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Iraq to prosecute 13 French IS fighters

February 26, 2019

Iraqi President Barham Salih has said his country will prosecute French IS fighters handed over by Syrian Kurdish forces. Western countries have been facing growing pressure to take back citizens captured in the region.

Suspected IS members caught by Syrian Kurdish forces
Image: Getty Images/AFP/B. Kilic

Iraq will prosecute 13 French "Islamic State" (IS) fighters handed over by US-backed Syrian forces, Iraqi President Barham Salih said Monday.

The alleged fighters, who were transferred to the country recently by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), "will be judged according to Iraqi law," Salih said at a press conference after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.  

Read more: Germany mulls US demand to take back 'IS' fighters captured in Syria

"Those who have engaged in crimes against Iraq and Iraqi installations and personnel, we are definitely seeking them and seeking their trial in Iraqi courts," he said.

The announcement comes amid controversy in several Western countries about repatriating foreign IS fighters captured by the Kurdish-led SDF in Syria after US President Donald Trump called on allies to take them take back. 

The SDF has captured around 800 fighters, 600 women and more than 1,200 children in the Kurdish-led force's offensive against the nearly vanquished "Islamic State". Hundreds of them are nationals of European states.

The 13 French nationals were transferred to Iraq in recent weeks, with around 280 Iraqi IS members from Syria.

Syria: IS family members

Iraq saving Europe from foreign fighter problem? 

European governments have been wary of repatriating their citizens who went to fight for the self-declared IS caliphate in Syria and Iraq, fearing the security threat posed by bringing back extremists following a series of jihadi-inspired attacks in France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe.

Read more: Germany: Horst Seehofer sets terms for repatriating 'Islamic State' foreign fighters

Transferring IS fighters in Syrian Kurdish custody to Iraq provides a potential avenue for European governments to overcome the difficult political, legal and security questions around repatriating their citizens.

On the one hand, Syrian Kurdish administration is unrecognized and any court ruling from the entity would be invalid under international law. On the other hand, repatriation is a political minefield and European governments are concerned they may not be able to convict IS members who could pose a security risk once home.

The Syrian Kurds have suggested establishing a UN tribunal for IS members in their custody.

Iraq: Uncertain future for IS families

France reverses position 

France has opted to let countries in which alleged crimes were committed to try and convict foreign IS members. However, last month authorities said they would consider repatriating their citizens to face trial.

But on Monday, Macron appeared to reverse tack and said it is "up to the authorities of these countries to decide, sovereignly, if they will be tried there."

"These people are entitled to benefit from our consular protection, and our diplomatic service will be mobilized," he said.

He added that the decision was entirely between the SDF and Iraq.

Iraq has already tried hundreds of foreign IS fighters, including some caught in Syria and transferred across the border. Iraqi terrorism convictions are harsh, and the prospect of European citizens receiving death sentences would be opposed by European governments.

cw/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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