French foreign minister to travel to Iraq on Thursday to discuss ISIS detainees

Emmanuel Macron said Turkish incursion into Syria is helping resurgence of terrorist group

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian pose for a family photo with members of German and French governments during a joint Franco-German cabinet meeting in Toulouse, France, October 16, 2019. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

France's foreign minister will travel to Iraq on Thursday to discuss a legal framework that would enable detained ISIS members being held in Syria to face trial in Iraq, France’s President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday.

The French leader said foreign ISIS fighters who might flee Syrian detention centres and go to Iraq should be arrested and sent to trial there.

Speaking in the southern French city of Toulouse, Mr Macron said when in Iraq, foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will speak with local authorities about French ISIS detainees.

Mr Le Drian is due to 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," the country’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told French Senators on Wednesday.

Mr Macron said “it’s too soon” to say if some imprisoned ISIS fighters may seek to reach the European Union and France.

He added that Turkey’s offensive into northern Syria is helping the terrorist group’s “re-emergence” and called on the United States and other European countries to increase pressure on the Ankara so that it ends its military operations.

ISIS once held large swathes of Iraq and Syria, where the extremists declared a so-called ‘caliphate’ in 2014. Although the group was defeated in Iraq two years ago and in Syria in March, the extremists’ sleeper cells have continued to carry out attacks in both countries.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Iraqi President Barham Saleh discussed with a visiting US official the situation in northern Syria and ways of preventing terrorists from taking advantage of the chaos to rise again.

Mr Saleh’s office said he spoke in Baghdad with David Schenker, US assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, about ways of supporting Iraq to preserve its security “amid the current challenges.”

A statement from his office said both officials said the extremists should not be given a chance “to revive their criminal activities and threaten the region and world’s security.”

Europe does not want to try its ISIS 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 looking for 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 ISIS militants held in Kurdish-controlled camps in northeastern Syria.

Iraq saw some of the bloodiest battles against ISIS and its government is already conducting trials of thousands of suspected insurgents from the terrorist group.

Mr 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.

The foreign minister said women who had joined ISIS should also face justice in the region, but 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.