Paris (CNSNews.com) – Hundreds of ISIS jihadists, including 13 from France, are in Iraqi government custody and will be tried in the country, Iraqi President Barham Saleh said during a visit to Paris this week.
“They are accused of have committed crimes against Iraqi people and facilities and they will be judged under Iraqi laws, recognized by international law,” he said at a press conference after meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Macron said the French citizens among them would have consular support, but that “France will not interfere in what happens to them” and it was Iraqi justice that would decide their fate.
The French government is not keen to see the repatriation of terrorists, although its official French position is that minors among the jihadists may be brought back to France.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said that “the position of the French government has always been that those who have committed crimes must atone for them in the place where they committed them.”
Wassim Nasr, a France 24 journalist and expert in jihadist movements, said that despite the statements by the two presidents, the case of the 13 French jihadists remains hazy.
“They were handed to Iraq by Kurdish militia but I wonder if their arrests were legal,” he said in a phone interview, adding that the militia does not have “legal authority” and so their transfer to Iraqi custody appeared to be illegal.
French authorities have only stated that they would intervene if death sentences are imposed on its citizens. Iraq has the death penalty; France does not.
Last year two French woman, Djamilia Boutoutaou and Mélina Boughedir, were convicted in an Iraqi court and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Another French ISIS suspect, Lahcen Gueboudj, was convicted in Iraq and sentenced to life imprisonment.
According to the French author of a book about French jihadists in Syria and Iraq, Gueboudj refused to have legal representation, and his questioning by the judge lasted just half an hour.
Nasr said that, as in those earlier cases, Iraqi prosecutors will have to provide proof that the 13 suspected jihadists committed crimes in Iraq.
“But what will happen if the lawsuits are thrown out, for procedural reasons?” he asked. “Will French jihadists be allowed to come back to France? The situation is complicated and having them put on trial in Iraq is not a solution.”
When there was talk of 130 French jihadists being repatriated, the far right National Rally launched a national petition to oppose the move, declaring, “No return of jihadists to France!”
Head of the Republican party, Laurent Wauquiez, also said those who fought in the ISIS “jihad” must be prohibited from returning to France.
“Justice requires that these men who have committed war crimes must be tried in the countries where they committed them,” he said.
In January Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, president of the right wing Arise France party, suggested French jihadists be sent to a special jail to be built on the remote Kerguelen (a.k.a. Desolation) island controlled by France in the Antarctic.