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TERRORISM

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.
 

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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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