ARIS (Reuters) - France will for now not act on US President Donald Trump’s call for European allies to repatriate hundreds of Islamic State fighters from Syria, taking back militants on a “case-by-case” basis, its justice minister said on Monday.
US-backed fighters appear poised to capture Islamic State’s last enclave in Syria and Trump on Saturday pressed France, Britain and Germany to bring home more than 800 captured Islamic State fighters and put them on trial.
Trump has sworn to pull US forces from Syria after Islamic State’s territorial defeat, raising concerns in Paris and other European capitals that jihadists from their countries could disperse and try to return to their home countries.
“There is a new geo-political context, with the US withdrawal. For the time being we are not changing our policy,” Belloubet told France 2 television. “At this stage France is not responding to (Trump’s) demands.”
French government policy had been to categorically refuse to take back fighters and their wives. Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian referred to them as “enemies” of the nation who should face justice either in Syria or Iraq.
But the prospect of the United States’ withdrawal from Syria has forced France to prepare for the return of dozens of French jihadists held by U.S.-backed Kurdish authorities, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner acknowledged in late January.
Paris is already trying to repatriate minors on a case-by-case basis.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces are holding about 150 French citizens in northeastern Syria, including 50 adults, military and diplomatic sources say.
Germany, too, was cool towards Trump’s demands, saying it could only take back Islamic State fighters if the suspects had consular access.
In Belgium, Justice Minister Koen Geens called for a "European solution" on Sunday, urging for "calm reflection and looking at what would be the least security risks".
Russia can be seen as a pioneer in systematically returning children of militants home.
Earlier this month, 27 children, from four to 13 years old, were flown from Iraq to the Moscow region.
Russian authorities have given sometimes conflicting figures of returnees. Kheda Saratova, an adviser to Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov, said that about 200 children have been brought to Russia, but nearly 1,400 are still stuck in Iraq and Syria.