Militants from Estonia face criminal cases

Oliver Kund
, reporter
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Abdurrahman Sazanakov.
Abdurrahman Sazanakov. Photo: Facebook

On basis of information obtained by Security Police and published in media, Office of the Prosecutor General will in near future determine launch of criminal proceedings regarding two terrorist militants from Estonia. This, for the men, may mean jail from five years to life.

The sharpest scrutiny is being applied to a 31 year old convert Ivan Sazanakov alias Abdurrahman Azan raised in Lasnamäe, Tallinn yet non-citizen, off to fight in ranks of ISIS in 2013 taking along from Estonia his wife Lolita and two daughters.  

Secondly, evidence is being assessed about Robert (23) who, on November 23rd joined the Kurdish people’s protection unit YPG to fight on opposite side of Mr Sazanakov against ISIS terror in Rojava region near Turkish and Syrian border.

According to Chief State Prosecutor Steven-Hristo Evestus, in the case of Mr Sazanakov joining ISIS, Estonia is under obligation to investigate him based on international antiterrorist conventions. For instance, Mr Sazanakov could be sued pursuant to Penal Code provisions regarding membership of terrorist organisations or support thereof.

The fact that Mr Sazanakov is not Estonian citizen neither located on Estonian soil is no hindrance to initiate a criminal case. However, charges can’t be sent to court before the man has been interrogated under preliminary investigations. The probability for a chance for that is small. Meanwhile, accusations in committing acts of terror and belonging to an organisation will not expire, meaning the man may be punished in whenever.

Estonia not threatened

The accusations against Robert, the man fighting against ISIS, may be less severe. Strictly speaking, the man does indeed participate illegally in military activity while not a member of a terrorist organisation. «Even here, it is possible to criminally and the issue is what activities the person has committed – whether offences dangerous to public, explosions, illegal use of firearms, offences against persons or something else,» said Mr Evestus.

According to the prosecutor, a crime cannot go unheeded even if it takes place in Syria and the suspect will never return to Estonia again. «Clearly, is elements of criminal offence are established – that the individual may belong to a terrorist organisation and be active therein, the information being reliable –, then we also need to react,» said Mr Evestus.

Thus far, a criminal case has not been launched as no piece of information has pointed to Estonia’s security being under threat; the acts committed in foreign states, however, require a longer analysis.

A few weeks ago, Mr Sazanakov posed on a Facebook photo with an anti-tank weapon and called the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists murdered in Paris «beasts».

According to University of Tartu criminal law professor Jaan Ginter, the key issue is how a crime can be proven. In addition to a person’s intentions, it also requires unearthing his real actions. «The fact of someone saying he did something over social media is not enough to accuse anyone. It is all up to what the person has actually done, ad what was proven by evidence suitable for Estonian courts,» said Mr Ginter.

To this agreed Mr Evestus, noting the collection of evidence needs to begin immediately once investigative bodies learn of the intentions of a possible terrorist. «As a prosecutor, I say we need to put together piece by piece who recruited him, where the financial support came from, whence came the directions where to go and who to meet. Such information may easily be left behind in Estonia,» listed the prosecutor.

Others show way

Proving crimes committed in foreign countries is an issue of Security Police work and cooperation in international intelligence – busily engaged in by European states. 

Mr Evestus said that, Estonia lacking practice in suing those suspected in terrorism, the prosecutor’s office would also draw on broader European experience in collecting the evidence and compiling the accusations.

By now, there is quite a bit of such experience to draw from. For instance: out of the 550 German citizens fighting in ranks of ISIS, about 180 have returned. In December, a German court sentenced the first of them, a man of 20 from Frankfurt, for nearly four years for supporting ISIS in their terror while not personally shooting a bullet.

Recently, Latvia announced of having established three Latvians fighting in ranks of Ukrainian separatists, the men now faced with up to eight years behind bars.   

As confirmed by Security Police, they have received several hints about inhabitants of Estonia off to fight among Russia-minded separatists in Ukraine or expressing desire to go. To the knowledge of Postimees, there have been conversations with some of these, but the Security Police will not disclose the results of the conversations.

Should Estonians be fighting among the separatists, they are terrorists as well. Unlike Syria, however, they may also be judged by Ukraine, the country of their location, as individuals fighting against the government. Then, the Estonians may simply be extradited to Ukraine.