France to repatriate 130 alleged ISIS members held in Syria

Paris fears US withdrawal from Syria could allow French terrorists to escape from local jails

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner speaks during a session of questions to the government at the National Assembly in Paris on January 15, 2019. / AFP / STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN

About 130 French men and women detained on suspicion of supporting ISIS in Syria are to be repatriated to face trial.

There are fears that a US troop withdrawal from Syria could allow extremists in the custody of western-backed rebels to escape and return to the battlefield.

If a deal can be negotiated for their return, it would be the first time a European country has agreed to take back citizens accused of being part of the terrorist group.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told BFM TV that he would seek the handover.

“All those who will return to France will be judged in court,” Mr Castaner said. “If the judge thinks that it will be necessary to incarcerate them, and that will be the usual case, they will be put in jail.”

He did not give more details but there are an estimated 130 French people held in jails by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

Their return would be by plane, with many of them already on the radar of French intelligence.

“The Americans are disengaging from Syria and a certain number of people could be released,” Mr Castaner said.

The SDF holds ISIS members of 48 nationalities but claimed it lacks the ability to put them on trial, in contrast to Iraq. The SDF warned that it would be unable to hold the foreign fighters if the US pulled out.

Turkey regards the Kurdish part of the SDF, known as the YPG, as the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which is fighting a decades-long insurgency on Turkish soil.

Most countries have refused to retake their citizens accused of joining militant groups.

Some, such as the UK, have cancelled their passports, further complicating matters.

France holds about 500 people convicted or waiting to stand trial on terrorism charges. About 2,000 are thought to have joined ISIS since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011.

The country has been the target of terrorist attacks by ISIS in recent years.

The deadliest was on November 2015 when gunmen and suicide bombers killed more than 130 people and injured 413. Some of those responsible fought for ISIS in Syria and Iraq.


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