Roughly 130 French citizens who joined in the ranks of ISIS are expected to be released from jail in Syria and repatriated to France to face trial, according to a recent report from French news station BFM TV.
The individuals are being detained in northeast Syria by US-backed Kurdish soldiers with the Syrian Democratic Forces. The development reportedly came about after Kurdish forces began questioning their ability to continue safeguarding the jails after US forces withdraw from the region.
“All those who will return to France will be entrusted to the judges. The judge will decide that it will be necessary to put them in prison,” France’s Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told BFM TV on Tuesday.
“The Americans are disengaging from Syria… There are now people in prison who are being held because the Americans are there and who are going to be released… They’ll want to return to France.”
In a statement to Bloomberg, Castaner revealed that the reported number of 130 militants is “not at all confirmed,” adding that officials are presently “examining all options to avoid the escape or dispersion of these potentially dangerous individuals.”
Citing the Soufan Center, a nonprofit risk advisory organization, Bloomberg reported that an estimated 2,000 French citizens are said to have joined the ISIS terror group since the Syrian civil war began in 2011.
Nadim Houry, the director of the Human Rights Watch’s terrorism and counterterrorism program, took to Twitter to hail the move. “Major reversal of French policy with respect to [Daesh] suspects held in northern Syria. France finally agrees to take its nationals back,” he said.
“This may be unpopular, but it is the right thing to do. Prosecute those who committed crimes, reintegrate children.”
Not everyone, however, is thrilled with Castaner’s stance. French politician Marine Le Pen, president of the National Front party, criticized the minister’s remarks, in which he stated that while the individuals are jihadists, “they were French first.”
The Neuilly-sur-Seine born politician shot back at Castaner on Twitter, saying, “No [Castaner]! They are jihadists, so they should no longer be French.”
The move would ultimately make France the first western European country to repatriate citizens arrested over ties to Daesh forces. According to the Telegraph, only the US, Lebanon, Russia, Indonesia and Sudan have agreed to do so.