France will repatriate some 130 suspected Daesh fighters who are currently detained in Syria, and will ensure they face trial, according to French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner.
Speaking to BFMTV earlier this morning, Castaner said that numerous fighters are expected to be repatriated in the coming weeks, but that they will almost definitely face a prison sentence.
“All those who will return to France will be judged in court. If the judge estimates that it will be necessary to incarcerate them, and that will be the usual case, they will be put in jail,” he said. “Some have already returned, we put them in prison, we know them, and those who come back will be put in prison.”
The move makes France the first European country to take back citizens arrested on suspicion of fighting for Daesh. Whilst the US, Lebanon, Russia, Indonesia and Sudan, have so far agreed to repatriate their nationals, European nations have wrestled with how to handle suspected militants and their families after the terror group lost swathes of territory to the international coalition last year.
The news also marks a departure from France’s previous position of refusing to take back fighters and their wives. However in October, Paris did agree to repatriate the children of Daesh fighters, leaving their mothers to be tried by forces in the north of Syria.
Some 60 women, including 40 mothers with about 150 minors, have been reported in Syria by their families in France. The majority of the children are under the age of six, with officials concerned that if they remain in Syria, they could also eventually become militants.
The north of Syria is currently managed by US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), made up primarily of Kurdish militia units driven by a federalist vision for future governance.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon announced that the SDF are currently holding nearly 600 foreign fighters from over 40 nationalities in custody, but emphasised that it would not be able to hold them indefinitely. The SDF has since been asking for financial support and for foreign governments to take back fighters to ease their burden.
In the aftermath of the news of the US’ withdrawal from Syria last month, the SDF threatened to release some 3,200 Daesh fighters and their families, if they did not receive sufficient international support. However, France subsequently affirmed its commitment to continue the fight alongside the Kurds; some 1,100 French soldiers are believed to currently be in Syria.
“The announced withdrawal of our American ally should not deflect us from our strategic objective to eradicate Daesh,” Macron said in a speech to the armed forces in Toulouse.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also stated earlier this month that France would not withdraw from Syria until a political solution was reached.