BAGHDAD, Iraq (UPDATED) – Fourteen French nationals accused of fighting for the Islamic State (IS, formerly known as ISIS or the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq) group were transferred to Iraq by US-backed forces squeezing the jihadists' final Syrian bastion, an Iraqi government source said Monday, February 25.
The Syrian Democratic Forces have taken hundreds of foreign ISIS fighters into custody as they bear down on the jihadists' shrinking pocket of territory in eastern Syria.
Since Thursday, February 21, they have transferred 280 Iraqi nationals accused of fighting alongside ISIS to Iraqi authorities.
An Iraqi government source told Agence France-Presse on Monday that Iraq had also received 14 French nationals from the SDF.
The source could not specify when the transfer took place or whether the suspects would be tried in Iraq or extradited to France, and the French embassy in Baghdad was not immediately available for comment.
Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi expert with intimate knowledge of the issue, said the transfer had taken place in coordination with the US-led coalition fighting ISIS.
"Those transferred do not include top IS commanders, but they have a trove of information on Daesh's (IS's) structure in Europe, French jihadist networks, and recruitment cells," Hashemi told AFP using an Arabic acronym for ISIS.
He said the fighters had also battled government troops in Iraq, which could pave the way for their trial in Baghdad instead of their extradition to France.
Iraq has tried hundreds of foreign ISIS fighters, including some caught in Syria and transferred across the border.
In August, it sentenced a French man and German woman to life in prison and has also handed down death sentences to around 100 foreigners convicted of ISIS membership. (READ: Canadian jihadist says ISIS foreign fighters 'hung out to dry')
French sources have told AFP that an estimated 50 adults and 80 children could be brought back to France from Syria, but authorities have not confirmed any planned transfer.
Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch warned against any secret repatriations.
"There's been a total lack of transparency, and bad things happen in the dark," HRW's head of counter-terrorism Nadim Houry told AFP.
But Iraq's President Barham Saleh said later on Monday that Iraqi courts will prosecute 13 French citizens captured while fighting for ISIS in Syria.
The fighters, who were turned over to Iraq by Syrian Kurdish forces, "will be judged according to Iraqi law," Saleh told a news conference after talks with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. – Rappler.com