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France seeks to block Iraq executing French Islamic State suspects

Foreign ministry says it will take 'the necessary steps' to avoid its citizens facing the death penalty
France has taken a hard line against IS after a number of IS-inspired attacks on French soil (Reuters)

France has vowed to take “the necessary steps” to try to prevent Iraq carrying out the death penalty against three French citizens convicted of fighting with the Islamic State group (IS) on Sunday.

The French foreign ministry said on Monday that “France is opposed in principle to the death penalty at all times and in all places”.

It said the detained men were receiving consular assistance to ensure they had legal representation ahead of an expected appeal, which they have 30 days to lodge.

It added, however, that France “respects the sovereignty of Iraq’s institutions” and that IS members “had to answer for their crimes”.

AFP reported later on Monday that a fourth french man, Mustapha Merzoughi - a former soldier in Afghanistan - had also been sentenced to death.

The French government has long insisted its adult citizens captured in Iraq or Syria should face trial locally, refusing to repatriate them despite the fact they are at risk of capital punishment. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has referred to them as "enemies" of the nation.

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French authorities have repatriated a handful of children and plan to continue on a case-by-case basis.

The French trio - Kevin Gonot, Leonard Lopez and Salim Machou - were extradited to Iraq from Kurdish-held north Syria in February and military sources at the time said that 14 French citizens were among 280 Iraqi and foreign detainees handed over by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) militia.

All three convicted Frenchmen rejected the ruling and asked to be tried in France, but judges ignored their request, a court-appointed lawyer told the Reuters news agency.

Iraq is conducting trials of thousands of suspected IS members, including hundreds of foreigners, with many arrested as the group's strongholds crumbled throughout the country as Iraqi forces and a US-led international coalition rolled back the militants' gains.

Iraq's courts have condemned many suspected IS members to life in prison and others to death, although no foreign IS members have yet been executed.

Rights groups have raised concerns over the trials of suspected IS members in Iraq. According to Human Rights Watch, trials have generally been rushed, based on a defendant’s confession and have not involved victim participation.

“Prosecutions of Islamic State suspects in Iraq are proceeding based on a deeply flawed and vague counterterrorism law,” HRW said in March.

Amnesty International described the mass-execution of 38 people under charges of “terrorism” in 2017 as “abhorrent”.