Moroccan sentenced to death in Donetsk was Ukraine navy mariner, not mercenary: Rabat
A Moroccan man sentenced to death by Russian-backed courts in a breakaway region of Ukraine for fighting as a foreign mercenary was in fact a Ukrainian citizen and active-duty mariner, Rabat has said.
Ibrahim Saadoun, 21, was sentenced to death last week in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) on mercenary charges, along with two British men, Aiden Aslin and Shaun Pinner.
Saadoun "was arrested while wearing the uniform of the Ukrainian state army, as a member of the Ukrainian navy", Moroccan state media said on Monday, citing a source at Morocco's embassy in Kyiv.
Saadoun said in a statement that he had joined Ukraine's military "of his own free will", according to the source.
Saadoun is currently in the custody of an entity that is not recognised by either the United Nations or Morocco, they said of the DPR.
The Moroccan diplomatic source's comments are the first official reaction from Rabat to the young man's death sentence.
Saadoun travelled to Ukraine to study aeronautics in 2019. He became a Ukrainian citizen in 2020, after undergoing the year of military training needed to make him eligible to study aerospace engineering in the country, his father Tahar Saadoun told media.
Saadoun joined the Ukrainian armed forces because "he had a deep sense that injustice was being committed against Ukraine", one of his friends told The Guardian.
Pinner, one of the Brits also handed a death penalty, had helped Saadoun via Facebook to join the Ukrainian armed forces, the friend alleged.
Saadoun surrendered in March while fighting in a small town between Mariupol and the regional capital of Donetsk.
He handed himself in voluntarily, the father said, adding that the sentence would be appealed.
Ukraine was home to thousands of Moroccans, mostly students, before Russia invaded the country on 24 February.
A Moroccan student was killed during Russia's bombardment of the Ukrainian port city of Odessa in April.
Like many other states in the Middle East and North Africa, Morocco was cautious in its comments on the Russian invasion, instead calling for and end to the conflict and for dialogue between Kyiv and Moscow.