An Iraqi court on Sunday condemned three French citizens to death for joining ISIS, a court official said. They are the first members of the jihadist group from France to be handed death sentences.
Captured in Syria by a US-backed force fighting the jihadists, Kevin Gonot, Leonard Lopez and Salim Machou, were transferred to Iraq for trial. They have 30 days to appeal.
Iraq has taken custody of thousands of jihadists repatriated in recent months from neighbouring Syria, where they were caught by the Syrian Democratic Forces during the campaign against the ISIS “caliphate.”
The Iraqi judiciary said earlier this month that it has tried and sentenced more than 500 suspected foreign ISIS members since the start of 2018.
Its courts have condemned many to life in prison and others to death, although no foreign ISIS members have yet been executed.
The trials have been criticized by rights groups, which say they often rely on evidence obtained through torture.
They have also raised the question of whether suspected ISIS jihadists should be tried in the region or repatriated to their countries of origin.
Those sentenced on Sunday were among 13 French nationals captured in war-ravaged eastern Syria and handed to Iraqi authorities in February on suspicion of being members of the group’s feared contingent of foreign fighters.
One was later released as it was found he had travelled to Syria to support the Yazidi religious minority – the target of a particularly vicious ISIS campaign that rights groups say may have amounted to genocide.
The remaining 12 were put on trial under Iraq’s counterterrorism law, which can hand the death penalty to anyone found guilty of joining a “terrorist” group, even if they were not explicitly fighting.
Gonot, who fought for ISIS before being arrested in Syria with his mother, wife, and half-brother, has also been sentenced in absentia by a French court to nine years in prison, according to French research group the Center for the Analysis of Terrorism.
Machou was a member of the infamous Tariq ibn Ziyad brigade, “a European foreign terrorist fighter cell” that carried out attacks in Iraq and Syria and planned others in Paris and Brussels, according to US officials.
Lopez, from Paris, travelled with his wife and two children to ISIS-held Mosul in northern Iraq before entering Syria, French investigators say.
His lawyer, Nabil Boudi, condemned the trial as “summary justice.”
The French government had “guaranteed us that French citizens would all be entitled to a fair trial, even in Iraq,” he told AFP.
But Lopez had been sentenced to death “based solely on a series of interrogations in Baghdad jails,” he said.
Iraq declared victory over ISIS in late 2017 and began trying foreigners accused of joining the jihadists the following year.
Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have criticized Iraq’s anti-terror trials, which they say often rely on circumstantial evidence or confessions obtained under torture.
– with reporting by AFP