Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

France opposes death penalty as Iraq convicts fourth French ISIS fighter

French nationals were part of a group handed over to Baghdad by US-backed forces in Syria

Security guards stand outside the building where ISIS suspects are tried in a special counterterrorism court in Baghdad, Iraq. AP
Security guards stand outside the building where ISIS suspects are tried in a special counterterrorism court in Baghdad, Iraq. AP

Iraq sentenced a fourth French national to death on Monday after finding him guilty of joining ISIS, as Paris urged authorities in Baghdad to not carry out the executions.

Mustapha Merzoughi, 37, was sentenced to death by hanging. He told investigators he had served in the French army from 2000 to 2010, including a tour in Afghanistan in 2009.

"The evidence and the confession show that you joined the Islamic State group, that you worked in its military branch," the judge told Merzoughi before handing down his sentence, according to an AFP reporter present in the court.

The French foreign ministry said it was opposed in principle to the death penalty at all times and in all places.

“The French embassy in Iraq, in its role as provider of consular protection, is taking the necessary steps to convey its position [against the death penalty] to the Iraq authorities,” the ministry said.

However, France said it respects the sovereignty of the Iraqi authorities and ISIS members “had to answer for their crimes”, which carry the death penalty in Iraq, the ministry added.

The death penalty was abolished in France in 1981 and French law forbids the government extraditing someone who could face the death penalty for their crimes without specific guarantees that the sentence will not be handed down.

Thousands of foreign and national fighters are currently in Iraqi custody and more than 500 suspected members have been tried since the start of 2018.

Iraqi courts have sentenced many to life in prison and others to death but no foreign ISIS members have yet been executed.

Kevin Gonot, Leonard Lopez and Salim Machou, were sentenced to death on Sunday and are believed to be first French citizens to be convicted of supporting ISIS.

Two other French nationals suspected to be ISIS members appeared in court on Monday.

The first was Mustafa Mohammed Ibrahim, 37, from the southern city of Nice.

Mr Ibrahim, of Tunisian origin, walked in the courtroom wearing a yellow uniform with "reforms department" printed on the back in Arabic.

"I ask for forgiveness from the people of Iraq and Syria and the victims," the man said before the judge ordered him to remove his top in order to see if there were any signs of torture on his body. None were visible, the Associated Press reported.

"No matter what the sentence will be against me I want to go back to my country," he said, adding that he used to work as a driver in France before joining the terror group.

The second suspect brought into the courtroom was identified as Fadil Hamad Abdallah, 33, of Moroccan origin.

The men were handed to Iraqi authorities’ by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces earlier this year.

Five Frenchmen are expected to go on trial in early June to face charges of being members of Islamic State, two court officials told Reuters.

They were among 13 French nationals caught in Syria who were transferred to Iraq in February. One was released after Iraqi authorities found no evidence he had fought with a militant group and said he had entered Syria “legally” to help the Yazidi community kidnapped by ISIS.

The convicted men were tried in specialist courts set up to deal with terrorism charges and have 30 days to appeal their sentence.

The court have been used to prosecute thousands of suspected members of ISIS or sympathisers since 2014, the year ISIS captured a third of Iraq.

Authorities in France had long said that those who commit terrorism crime abroad should be tried in the territories in which the offences took place.

Updated: May 27, 2019 07:15 PM

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