Earlier, President Trump urged the US’ British, French, German and other European allies to take back over 800 terrorist militants captured by the US and its allies in Syria and bring them to justice, warning that alternatively, Washington could “be forced to release them.”
French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet ignored President Trump veiled threatto release European ex-Daesh fighters back onto European soil.
“There is a new geopolitical context, with the US withdrawal. For the time being, we are not changing our policy,” Belloubet said, speaking to France 2 TV on Monday.
“At this stage France is not responding to [Trump’s] demands,” she added, noting that Paris would stick to its policy of repatriation of French nationals from Syria and Iraq on a “case by case” basis.”
“When people return from the battlefields, we’re going to try them,” Belloubet said.
It’s estimated that up to 150 French nationals, two third of them children, are being detained by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeastern Syria, according to Reuters.
Other European powers have taken a similarly hostile attitude to President Trump’s repatriation request, with officials from Denmark, Norway and Sweden rejecting the demand outright or saying they would not work proactively to repatriate their nationals. Berlin pledged to put fighters on trial, but complained that repatriation would be “extremely difficult” given the need for evidence and witness statements, and Berlin’s poor relationship with the Syrian government. Hungary’s Foreign Ministry has stressed that fighters should not be allowed to return, period.
Thousands of foreign volunteers joined Daesh (ISIS) between 2014 and 2016 as the terrorist group conquered wide swathes of Syria and Iraq and established a so-called caliphate. In addition to volunteers from the Middle East, Asia and Russia, fighters travelled to the warzone from Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, the UK and the US. In 2017, the French government estimated that nearly 700 French nationals had travelled to Syria and Iraq, including 293 women.
The repatriation of foreign fighters has been a particularly sensitive issue for France. Last year, prison guard unions across the country protested over concerns including overcrowding and the detention of dangerous Islamist radicals attacking prison guards. France has also been particularly hard hit by Daesh-affiliated terror attacks on its soil, including deadly gun and bomb attacks in Paris in November 2015 and a truck attack in Nice in July 2016, with the acts of terrorism leaving over 230 civilians dead.