An Iraqi court on Saturday sentenced a French woman to life in jail for membership in Islamic State despite her claims that her husband tricked her into traveling to the region.
Melina Boughedir, a mother of four, was sentenced last February to seven months in prison for “illegal” entry into the country and was set to be deported back to France, but another court ordered her re-trial under Iraq’s anti-terrorist law.
The 27-year-old was found guilty on Sunday of belonging to ISIS, an AFP reporter at the courthouse said.
“I am innocent,” Boughedir told the judge in French.
“My husband duped me and then threatened to leave with the children” unless she followed him to Iraq, where he planned on joining ISIS, she said.
On Thursday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told French news channel LCI that Boughedir was a “Daesh terrorist who fought against Iraq” and said she should be tried in Iraq.
This prompted her French lawyers to send a letter of protest to Le Drian, seen by AFP, in which they denounced “unacceptable pressure on the Iraqi judicial system” and “interference.”
On Saturday, one of her lawyers, who travelled to Baghdad for the trial, William Bourdon, told AFP that Boughedir’s family and her defense team want her to return to France and face a court there. France considers all of its citizens who traveled to Iraq and Syria since January 2015 to join ISIS to be participants in a criminal association and will not seek their return if they can be prosecuted in Iraq for the same offenses, a diplomatic source has told The Defense Post.
Boughedir was arrested in the summer of 2017 in Mosul, the capital of ISIS’s self-declared “caliphate.”
Her husband is believed to have been killed during a vast operation by U.S.-led Coalition-backed Iraqi forces to seize the country’s second city back from jihadist control.
In April, an Iraqi court sentenced another French woman, Djamila Boutoutaou, to life in prison for belonging to ISIS, despite her pleas that she too had been tricked by her husband.
Dozens of foreign citizens suspected of having joined ISIS ranks are believed to be in detention in Iraq and neighboring Syria, including several children. Iraq has sentenced more than 300 people to death for joining ISIS, and more than 180 women have been sentenced to life in prison. Iraqi law allows people to be convicted of helping the terrorist group even if they are not directly accused of violence during the years since ISIS overran Iraq.
On April 29, the Baghdad Central Criminal Court sentenced 31 women from Azerbaijan, Russia and Tajikistan to life in prison for “joining and supporting ISIS.”
Earlier in the month, Iraq sentenced five women from Azerbaijan and a woman from Trinidad to death and two Russian and French woman to life in prison for joining ISIS. A spokesperson for the Azerbaijan ministry of foreign affairs told The Defense Post on April 23 that the ministry was also not notified through official channels about the sentence. Earlier in April, the Baghdad court sentenced six Turkish women to death for ISIS membership and a seventh to life in prison. They had all joined their husbands in Iraq and Syria after 2014.
A German woman who had been condemned to death had her sentence reduced to life in prison, a German diplomatic source told The Defense Post last week.
Many of the women have claimed they were tricked into going to Iraq.
With reporting from AFP