Iraq begins legal proceedings against French jihadists
Iraq has begun court proceedings against 14 suspected French members of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group captured by US-backed forces and transferred to Iraq from Syria last month, two legal sources said.
The men appeared before an investigative judge of Baghdad’s anti-terrorism court on March 6 in a procedural step towards putting them on trial, according to a court-appointed lawyer who attended the session and a member of the judicial council.
All 14 signed confessions saying they had been in Mosul when it was under Islamic State rule from 2014 to 2017, according to the two legal sources, speaking on condition of anonymity.
If they are tried in Iraq and found guilty of having committed crimes against Iraq and the Iraqi people, they could face the death penalty, said the judicial council member.
“The course of investigations and indictment are leaning towards handing them the death sentence eventually,” said the court-appointed lawyer.
Iraqi President Barham Salih said this month that convicted foreign fighters could be sentenced to death in Iraq.
Islamic State redrew the map of the Middle East in 2014 when it declared an ultra-radical Sunni Islamist “caliphate” spanning parts of Syria and Iraq and established a rule known for mass killings, sexual enslavement and punishments like crucifixion.
Security sources said the 14 stand accused by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service of carrying out “terrorist acts” in Mosul and running some of Islamic State’s financial affairs.
The French Foreign Ministry declined to comment, saying it was entirely an Iraqi legal matter.
The 14 were among 280 Iraqi and foreign detainees handed over to Iraq by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who are now close to capturing the last small patch of IS-held territory in Baghouz near the border with Iraq.
The SDF on Friday denied reports of an agreement to hand over captured Iraqi Islamic State fighters or their families to Iraq.
SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel cited Iraqi officials as issuing statements in recent days saying there was a deal to hand Iraqi Islamic State fighters and their family members to Baghdad.
“(The SDF) denies the validity of these statements and clarifies that there is no such agreement with the Iraqi government,” Gabriel said in a statement tweeted by the SDF.
Iraqi officials said in February that the SDF had handed over 280 Iraqi and foreign detainees to its military and there was an agreement to transfer more captive jihadists.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Monday that about 2,000 Iraqis in Syria, including women and children who had fled the Islamic State enclave, were expected to be sent home within weeks under an agreement with Baghdad.
The SDF has captured thousands of Islamic State fighters during its advance across jihadist territory since 2015, culminating in its attack on the group’s last enclave in east Syria at Baghouz.
The fate of foreigners fighting in Syria and Iraq has posed a challenge, with the SDF accusing some countries of not doing enough to take back their own citizens.
Iraqi officials have said they will either help repatriate non-Iraqi IS detainees to their home countries or prosecute those suspected of having committed crimes against Iraqis.
The written confession of one of the suspected militants being tried by Iraq indicated he was a French national of Tunisian origin and had served as a soldier in the French army from 2000 to 2010, including a tour in Afghanistan in 2009.
He decided to join Islamist militants in Syria after watching many videos produced by the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front group, according to the written confession, which added that he participated in the battle for Mosul, without elaborating.
Another confession, of a Frenchman of Algerian origin, said he left France for Turkey and then Syria in 2013 after being watching jihadist videos online, and then joined IS in Mosul.
Baghdad-based security analyst Hisham al-Hashimi, who advises the government on Islamic State, said that the 14 Frenchmen were unlikely to have held senior positions in IS. Source