THREE Frenchmen have been sentenced to death by an Iraqi court after being found guilty of joining the Islamic State militant group.
Captured in Syria by a US-backed force fighting the jihadists, they are the first French ISIS members to receive the death sentence in Iraq, where they were transferred for a trial. Kevin Gonot, Leonard Lopez and Salim Machou have just 30 days to appeal this sentence. One court official, who declined to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media: “They were sentenced to execution after it was proven that they were members of the terrorist Islamic State organisation.”
They were among 12 French citizens captured in Syria by US-backed fighters. In February they were transferred to Iraq for trial.
The three are the first IS suspects from France to be sentenced to death.
France has yet to react to Sunday’s court ruling in Baghdad. But when pressed on the issue in February, French President Emmanuel Macron declined to comment, saying it was a sovereign matter for Iraq.
Iraqi courts have placed hundreds of foreigners on trial, condemning many to life in prison and others to death, although no foreign Isis members have yet been executed.
Gonot fought for ISIS before being arrested in Syria with his mother, wife and half-brother. He has also been sentenced in absentia by a French court to nine years in prison, according to the French Terrorism Analysis Centre.
Lopez, from Paris, traveled with his wife and two children to ISIS-held Mosul in northern Iraq before entering Syria, French investigators say.
Human rights groups have accused Iraqi authorities of inconsistencies in the judicial process and flawed trials, leading to unfair convictions.
The country remains in the top five “executioner” nations in the world, according to an Amnesty International report in April.
The number of death sentences issued by Iraqi courts more than quadrupled between 2017 and 2018, to at least 271.
But only 52 were actually carried out in 2018, according to Amnesty, compared with 125 the year before.
Analysts have also warned that prisons in Iraq have in the past acted as “academies” for future fighters, including ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
ISIS once controlled vast swathes of territory stretching across Syria and Iraq. After years of fighting, Iraq declared victory on its side of the border in late 2017.
On the Syrian side, the main offensive was led by a US-backed alliance of Arab and Kurdish fighters, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The group captured the last stronghold held by the jihadists in March.
An estimated 1,000 foreign fighters – as well as many women and children – are estimated to be in SDF custody.
Iraq has offered to try all foreign fighters held by the SDF. Several hundreds have been transferred for trial by Iraqi courts but none have so far been executed.
Researchers suggest at least 7,000 of the treacherous Jihadis have already travelled back to their countries of origin, mainly Europe, placing the continent under unprecedented threat of Islamic terrorism.