‘Regretful’ Normandy cyber-jihadist jailed

A French webmaster was handed a one-year jail sentence in a Paris court on Tuesday after being convicted of inciting and glorifying terrorism. The Muslim convert translated Al Qaeda propaganda into French before uploading it onto the web, but said he regretted his actions.

'Regretful' Normandy cyber-jihadist jailed
Members of the jihadist group Al-Nusra Front, bearing the flag of Al-Qaeda in Syria where hundreds of French nationals have benn fighting. Photo: Guillaume Briquet/AFP

The 26-year-old, identified as Romain, was detained in September last year in the Normandy department of Calvados, where he lives.

Prosecutors say he acted as administrator of the Ansar al Haqq website, a "reference" for the radical Islamist movement, and as a translator of "Inspire" magazine, which is put out by militant group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Paris prosecutors said.

His arrest was the first made under a new law passed in the aftermath of the Toulouse shootings, carried out by self-proclaimed Al-Qaeda inspired gunman Mohamed Merah. The government reacted to the shocking killings by making incitement to terrorism an offence punishable by five years in prison and a fine of up to €45,000 ($61,800).

Romain converted to Islam when he was 20, prosecutors said. At an earlier hearing he apologized for his actions, saying "I am sorry, I take responsibility". 

"I did not intend to break the law or incite people to do wrong," he said.

At his trial on Tuesday he said: "I had no intention of encouraging people to attack France or the United States. I regret it and if I could go back I would not have done it."

The Ansar al Haqq website that he manages "has more than 4,000 members including 685 that are active" and Romain published statements from Al-Qaeda's north African branch AQIM on it, they added.

They said an investigation also found that the suspect had "an active role in the translation into French and the distribution of the tenth and 11th editions of the magazine Inspire."

Inspire is an English-language propaganda magazine published by AQAP that offers theological support and praise for jihadists.

Romain's lawyer Thomas Klotz saidthat the charges were against the European Convention on Human Rights and that his client was the only person in France being held under the new law.

Nevertheless judges were not convinced by the defense and handed Romain a one-year jail sentence.

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France wants to bring home jihadists’ kids from Syria

France is seeking to repatriate some of the 150 children of French jihadists identified as being in Syria, as Western nations grapple with how to handle citizens who left to join extremists.

France wants to bring home jihadists' kids from Syria
Photos: AFP

A French official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Paris would repatriate the children “as much as is possible, on the condition that the mother agrees”.

“We're starting to look at how this might work,” the source added.

French authorities only have a precise location for some of the children, making these the only viable cases for potential repatriation, the source said, declining to give figures.

The cases of the 150 youngsters, some of whom are being held in camps in Kurdish-held northern Syria after the Islamic State group was driven from the area, were flagged up by authorities there or by their families in France.

Most are under six years old and were born in Syria.

The mothers of any repatriated children would be left in Syria, the source said.

Like other Western nations reluctant to bring jihadists back onto their soil, France has so far ruled out repatriating men who left to fight alongside IS, or women who left to marry them.

“Those who committed crimes in Iraq and Syria must be brought to justice in Iraq and Syria,” the foreign ministry said.

“Minors are the exception, and their situation will be examined on a case by case basis. We have a duty to protect children's interests.”

Yet bringing the children to France will be highly complicated, not least because Kurdish-held Syria is not a recognised state, and Paris has cut off diplomatic ties with Damascus.

'Inhumane choice'? 

The decision to leave French adults in the war zone has infuriated lawyers representing their families at home in France, who say their clients are being held in illegal detention in unsanitary conditions.

“This is scandalous and hypocritical on the part of the French government,” said Bruno Vinay, lawyer for the best-known French woman in Kurdish custody, Emilie Konig.

“France is leaving these women alone faced with the inhumane choice of separating from their children,” Vinay said.

“Given that this is all they have left, it is possible that only a minority will accept to separate from them.”

In neighbouring Iraq, only three French jihadist families have been flagged to authorities.

One of the mothers, Melina Boughedir, has agreed for her three of her children to be taken to France after Iraqi authorities sentenced her to life in jail for being an IS member.

Of some 680 French jihadists who travelled to Iraq or Syria to fight, more than 300 are believed dead while a small number of others have travelled to other countries, including Afghanistan and in North Africa.

Kurdish forces say they have more than 900 foreign IS fighters in custody coming from 44 countries, prompting a legal and ethical headache for the governments of their home nations.

Kurdish authorities have asked governments to repatriate their nationals, but with a few exceptions such as Russia, Indonesia and Sudan, most have proved highly reluctant.