October 16, 2019 / 8:58 AM / a month ago

France's Le Drian to go to Iraq to discuss trials for jihadists from Syria

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s foreign minister will travel to Iraq on Wednesday to discuss a judicial framework that would enable jihadists being held in Syria to face trial in Iraq, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a news conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry (not pictured) in Cairo, Egypt September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

European states are trying to fast-track a plan to move thousands of foreign Islamic State militants out of Syrian prison camps and into Iraq, after the outbreak of fresh conflict in Syria raised the risk of jihadists escaping or returning home, diplomats and officials have told Reuters.

Foreign Minister Jean-Ives Le Drian will discuss with the Iraqi government “measures to be set up and possible support that could be put in place, particularly in the field of judicial cooperation,” Philippe told French Senators in a weekly question and answer session.

“A number of those who are detained in Syria by the Kurds have committed crimes in Iraq and may therefore, if necessary, be judicially tried on the spot,” he said.

Europe does not want to try its Islamic State nationals at home, fearing a public backlash, difficulties in collating evidence against them, and risks of renewed attacks from militants on European soil.

Several European nations have been working on a framework since June and holding talks with the Iraqi government, which is also seeking millions of dollars in financial compensation for taking European fighters.

“The subject with the Iraqi authorities is to find a judicial system that could try all these fighters, including the French ones,” Le Drian told BFM television on Wednesday, referring to Islamic State militants held in Kurdish-controlled camps in northeastern Syria.

Iraq saw some of the bloodiest battles against Islamic State and its government is already conducting trials of thousands of suspected Islamic State insurgents.

Le Drian said nine French women had escaped on Sunday from the Ain Issa camp in northwestern Syria. Kurdish officials have said almost 800 people fled that camp after the Turkish offensive into northern Syria targeted the area.

Le Drian said women who had joined Islamic State should also face justice in the region, although Paris would look to bring back children.

“The French women who went to this region in 2015 knew what they were doing. They aren’t tourists. They are fighters against France and must face trial (in Iraq) if possible,” he said.

Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Toby Chopra and Giles Elgood

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