France Will Take Back 130 ISIS Fighters, BFM Reports

(Bloomberg) -- About 130 French citizens who fought in the ranks of the Islamic State will be returned to France by their Syrian captors, BFM TV reported on Tuesday, citing unnamed sources.

The men are being held in northeast Syria by Kurdish forces who don’t wish to keep them, especially now that their U.S. backers are withdrawing from the country.

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner wouldn’t confirm the details of the report in an interview with BFM TV, but said any returnees would be subject to due process.

“The Americans are disengaging from Syria and a certain number of people could be released,” he said. “They will want to come back to France. They are now in Syria and Iraq. I am not master of their destiny. They can come to France, but they will be put in prison and judged.”

The foreign minister said in a response to emailed questions that the number of 130 is “not at all confirmed.”

“We are examining all options to avoid the escape or dispersion of these potentially dangerous individuals,” the statement said. “If the forces that are guarding these French combatants decide to expel them to France, they will immediately be turned over to the justice system.”

French prisons currently hold about 500 men who have traveled overseas to join various Islamic terrorist groups, BFM says. French officials have been loathe to take back Islamic State fighters, saying they prefer that they be tried where they committed their crimes. But while Iraq has shown a willingness to prosecute foreign fighters, Syrian Kurds have argued that they lack the means to do so, especially with their American protectors withdrawing.

The Soufan Center, a risk advisory company, estimates that about 2,000 French people have joined the Islamic State since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011. The 2015 terror attacks in Paris were carried out by French and Belgian members of Islamic State sent from its stronghold in Raqqa, which was overrun by Kurdish forces in 2017.

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