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TERRORISM

Wanted dead, not alive: France’s approach to French jihadists

French citizens are among the biggest contingent of overseas fighters who have joined IS, with around 1,000 nationals estimated by counter-terror officials to have travelled to Iraq and Syria. France doesn't want them back.

Wanted dead, not alive: France's approach to French jihadists
Photos: AFP

France's attitude to the killing of its citizens in Syria fighting for the Islamic State group has rarely been as frankly stated as it was in the lead up to the fall of Raqa.

“We are committed along with our allies to the destruction of Daesh (Islamic State) and we're doing everything to that end,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters at the weekend.

“What we want is to go to the end of this combat and of course if jihadists die in the fighting, then I'd say it's for the best,” she added.

French citizens are among the biggest contingent of overseas fighters who have joined IS, with around 1,000 nationals estimated by counter-terror officials to have travelled to Iraq and Syria.

Their return home to a country that has faced the worst of the IS-inspired violence in Europe since 2015 — which has claimed 241 lives — has long worried government and intelligence officials in Paris.

France in struggle to confirm jihadists' deaths(AFP)

Aside from the obvious moral issues, a dead jihadist poses far fewer problems for French and European authorities than a captured one.

First, there are the legal problems associated with a prisoner taken on the battlefield in Iraq or Syria.

Under what jurisdiction should he or she be tried? And for what crimes? In Iraq, for example, they could face the death penalty, which the European Union and member states officially oppose.

Should they be extradited for trial in their home countries then — which requires an extradition treaty? What evidence, collected by whom, would be used in a domestic court?

Furthermore, judges and anti-terror prosecutors are already struggling to cope with the ever-increasing caseload related to extremism across Europe and
would be swamped by potentially hundreds of new trials.

Once convicted, the jihadists become a security risk in jail because of the danger that they will radicalise other inmates — already a problem in prisons
across Europe.

“There will be negotiations with the countries concerned,” French European lawmaker Arnaud Danjean, the lead author of a recent French strategic military review, told France Inter radio on Wednesday.

“There's not only France that is concerned, there's Belgium, the United States,” he added.

(Image taken from Isis propaganda video)

'War brings risks'

A US military official said Tuesday that about 400 Islamic State members including foreign fighters had surrendered in Raqa as US-backed forces closed in on the city notorious for its atrocities under the rule of the Sunni extremists.

Resistance around a city hospital and stadium was ultimately less than expected as IS forces either gave up or withdrew to the small strip of territory still under the group's control in neighbouring Deir Ezzor province.

In May, the Wall Street Journal published an investigation that claimed that French special forces had provided a hitlist to Iraqi forces of around 30
men who were “identified as high value targets”.

Asked afterwards to comment, a spokesman for the new government of centrist President Emmanuel Macron did not deny France carried out killings — a policy
that was confirmed by previous president Francois Hollande.

“I say to all fighters who join the Islamic State group and then go abroad to wage war: waging war brings risks, and they must accept those risks,”
Christophe Castaner told reporters.

Speaking to journalists for a book published last year, Hollande confirmed that he had personally authorised at least four killings of “high value
targets” by special forces in what are known as “homocide” operations in France.

Another estimate by the journalist Vincent Nouzille, who wrote a book on the subject, said French forces had killed around 40 nationals during his five-year term.

'Our aim is to kill them'

As IS jihadists flee Raqa and face imminent defeat elsewhere in their shrinking “caliphate”, the question for French and other Western governments will be how to deal with the holdouts.

In June, French magazine Paris Match also published a report quoting Iraqi officials around the city of Mosul before it was recaptured by US and
French-backed forces.

Abdelghani al-Assadi, a top commander in the Counter-Terrorism Service, said the Iraqis had an understanding with France that they would mop up the jihadists to prevent them from returning home.

“We will prevent as much as possible any French person leaving Mosul alive,” he was quoted as saying. “Our aim is to kill them so that no one from Daesh can flee.”

by AFP's Adam Plowright

TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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