A Iraqi court Monday sentenced to death two more French nationals for joining the Islamic State group, leaving all 11 Frenchmen transferred from Syria facing the gallows and potentially opening the door for other cases.
Bilel Kabaoui, 32, and Mourad Delhomme, 41, join nine other French citizens and a Tunisian national already on death row after trials over the past week. They have 30 days to appeal the sentences.
The group was handed over to Iraqi authorities early this year by a US-backed force in Syria which expelled IS from its last bastion.
On the stand in Baghdad, Delhomme said he was ‘known within IS as the one who never pledged allegiance or worked’ for the ultra-extremist group.
For an hour, the man who went by Abu Ayman explained to the judge in great detail how he entered Syria to save the wife of a friend taken captive by rebels after her husband died fighting in the ranks of IS.
Although he denied it at trial, Delhomme told investigators he joined the Tariq Ibn Ziyad brigade, an IS unit described by US officials as ‘a European foreign terrorist fighter cell’.
The group was charged with carrying out attacks in Iraq and Syria and planning others in Paris and Brussels.
Iraq has convicted more than 500 foreign men and women of joining IS since the start of 2018.
Its courts have condemned many to life in prison and others to death, although no foreign IS members have yet been executed.
Kabaoui, for his part, pleaded the error of youth.
‘Five years ago I was super stupid. I was convinced that I could leave Syria when I wanted to,’ he told the judge.
He claimed he asked his family in France to contact French intelligence to find a way for him to return with his wife and three children -- it was on that advice that he surrendered to US-backed Kurdish forces in Syria in late 2017.
- 'A historic risk' -
France has long insisted its adult citizens captured in Iraq or Syria must face trial before local courts, while stressing its opposition to capital punishment.
French government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye reiterated Sunday that officials were intervening ‘at the highest level’ in the cases.
On Sunday, France's state secretary at the interior ministry Laurent Nunez said ‘other (French citizens) could be tried’ in Iraq.
‘I cannot give you the exact numbers but we will have others,’ he said.
Some 450 French nationals accused of links to IS are currently detained in Syria.
Iraq offered in April to put on trial hundreds of accused foreign jihadists in Baghdad in exchange for millions of dollars, potentially solving a legal conundrum for Western governments but also sparking rights concerns.
A group of prominent French lawyers said on Monday that the execution of French jihadists on death row would be a disgrace for France.
‘We have taken a historic risk, which, if it is realised, will leave an indelible stain on the mandate of (President) Emmanuel Macron,’ said the lawyers, including some of the country's best known legal professionals such as William Bourdon, Henri Leclerc and Vincent Brengarth.
It would mean allowing a ‘legal assassination which is now proscribed by the majority of countries on the planet,’ said the open letter, published on the website of radio station Franceinfo.
Human Rights Watch, for its part, has accused Iraqi interrogators of ‘using a range of torture techniques... which would not leave lasting marks on the person's body’.
It also condemned France's ‘outsourcing’ of trials of IS suspects to ‘abusive justice systems’ and criticised Iraq's ‘routine failure... to credibly investigate torture allegations’.
Iraqi law provides for the death penalty, which is carried out by hanging, for anyone joining a ‘terrorist group’ -- even those who did not take up arms.
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