syria to fight alongside Islamic State militants. Most of them, unlike Karaulova, are men from predominantly Muslim regions.

In her closing argument Wednesday the student apologised to her parents for what she called a "teenage rebellion" and said she cannot forgive herself.

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