France says it has repatriated five young children of ISIS supporters from camps in northern Syria, the government said on Friday, but insisted it hasn’t changed its position on adults who joined the militant group.
The news came as Iraq reportedly began legal proceedings against 14 French suspected ISIS members handed over by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria last month.
The children taken back to France were either orphans or unaccompanied minors who were in displacement camps in northern Syria, the foreign ministry said on Friday. It did not detail the children’s connection to France or their ages.
The issue of returning fighters and their families has become a contentious debate in Europe after those fleeing the last pocket of ISIS territory in eastern Syria rose rapidly. Camps in north Syria run by the SDF are now hosting over 69,000 women, children and elderly people who had been encircled by the US-backed force near the town of Baghouz. All military-age males have been taken to SDF run prisons.
Meanwhile, the 14 French suspected fighters handed over to Iraqi authorities appeared before an investigative judge in a Baghdad anti-terrorism court on March 6, two sources told Reuters news agency.
The agency added that all had signed confessions saying that they had been in Mosul when it was under ISIS control between 2014 and 2017.
If found guilty, they could face the death penalty.
Hundreds of suspected ISIS sympathisers and members have already been tried and found guilty in Iraq since the end of the military campaign against the group in the country in 2017. However, rights groups have reported that the process has been suspect with many accused being tried in groups with sessions that last mere minutes and reply almost exclusively on signed confessions – which they say may have been extracted under duress – or witness testimony without other supporting evidence.
Iraqi authorities insist the trials follow due process.
Iraqi officials have said they will either help repatriate non-Iraqi ISIS detainees to their home countries or prosecute those suspected of having committed crimes against Iraqis.