Johan Cosar went to Syria not to fight for the Islamic State group, but against them. Now, the former Swiss army officer is facing a military tribunal back home.
He is charged with joining a foreign army and thus undermining Switzerland’s neutrality and security.
Mr Cosar makes no attempt to hide his actions and remains proud of them.
“The law forbids fighting for a foreign force,” an army spokeswoman said. “Who that force actually is, is irrelevant.”
Mr Cosar was born in Switzerland, and is a Swiss citizen. But his grandparents have Syrian roots, and the Cosar family are members of the Syriac Christian community.
Now 37, he says he originally travelled to Syria to work as a freelance journalist, but when he saw that Islamist groups were advancing on Christian communities he felt he had no choice but to defend them.
He helped to found the Syriac Military Council, recruited for it, and readily shared the military skills he had learned in the Swiss army, among them weapons training and setting up checkpoints. At the height of the fighting, he was in charge of more than 500 men.
When he returned to Switzerland, he was arrested. Joining a foreign army without the explicit permission of the government is forbidden under Switzerland’s military penal code.
There are good historic reasons for this law: for centuries young Swiss men left their then-poor country to fight abroad. Swiss mercenaries were recruited by Napoleon, by Spain, the Netherlands, and even the British. But once Switzerland established itself as a neutral country, its government decided it could be awkward to have Swiss men fighting on multiple sides of Europe’s wars, and forbade the practice.
Nowadays, the only legal Swiss troops abroad are the Swiss Papal Guard in Rome.