Iraqi courts will prosecute 13 French citizens accused of fighting with Islamic State in Syria, Iraq’s President Barham Salih said Monday, February 25.
The fighters, who were turned over to Iraq by the Syrian Democratic Forces, “will be judged according to Iraqi law,” Salih told a news conference after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.
He said they were “accused of having commanded operations against Iraqis and Iraqi installations in Iraq, and they will be tried according to Iraqi law.”
“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.
France has long maintained that any of its nationals caught in Syria or Iraq should be tried locally, a stance which critics say could leave them facing the death penalty, which is outlawed in France.
Macron reiterated this position Monday, saying that “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 added.
Macron told reporters he would visit Iraq later this year, adding that France will take part in reconstruction efforts in the country.
“The old friendship has served as a barrier against terrorism; we must now nourish it with concrete projects to build long-lasting peace together,” Reuters reported Macron as saying.
France announced in January that it would provide €1 billion ($1.1 billion) in reconstruction funds for the war-ravaged country.
Earlier Monday, an Iraqi government source said 14 French nationals accused of fighting for the Islamic State group were transferred to Iraq by the SDF.
Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi expert with intimate knowledge of the issue, said the transfer had taken place in coordination with the U.S.-led Coalition fighting ISIS.
“Those transferred do not include top ISIS commanders, but they have a trove of information on Daesh’s structure in Europe, French jihadist networks, and recruitment cells,” Hashemi told AFP using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
He said the fighters had also battled government troops in Iraq, which could pave the way for their trial in Baghdad instead of their extradition to France.
The identities of the 14 people turned over to Iraq are unclear.
Iraqi courts have tried hundreds of foreign ISIS fighters, including some caught in Syria and transferred across the border.
In August, a judge sentenced a French man and German woman to life in prison. The courts have also handed down death sentences to around 100 foreigners convicted of ISIS membership.
Last year Iraq sentenced more than 600 foreigners for ties to the group, including dozens of women and minors.
French sources have told AFP that an estimated 50 adults and 80 children could be brought back to France from Syria, but authorities have not confirmed any planned transfer.
Iraqi law allows people to be convicted of helping ISIS even if they are not directly accused of violence during the years since the militants overran Iraq.
With reporting from AFP