Tyler Vilus

Tyler Vilus is a French jihadist who was allegedly a senior figure in ISIS as well as the emir of the pro-ISIS al-Muhajireen (the immigrants) brigade.“French jihadist goes on trial over IS group executions in Syria,” France 24, June 25, 2020, https://www.france24.com/en/20200625-french-jihadist-goes-on-trial-over-is-group-executions-in-syria. Vilus is accused of supervising executions, commanding mass violence, and facilitating the travel of foreign fighters into Syria.“French jihadist goes on trial over IS group executions in Syria,” France 24, June 25, 2020, https://www.france24.com/en/20200625-french-jihadist-goes-on-trial-over-is-group-executions-in-syria. He is currently serving a 30 year prison sentence in France on charges of belonging to a terrorist group and leading ISIS fighters in “aggravated murder” between 2013 and 2015.“Trial of senior French Daesh extremist opens in Paris,” Arab News, June 25, 2020, https://www.arabnews.com/node/1695271/world.

Vilus was raised by his mother in Troyes, France. After dropping out of school and failing to join the Foreign Legion, he turned to crime. In 2010, Vilus was convicted of aggravated violence, but it is unreported if he served any time in jail. A year later, a friend of Vilus gave him a copy of the Quran and he quickly converted to a radical sect of Islam. Vilus eventually convinced his mother to convert before both moved to Tunisia.Lara Marlowe, “Trial opens of ‘Granny Jihad’ who followed son to Syria,” The Irish Times, October 5, 2017, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/trial-opens-of-granny-jihad-who-followed-son-to-syria-1.3245859. In Tunisia, he reportedly became close with members of Ansar al-Sharia and participated in the American embassy attack in Tunis on September 14, 2012. Vilus became further radicalized and in October 2012, he left Tunisia to join the jihad in Syria.“Focus: Tyler Vilus,” Centre d’analyse du terrorisme, June 2020, http://cat-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/FOCUS-Tyler-Vilus.pdf.

Vilus settled in Anadan, northern Aleppo, where many other French speaking jihadists were based. However, he did not officially join an extremist outfit until March 2013 when he briefly joined the al-Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front. Sometime between the spring and winter of 2013, Vilus joined al-Muhajireen—a foreign brigade of French and Belgian ISIS fighters.Callum Paton, “Trial of ISIS fighter linked to Paris attackers begins in France,” June 26, 2020, The National, https://www.thenational.ae/world/europe/trial-of-isis-fighter-linked-to-paris-attackers-begins-in-france-1.1039738. Vilus also reportedly grew close to a number of key ISIS operatives including Abdelhamid Abaaoud, Najim Laachraoui, Ismaël Mostefai, and Samy Amimour who orchestrated and were involved in the November 2015 attacks in Paris that eventually killed 130 people and wounded 494 others.“2015 Paris Terror Attacks Fast Facts,” CNN, November 13, 2019, https://www.cnn.com/2015/12/08/europe/2015-paris-terror-attacks-fast-facts/index.html.; “Focus: Tyler Vilus,” Centre d’analyse du terrorisme, June 2020, http://cat-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/FOCUS-Tyler-Vilus.pdf.

In July 2013, Vilus reportedly began working as a “policeman” and “guard” within ISIS, and eventually became the emir of the French speaking al-Muhajireen. Vilus’s group settled in Aleppo and was known for being particularly violent as they regularly employed torture tactics and carried out brutal executions.“Focus: Tyler Vilus,” Centre d’analyse du terrorisme, June 2020, http://cat-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/FOCUS-Tyler-Vilus.pdf. In 2014, a video was released that showed members of al-Muhajireen—who were allegedly commanded by Vilus—desecrating corpses before burying them in a mass grave.Callum Paton, “Trial of ISIS fighter linked to Paris attackers begins in France,” June 26, 2020, The National, https://www.thenational.ae/world/europe/trial-of-isis-fighter-linked-to-paris-attackers-begins-in-france-1.1039738.

In 2015, ISIS’s propaganda arm disseminated a video in which Vilus allegedly executed two blindfolded prisoners—one belonging to the Free Syrian Army rebel fighters and the other a member of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s army.Catherine Norris-Trent, “Prosecutors seek life term for French jihadist accused of Syria executions,” France 24, July 3, 2020, https://www.france24.com/en/20200703-prosecutors-seek-life-term-for-french-jihadist-accused-of-syria-executions. After a number of military setbacks by the opposition, Vilus’s unit settled in Shaddadi. Vilus reportedly continued his role within ISIS’s religious police unit, where he investigated potential traitors, carried out summary executions against dissenters and “deviants,” interrogated ISIS prisoners, and also participated in on-the-ground combat that included the July 2014 battle of Deir Ez-Zor where Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men eventually captured the city.“Focus: Tyler Vilus,” Centre d’analyse du terrorisme, June 2020, http://cat-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/FOCUS-Tyler-Vilus.pdf.

According to the Centre d’analyse du terrorisme (CAT), Vilus was active on Twitter and Facebook, where he operated under the pseudonym, “Si tu veux mon avis” (If you want my opinion). His posts regularly defended ISIS and also called for carrying out attacks in both France and the Levant.“Focus: Tyler Vilus,” Centre d’analyse du terrorisme, June 2020, http://cat-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/FOCUS-Tyler-Vilus.pdf.

Vilus, along with fellow ISIS member Rached Riahi, also facilitated the travel of foreign fighters into Syria, including his mother and future wife. On June 30, 2015, Vilus left Syria for Turkey, claiming to Riahi that he would take on a “path without return.” Reports from currently detained ISIS members allege Vilus sought to return to Paris to orchestrate the November 13 attacks.“Focus: Tyler Vilus,” Centre d’analyse du terrorisme, June 2020, http://cat-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/FOCUS-Tyler-Vilus.pdf.

On July 5, 2015, Vilus was arrested at Istanbul Airport on his way to Prague. He attempted to board the plane with a Swedish passport that belonged to a fellow ISIS member.“Qui est le Troyen Tyler Vilus, le premier jihadiste français jugé aux assises pour des crimes commis en Syrie ?,” L’Union, June 25, 2020, https://www.lunion.fr/id158882/article/2020-06-25/terrorisme-le-troyen-tyler-vilus-un-emir-de-lei-aux-assises. Although detained, Vilus continued to communicate with Abaaoud, the mastermind of the November 13 attacks, with Vilus assuring Abaaoud that he would not be locked up indefinitely. However, on July 21, Vilus was deported from Turkey and has since been detained in France. During questioning by French authorities, Vilus claimed he sought to leave the jihad and create a new life in Mauritania. He further claimed he managed to convince Abaaoud that he was traveling through Istanbul to carry out an operation abroad.“Focus: Tyler Vilus,” Centre d’analyse du terrorisme, June 2020, http://cat-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/FOCUS-Tyler-Vilus.pdf.

On October 6, 2017, Vilus’s mother, Christine Rivière, was sentenced by a Paris court to 10 years in prison for traveling to Syria and “associating with terrorists.”Lara Marlowe, “Trial opens of ‘Granny Jihad’ who followed son to Syria,” The Irish Times, October 5, 2017, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/trial-opens-of-granny-jihad-who-followed-son-to-syria-1.3245859. According to investigators, Rivière—also known as “Jihadi Gran”—had contributed to strengthening the group logistically. She traveled to Syria three times between the summer of 2013 and spring of 2014 before she was arrested in Paris in July 2014.Lara Marlowe, “Trial opens of ‘Granny Jihad’ who followed son to Syria,” The Irish Times, October 5, 2017, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/europe/trial-opens-of-granny-jihad-who-followed-son-to-syria-1.3245859. The presiding judge also claimed that Rivière did not disengage her son, but rather encouraged him to radicalize and join the jihad.“'Jihadi Gran' gets 10 years after joining son in Syria,” Reuters, October 6, 2017, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-france-jihadi-trial/jihadi-gran-gets-10-years-after-joining-son-in-syria-idUSKBN1CB1ZQ.

On June 25, 2020, a Paris court charged Vilus with belonging to a terrorist group and heading a group of ISIS fighters in “aggravated murder” between 2013 and 2015. Prosecutors told the court Vilus wanted to lead the squad of gunmen and suicide bombers which attacked Paris in November 2015, but were unable to prove this.“Focus: Tyler Vilus,” Centre d’analyse du terrorisme, June 2020, http://cat-int.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/FOCUS-Tyler-Vilus.pdf. Although prosecutors were unable to confirm the extent of Vilus’s actions while in Syria, they relied on the 2015 footage where Vilus executed two prisoners as evidence of his crimes. Vilus was sentenced to 30 years in prison by a Paris court on July 7, 2020. The case marked France’s first successful prosecution over extremist crimes committed in Syria.“French IS jihadi sentenced for crimes in Syria,” Deutsche Welle, July 4, 2020, https://www.dw.com/en/french-is-jihadi-sentenced-for-crimes-in-syria/a-54045580#:~:text=A%20Paris%20court%20has%20sentenced,murder%22%20and%20terrorism%20in%20Syria.&text=He%20subsequently%20joined%20IS%20and,board%20a%20plane%20to%20Prague.

 
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