A Russian court on Tuesday granted parole to a Moscow student who was sent to prison for trying to join the Islamic State group in Syria.
The court in Russia’s northwest upheld Varvara Karaulova’s plea to cut her prison sentence by one year and 10 days. The 23-year old Moscow State University student was sentenced to 4½ years in prison in December 2016. She was arrested in Turkey, where she was trying to cross into Syria after her father filed a missing person’s report.
At least 4,000 Russian citizens, mostly from predominantly Muslim regions, have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join IS. Philosophy major Karaulova, from a middle-class, non-Muslim Moscow family, was unusual among Russian IS recruits who typically hailed from impoverished provincial backgrounds in the North Caucasus.
Karaulova, a convert to Islam, insists that she fell in love with a man she met online and wanted to marry him in Syria but did not share the radical ideology of the IS. Her father had pleaded with the court to acquit Karaulova, saying that he was seeking help from Russian authorities by filing a missing person’s report, not vengeance against his daughter.
Karaulova, who was expelled from university shortly after her arrest, told the court on Tuesday that her trip to Turkey was “the most foolish thing I have ever done in my life and the one I’m still punishing myself for.”
Her father, Pavel Karaulov, who attended the hearing in Vologda, told the RIA Novosti news agency that he was “over the moon” with the ruling and hoped that his daughter can soon return to her studies and “live to the full.”
Mikhail Fedotov, chairman of the Russian presidential human rights council, who visited Karaulova in custody, welcomed the ruling, saying in remarks carried by Tass that she was a “victim of terrorism.”
Until recently Russia, unlike many European countries, has been repatriating women and children who followed their husbands to IS-controlled areas, considering them less of a security threat if kept at home.
The repatriation program for women, however, stalled somewhat last year due to reported disagreements between some federal law enforcement officials and regional leaders. Children born to Russian IS members are still repatriated.