France repatriates five children of French militants who joined the Islamic State
By JAMES MCAULEY | The Washington Post | Published: March 16, 2019
PARIS — France has repatriated five young children of French-born Islamist who had left to join the Islamic State.
The announcement, made late Friday by the Foreign Ministry, followed weeks of controversy over the prospect of allowing French-born fighters to return to France to stand trial.
France suffered the brunt of Europe's recent struggles with terrorist violence either orchestrated or inspired by the Islamic State, with more than 230 people killed in attacks since 2015.
As early as Wednesday, France's Interior Minister, Laurent Nunez, said that no children would be admitted "for the moment." The same day, President Emmanuel Macron reiterated the government's position that children would be admitted on a "case by case basis," in conjunction with the opinion of international humanitarian aid workers.
By Friday, however, the first group of children had been selected. "The decision was taken in view of the situation of these very young and especially vulnerable children," read a statement from the Foreign Ministry.
The statement noted that the unaccompanied children in question are "under individual medical and psychological supervision" and "were handed over to the judicial authorities." Their remaining family members in France were also contacted, the statement confirmed.
Especially after the planned withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, there was much debate in France - and throughout Europe - about what to do with citizens detained in Syrian camps. Approximately 1,910 French nationals ultimately joined the Islamic State, according to statistics from the Soufan Center, a security research institute.
The prevailing argument was that these French citizens should be tried where they were captured, as in the case of Melina Boughedir, a 27-year-old French woman who joined the Islamic State in 2015 and was later captured by Iraqi forces. Boughedir stood trial in Iraq.
"This is normal logic," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters last year, defending that decision.
But the potential absence of U.S. forces has triggered security concerns, notably the prospect of whether EU nationals who had joined the Islamic State might escape from Syrian camps and continue plotting violent attacks from elsewhere.
Friday's statement reiterated that even though a number of children would be coming, their parents would not be.
"Regarding the adult French nationals who were fighters and jihadists who had followed Daesh to the Levant, France's position has not changed," the Foreign Ministry said, using the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.
"They must be tried on the territory where they committed their crimes. It is a matter of both justice and security."