Should France agree to repatriate its jihadist nationals, offering them the prospect of a fair trial without the threat of a death sentence?
This is the opinion of the coordinator of anti-terrorist judges of the Paris court, David De Pas, who in an unprecedented speech, warned against the “risk to public safety” incurred by France, reported FranceInfo on Saturday, October 19.
The question has arisen in the wake of the Turkish offensive in the north-east of Syria against the Kurds which has allowed the escape of several former ISIS fighters held prisoner in the jails of Rojava.
In the Kurdish-populated territory of Syria, ISIS family members were held in camps where they were under the surveillance of Kurdish forces. Nearly 800 women and children of foreign fighters escaped from a camp in Ain Issa and three French women were “rescued” by the remains of the Islamic State, according to FranceInfo.
“The issue of repatriation is a security issue and long-term justice,” said the judge, who hopes for a “political will of repatriation”. Because according to him, the risk is present. He fears “on the one hand uncontrolled migrations of jihadists to Europe with the risk of attack by highly brain-washed people, and on the other hand the reconstitution of particularly seasoned and determined fighters of terrorist groups in the region.” It is to avoid “restarting a hellish cycle” that David De Pas is pleading for the judicial management of French jihadists by French justice.
France, which has about 200 adult citizens in Kurdish-controlled camps and prisons, refuses, like many other countries, to repatriate them, wishing them to be tried in the areas where they committed their crimes.
It is to take action against this risk of “dispersion” that the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian, went to Iraq on Thursday to request the transfer of these prisoners from Syria to Iraqi prisons, but his efforts were in vain.
For David De Pas, the simplest way would be to repatriate them to France directly. “I hear that we can have arrests, but how can we protect ourselves if we do not have them here? The best method is to judge and control them,” he said. If they are being tried in Iraq, “we will not be able to monitor them” when they are released from detention.
The United States has already repatriated and indicted five jihadists, one of whom has been sentenced.
Donald Trump has not been following the wait-and-see attitude of European countries, which have been slow to repatriate their jihadists detained by an alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters backed by Washington, and the US president sent an ultimatum to the Old Continent, according to French weekly l’Express.
“We have thousands of jihadists to send back to Europe. If the countries of Europe do not repatriate them, we will probably have to release them,” the head of state told the US media in August. Detained by the Syrian Democratic Forces, jihadists number more than 10 000, including 8 000 from Iraq and Syria and 2 000 foreigners from more than 50 countries, including France.
US Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey detailed the numbers at a press conference, revealing that in addition to these jihadists, 70 000 women and children, 10 000 of whom are associated with 2 000 foreigners, have been held in camps.
The counter-terrorism coordinator at the US State Department Nathan Sales took the opportunity to recall that these jihadists did not give up their ideology. “We all have an obligation to prevent them from returning to the battlefield,” he said. “The most effective way for this is that their country of origin repatriates its citizens and judges them for the crimes they have committed,” he said.
US Deputy Minister of Justice for National Security Affairs John Demers said: “We hope other countries […] will also take responsibility for their own citizens.” Only European public opinion is not of this opinion and the countries of the Old Continent are reluctant to return their nationals. Europeans are particularly worried about even greater radicalization in their prisons.