March 23, 2016 / 12:08 PM / 2 years ago

Two Iraqis sentenced in Finland for posting severed head images online

HELSINKI (Reuters) - Courts in Finland handed suspended sentences of 16 and 13 months respectively to an Iraqi Shi’ite militiaman and an Iraqi army sergeant on Wednesday for posting images of themselves holding severed heads of enemy fighters on Facebook.

The two were arrested after arriving in Finland last year and were charged with war crimes involving desecration of bodies in incidents in 2014 and 2015 in Iraq, where Iraqi government forces are embroiled in war with Islamic State (IS) militants.

At trials in two separate district courts, the defendants admitted posting the pictures online but denied involvement in the deaths of the decapitated fighters.

“One of the men said he was pictured with remains of an (Islamic State) suicide bomber. The other said the picture was of an enemy combatant who had died during a battle,” said Juha-Mikko Hamalainen, the Helsinki district prosecutor in charge.

“The charges were based on the evidence we had. We have not prosecuted similar cases in Finland before, so the verdicts set a necessary precedent for the future.”

Iraqi forces backed by Shi’ite Muslim militia are fighting to roll back Sunni IS militants who seized large areas of the country’s north and west in 2014-15. The conflict has been scarred by atrocities, including the decapitation of captured combatants, particularly by the ultra-radical Islamic State.

Hamalainen declined to say whether the two defendants had come to Finland to seek asylum. More than 32,000 migrants sought asylum in Finland last year, most of them from Iraq.

Reporting by Tuomas Forsell; Editing by Jussi Rosendahl and Mark Heinrich

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