Iraqi courts will prosecute 13 French citizens captured while fighting for ISIS in Syria, Baghdad said Monday.
The militants, who were turned over to Iraq after being captured by Syrian Kurdish forces, “will be judged according to Iraqi law,” Iraqi President Barham Saleh told reporters after talks in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron.
“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.
An Iraqi government source in Baghdad had told AFP earlier Monday that 14 French fighters had been brought to Iraq by the US-backed forces trying to dislodge ISIS jihadists from their last stronghold in Syria.
Western countries are under growing pressure to take back citizens captured as the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces close in on the last pocket of ISIS fighters in Syria.
Now that the Trump administration has decided to withdraw US troops from the country, they fear the fighters could escape from Kurdish prisons and resume fighting – or return home with plans to launch attacks.
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 banned in France.
Iraqi courts have already given harsh sentences to hundreds of foreigners detained on its soil, often after lightning-fast trials.
But Macron reiterated France’s 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.
– with reporting by Agence France-Presse