Saturday 19 October 2019

Three French Isil jihadists sentenced to death in Iraq

'There are serious doubts about the impartiality of courts in Iraq and Syria.' Stock photo: Depositphotos
'There are serious doubts about the impartiality of courts in Iraq and Syria.' Stock photo: Depositphotos

Sara Williams

Three French members of Isil were sentenced to death by a Baghdad court yesterday.

The three were among 13 French citizens handed over to Iraq in January by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the mainly Kurdish US-ally that led the battle to oust Isil from Syria. The sentence sheds some light on the pressing question of what may happen when Western countries, including ones like France which oppose capital punishment, do not repatriate their foreign fighter nationals.

Hundreds of foreign Isil members survived the devastating battle to destroy the terror group.

The detained jihadists, a group that includes women and children, have since been at the centre of a political battle as their countries of origin decline to take them home and the SDF warns that it could run out of the money and manpower to hold them.

In recent months, the SDF has transferred an increasing number of Isil survivors to Baghdad for legal processing - a process that in Iraq can include minutes-long trials in the absence of credible witnesses.

Of the 13 French citizens, one was later released as it was found he had travelled to Syria to support the Yazidi religious minority, who were the target of a brutal Isil campaign that human rights groups say was a genocide.

The remaining 12 were put on trial under Iraq's counterterrorism law, which can order the death penalty to anyone found guilty of joining a "terrorist" group, even if they were not explicitly fighting.

The three sentenced to death, Kevin Gonot, Leonard Lopez and Salim Machou, have 30 days to appeal.

Gonot, who fought for Isil before being arrested in Syria with his mother, wife and half-brother, has also been sentenced in absentia by a French court to nine years in jail, according to the French Terrorism Analysis Centre.

Machou was a member of the infamous Tariq ibn Ziyad brigade, "a European foreign terrorist fighter cell" that carried out attacks in Iraq and Syria and planned others in Paris and Brussels, according to US officials.

Lopez, from Paris, travelled with his wife and two children to Isil-held Mosul in northern Iraq before entering Syria, French investigators say.

French nationals made up the largest contingent of foreign fighters from Western Europe. In 2015, French and Belgian recruits attacked the Bataclan concert hall, stadiums and bars in Paris.

Baghdad has offered to try all foreign fighters in SDF custody - estimated at around 1,000 - in exchange for millions of dollars, Iraqi government sources told AFP.

In late January, a French government spokesman said citizens who joined Isil would be prosecuted and jailed if handed over to Paris.

Shortly afterwards, French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet told a radio show that the government would seek to bring home jihadists rather than risk them evading justice.

But since then, the only French nationals known to have been repatriated are five orphaned children.

This month, two French grandparents filed a lawsuit against the French state, alleging that its refusal to allow their grandchildren into France violates the country's human rights commitments.

The trials of the French nationals in Baghdad raise the question of whether foreign Isil suspects should be tried and punished in the country of their alleged crimes, even when there are serious doubts about the impartiality of the courts in Iraq and Syria. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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