French cement maker Lafarge on Tuesday pleaded guilty before a United States court to a charge that it made payments to terrorist groups, including the Islamic State, to continue operations in Syria after civil war broke out in 2011, reported Reuters.

The company has been asked to pay a penalty of $778 million (Rs 640 crore).

This is the first time that a company has pleaded guilty in the United States to charges of providing material support to a terrorist organisation.

The conflict in Syria began after the country’s government, led by President Bashar al-Assad, used deadly force against peaceful pro-democracy protestors in March 2011.

The violence soon escalated and the country descended into civil war. Hundreds of rebel groups sprung up and terrorist organisations such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda became involved.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a United Kingdom-based monitoring group, the clashes have killed at least 4,94,438 persons by June 2021 and forced tens of thousands to flee their homes.

On Tuesday, US prosecutors said that Lafarge paid approximately $5.92 million (Rs 4.8 crore) between 2013 and 2014 to the Islamic State and other terror groups to allow employees, customers and suppliers to pass through checkpoints in Syria, reported Reuters.

In return, the company earned $70 million (Rs 57.65 crore) in sales revenue from its plant in northern Syria before it was evacuated in 2014.

“Lafarge made a deal with the devil,” Breon Peace, the top federal prosecutor in Brooklyn said. “This conduct by a Western corporation was appalling and has no precedent or justification.”

Lafarge said that it accepts responsibility for the actions of the individual executives involved, the Associated Press reported.

“We deeply regret that this conduct occurred and have worked with the US Department of Justice to resolve this matter,” the company said in a statement.