French jihadists moan about life on the front

A series of letters from French jihadists has revealed the struggles of life on the front lines in Syria and Iraq, with some complaining about the cold, boredom and a lack of home comforts. One said he wanted to come back because his iPod was broken.

French jihadists moan about life on the front
French jihadists complain about life on the frontlines in Syria and Iraq. Photo: AFP

The contents of the letters, who were sent to lawyers or families back in France, were revealed by Le Figaro newspaper.

They were written by French nationals who had travelled to the Middle East to wage jihad but now apparently wanted to return home and wanted the lawyers to begin the process of the repatriation.

But the fighters revealed their anxiety about how they would be received back in France.

“If I return to France, what will happen to me?”, “Can I avoid prison?” and “What will I have to do in exchange?” were just some of the questions posed by the jihadists.

What perhaps was more eye-opening was their descriptions about life among the extremists and how some of them complained about the hardship, lack of frontline action or fear of having to actually fight.

“I have practically done nothing apart from distribute clothes and food. I have also helped to clean weapons and carry the bodies of those killed during fighting,” read one letter.

“Winter is coming here. It’s starting to get very hard,” the letter said.

While some suggested they wanted more frontline action others revealed their fears of having to pick up arms.

“They want to send me to the front, but I don’t know how to fight,” wrote one jihadist.

Some expressed concern about the nationalities of their babies born in Syria, while others said they feared for their lives after reports a French jihadist was beheaded for wanting to return.

Others complained about missing out on modern home comforts.

“I’m fed up. My iPod doesn’t work anymore here. I have to come back,” one jihadist complained.

Another said: “I’m fed up. They make me do the washing up.”

The big unanswered question in France is what is the best solution for how to deal with returning jihadist?

SEE ALSO: What to do with France's returning jihadists

While some advocate tough prison sentences, others are pushing for an approach used by Denmark when returning jihadists are “de-radicalized”.

Last month the first jihadi who had returned from Syria was sentenced to seven years in prison despite only having spent 12 days in Syria.

He revealed his decision to return home was because he was unable to cope with the strict ban on smoking imposed on recruits.

Speaking to Le Figaro, one lawyer said: "Everyone knows that the longer these people stay there, the worse it will be because having watched or committed atrocities, they become ticking time bombs.”

“But when it comes to having a discussion about whether France is ready to accept repentants, no politician is willing to take the risk. Imagine if one of these ex-jihadis is involved subsequently in an attack?”

Returning Jihadists are simply told to present themselves to authorities when they return and police will take it from there.

Unofficial figures quoted in the French media report that out of 100 French jihadists who have returned, 76 are reportedly in prison.

Le Figaro's report said that jihadist recruits from Britain are considered to be more intelligent that their French counterparts.

"Within the secret services, it's said that British jihadis are more interesting because they have a higher intellectual level than their French colleagues, who are more often donkeys," one anti-terrorism expert told the paper.

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French families sue government over children of jihadists stuck in Syria

The families of several children and wives of French jihadist fighters in Syria have filed lawsuits against France's top diplomat over his refusal to let them come to France.

French families sue government over children of jihadists stuck in Syria
Two detained French women who fled the Islamic State group's last pocket in Syria sit with their children . AFP

The suits, filed in July and September, accuse Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian of “failing to provide aid” to people in “danger” at camps operated by Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces in northeastern Syria.

The complaints were filed with the Court of Justice of the Republic (CJR), which hears cases over alleged misconduct by former or serving ministers.

It is the latest legal challenge to France's longstanding opposition to allowing the children and wives of suspected jihadists in Syria or Iraq to return home.

The government, which says it considers requests on a case-by-case basis only, has brought back just 17 children since March, many of them orphans.

Critics say the policy exposes innocent victims of the war, many of whom have suffered serious trauma during the fighting and coalition bombardments, to long-term psychological risks.

“The policy of 'case by case' keeps more than 200 children and their mothers exposed to inhumane and degrading treatment, and at risk of death,” the lawyers said

They note that Kurdish officials are also pressing European governments to repatriate citizens who went to fight for the Islamic State group in Syria, as well as their family members.

“It's a political choice not to save these children and mothers being held arbitrarily,” one of the lawyers, Marie Dose, told AFP.

Asked about the lawsuit, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said in a statement that France remained “fully mobilised so that each situation is handled with the children's interests in mind.”

“Our priority is to ensure the return of the most vulnerable orphan or isolated children,” she added.

A similar lawsuit was filed against France last May at the European Court of Human Rights, by the grandparents of two children stranded with their French jihadist mother in Syria.

The boy and girl, who were born in Syria, are among an estimated 500 children of French citizens who joined the Islamic State's so-called “caliphate” before the jihadists' last Syrian redoubt was overrun in March.