Iraq gives three Frenchmen death penalty for joining ISIS

They are thought to be the first Frenchmen to be sentenced to death for belonging to ISIS in Iraq

Islamic State group's fighters and their families sit in the back of a truck as they leave IS's last holdout of Baghouz in Syria's northern Deir Ezzor province on February 20, 2019. A convoy of trucks evacuated dozens of people from the Islamic State group's last Syria redoubt, bringing US-backed forces closer to retaking the final patch of their 2014 "caliphate". The implosion of the jihadist proto-state which once spanned swathes of Syria and neighbouring Iraq has left Western nations grappling with how to handle citizens who left to join IS.

 / AFP / Bulent KILIC
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Iraq sentenced three French nationals to death on Sunday after finding them guilty of belonging to ISIS, a court statement said.

The men – Kevin Gonot, Leonard Lopez and Salim Machou – were handed to the Iraqi authorities by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces earlier this year.

They are believed to be the first Frenchmen to receive the death sentence for joining the terrorist group.

An estimated 40,000 foreigners, including about 1,900 from France, travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight with ISIS. Many foreigners have since been captured, but questions linger over what to do with them as host countries cannot detain them indefinitely and their countries of origin do not want them back.

The men are among 13 French citizens caught in Syria who were transferred to Iraq last February. One was released after Iraqi authorities found no evidence he had fought with a militant group and said he had entered Syria “legally” to help the Yazidi community kidnapped by ISIS.

The men convicted now have 30 days to appeal against their conviction.

Iraqi President Barham Salih said in February that the men had been “accused of having commanded operations against Iraqis and Iraqi installations in Iraq, and they will be tried according to Iraqi law.

Iraqi authorities were actively pursuing anyone who fought against Baghdad and would being them to justice in Iraqi courts, Mr Salih said during a press conference in Paris with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron.

The French government says those who commit terrorism crimes abroad should be tried in the territories in which the offences took place, a stance that has fuelled a global debate on the fate of ISIS returnees.

Mr Macron said: “It is up to the authorities of these countries to decide if they will be tried there.”

France is expected to offer consular services to any of its nationals who are jailed in a foreign country.

The men were tried in specialist courts set up to deal with terrorism charges. They have been used to prosecute thousands of suspected members of ISIS or sympathisers since 2014, the year ISIS captured a third of Iraq.

Human rights groups have expressed concern over the transfer of ISIS suspects, including foreign fighters, from Syria to Iraq, especially over the risk of torture they face in detention centres.

Human Rights Watch also criticised Iraq’s counterterrorism law as “deeply flawed and vague,” noting that some of the trials for ISIS suspects were as short as “five minutes”.

“We oppose the death penalty in all countries and under all circumstances, but in Iraq, where the trials of ISIS suspects fail to meet even the most basic markers of due process, its application is particularly concerning,” the group said in a report.

The development comes as at least five people were killed in a blast that targeted a market area in the northern Iraqi province of Nineveh on Sunday afternoon.

“A car exploded on Sunday near a market in the Rabia district in west Mosul, killing five people and injuring eight others,” Iraq’s security forces said in a statement on Facebook.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Jordan immediately condemned the attack and expressed solidarity with its neighbour.

“The Foreign Ministry reiterates Jordan's solidarity with the government and the people of Iraq in the face of terrorism and violence aimed at harming the security, safety and stability of Iraq,” Sufyan Qudeh, the ministry’s spokesman said on Twitter.

Mosul was ISIS’s de facto capital from 2014 to 2017, such incidents are usually blamed on the insurgents who are still at large in some parts of northern Iraq.

It took three years for Iraqi forces, backed by Iranian-supported militias and international forces battled the militant group to liberate ISIS-held parts of the country.