- The Iraqi judiciary blames them for belonging to the Islamic State. They have thirty days to appeal.
Three French men were sentenced to death Sunday in Iraq for belonging to the jihadist group Islamic State (IS), a verdict unpublished for nationals of this country, according to a judicial source. These are Kévin Gonot, Leonard Lopez and Salim Machou, arrested in Syria by an Arab-Kurdish anti-IS alliance, before being transferred to Iraq with nine other French in February, told AFP a magistrate of the Baghdad court which tried them.
The three men have 30 days to appeal, according to Iraqi law, which provides for the death penalty for anyone who joined a “terrorist” organization, whether he fought or not. Three Frenchmen have already been found guilty of joining ISIS in Iraq: Mélina Boughedir, 27, Djamila Boutoutaou, 28, and Lahcène Gueboudj, 58. All were sentenced to life imprisonment, equivalent to 20 years in Iraq.
Contacted by AFP in Paris, French lawyer Leonard Lopez, Me Nabil Boudi announced to appeal with his Iraqi colleague, denouncing an “expeditious justice”. His client, he explains, a 32-year-old Parisian convert to Islam, answered questions from the judge in Arabic, after four months of interrogations, on the basis of which the court rendered its judgment. “A French citizen is sentenced to death on the basis of interrogations only in jails in Baghdad,” he said. “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, however, had guaranteed us that the French would be entitled to a fair trial even in Iraq.”
Sunday’s verdicts are likely to revive the debate on the thorny issue of the return of jihadists in their respective countries, which causes a strong rejection of public opinion in Europe. Human rights defenders denounce “real risks of torture” and “no guarantee for fair trials” in Iraq, the 12th most corrupt in the world according to a list of the NGO Transparency International. In the event that one or more French jihadists were sentenced to death in Iraq or Syria, “the French state would intervene, by negotiating with the state in question,” said Nicole Belloubet on January 28. The Minister of Justice said that “it would be a case-by-case treatment”.
In the early 2000s, Leonard Lopez was one of the most active members of the then French-language reference jihadist, Ansar al-Haqq. In July 2015, under judicial control, he left with his wife and their two children, in Mosul in Iraq then in Syria, according to the French investigators. Nicknamed in the IS Abou Ibrahim al-Andaloussi, he was sentenced in his absence in 2018 in France to five years in the Ansar al-Haqq file. He is best known intelligence services for co-founding the association Sanabil, dissolved late 2016 because it contributed under the guise of helping to radicalize prisoners.
The second convict, Kévin Gonot, 32, born in Figeac in southwestern France, told the judge “regret” to have joined the IS. He was arrested in Syria with his half-brother Thomas Collange, 31, his mother and his wife, a niece of brothers Fabien and Jean-Michel Clain, who claimed the attacks of November 2015 in Paris (130 dead) before to be killed in Syria. Kévin Gonot claims that his father, who had also joined IS according to his “confessions” published by the Iraqi justice, was killed in Raqa in Syria. He entered Syria illegally via Turkey, he said, first joining al-Nusra Front (former al-Qaida branch in Syria) before pledging allegiance to the self-proclaimed “Caliph” of IS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Calling himself Abu Sofiane in the IS, he said he was wounded in the stomach during the battle of Kobane in Syria in 2015. He assured the judge that he was then transferred to Mosul, “capital” of the IS in Iraq from 2014 to 2017, to be hospitalized and not to fight. In France, he has already been sentenced in his absence to nine years in prison, according to the Center for Terrorism Analysis (CAT).
The third man, 41-year-old Salim Machou, belonged to the Tariq ibn Ziyad brigade, a cell of Europeans from the IS that US authorities describe as a “breeding ground for attackers” that has counted up to “300 members”. Salim Machou, according to the CAT, hosted Raqa Jonathan Geffroy, a French captured in Syria and handed over to the French courts, and who made many revelations, especially about the Clain brothers.
Nine other French have yet to be tried in Iraq: Fodil Tahar Aouidat, Mustapha Merzoughi, Yassine Sakkam, Karam El Harchaoui, Vianney Ouraghi, Brahim Nejara, Bilel Kabaoui, Mohammed Berriri and Mourad Delhomme. Recently, Baghdad, which has already sentenced more than 500 IS foreigners – men and women, none of whom have been executed so far – has offered to try the other thousand who are currently in the hands of Kurds in Syria. Against two billion dollars.