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Iraq condemns two more French IS members to death

Six French citizens have been handed capital punishments in three days for joining IS [Getty]

Date of publication: 28 May, 2019

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Two French citizens accused of joining the Islamic State group became the fifth and sixth French detainees in Iraq to be handed capital punishments in three days.

An Iraqi court sentenced two more French citizens to death Tuesday for joining the Islamic State group, raising the number of French IS members on death row in Iraq to six.

France, meanwhile, said it would do all it can to spare the group from execution in Iraq. So far, however, it has made no effort to bring back the captured fighters and insists that its adult citizens captured in Iraq or Syria must face trial locally.

Brahim Nejara and Karam El Harchaoui, both in their 30s, were among 12 French citizens transferred to Iraqi authorities in January by a US-backed force fighting the jihadist group in Syria.

In recent months Iraq has taken custody of thousands of suspected jihadis, among them countless foreigners. They now face trials heavily criticised by rights groups, which say they often rely on evidence obtained through torture.

Four other French citizens - Kevin Gonot, Leonard Lopez, Salim Machou and Mustapha Merzoughi - have also been given death sentences in recent days by a Baghdad court.

Nejara, 33, allegedly helped foreign fighters join IS in Syria, persuaded one of his brothers to commit an attack in France, and was associated with Foued Mohamed-Aggad, one of the suicide bombers at the Bataclan theatre during the 2015 Paris attacks.

The other militant, El-Harchaoui, 32, lived in Belgium before he left for Syria in 2014. He was wounded in one of the battles he fought for IS in Syria.

"I know he will not have a fair trial," Samira, his wife, told The Associated Press at camp Roj in northern Syria, where thousands of foreign women and children are languishing.

On Monday, Mustapha Merzoughi, 37, was the fourth French citizen to be condemned to death for joining the IS. The three other Frenchmen were sentenced a day earlier.

The Iraqi judiciary said earlier in May that it had tried and sentenced more than 500 suspected foreign members of IS since the start of 2018.

Those convicted can appeal their sentences within a month.

'Necessary steps'

On Monday, the French government said it would take "the necessary steps" to try to prevent Iraq from carrying out the death penalty against the three French citizens convicted of fighting alongside the Islamic State group.

"France is opposed in principle to the death penalty at all times and in all places," the foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday, just a day after the three IS members were sentenced.

It said the detained men were receiving consular assistance to ensure they had legal representation ahead of an expected appeal of the ruling, which they can lodge within 30 days. It added, however, that France "respects the sovereignty of Iraq's institutions".

France has long insisted that its adult citizens captured in Iraq or Syria must face trial locally, refusing to repatriate them despite the risk they face capital punishment for waging their war in the region.

They were among 13 French nationals caught in battle-scarred eastern Syria and handed to Iraqi authorities in February on suspicion of being members of IS' feared contingent of foreign fighters.

The remaining six face trial in the coming days under a law that allows capital punishment for anyone joining a "terrorist group" - even those who did not take up arms.

'Executioner' nation

Iraqi courts have condemned many to life in prison and others to death, though no foreign IS members have yet been executed.

Iraq's government has declined to provide figures on detention centres or prisoners, including how many are facing terrorism-related charges, although some studies estimate 20,000 are being held for purported IS links.

Iraq declared victory over IS in late 2017 and began trying foreigners accused of joining the militant group the following year.

Government sources have told AFP that Baghdad would be willing to try all foreigners currently held in Kurdish detention in northeast Syria for a price.

Around a thousand suspected foreign IS fighters are in detention in northeast Syria, in addition to around 9,000 foreign women and children in camps there.

Rights groups including Human Rights Watch have criticised the trials, which they say often rely on circumstantial evidence or confessions obtained under torture.

Iraq has also already tried thousands of its own nationals arrested on home soil for joining IS, including women.

It has begun trial proceedings for nearly 900 Iraqis repatriated from Syria and sentenced four to death last month under its counter-terrorism law.

The country remains in the top five "executioner" nations in the world, according to an Amnesty International report released last month.

The number of death sentences issued by Iraqi courts more than quadrupled from 65 in 2017 to at least 271 last year.

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