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France says Turkey’s Syria offensive ‘currently’ no threat to jihadist jails

Ludovic Marin, AFP | French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian after a cabinet meeting at the Élysées Palace, on January 24, 2018, in Paris.

France’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Kurdish-run prisons holding suspected jihadists in Syria are “currently” not threatened by a Turkish offensive, adding that he would travel to neighbouring Iraq to discuss ways to put them on trial there.

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"To my knowledge, the Turkish offensive and the positioning of the SDF [Syrian Democratic Forces] have so far not led to the safety and security of these camps... currently being threatened," Jean-Yves Le Drian told French broadcaster BFMTV and RMC radio, referring to the Kurdish-led forces that spearheaded the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria.

The French foreign minister, who was due to travel to Iraq later on Wednesday, said he would hold talks with Kurdish and Iraqi officials to set up a judicial framework for the jihadist fighters to face trial.

"The subject with the Iraqi authorities is to find a judicial system that could try all these fighters, including the French ones," he explained.

European states are trying to fast-track a plan to shift thousands of foreign IS group militants out of Syrian prison camps and into Iraq, after the outbreak of fresh conflict in Syria raised the risk of jihadists escaping or returning home, diplomats and officials have told Reuters.

"There needs to be an ad hoc judicial system and that's what we'll be talking to the Iraqi authorities about," Le Drian said.

Fears of IS group resurgence

Le Drian said it was vital to offer support to Baghdad and fend off the threat of an IS group resurgence in northwest Iraq.

Iraq saw some of the bloodiest battles against the IS group and its government is already conducting trials of thousands of suspected jihadist fighters with many arrested as the terrorist group's strongholds crumbled throughout Iraq.

Despite his assurances that the safety of Kurdish-run prisons in Syria has not been compromised, Le Drian conceded that nine French women had already escaped on Sunday from the Ayn Issa camp. Kurdish officials have said almost 800 people fled that camp after the Turkish offensive into northern Syria targeted the area.

Le Drian said women who joined the IS group should also face justice in the region, although Paris would look to bring back children.

"The French women who went to this region in 2015 knew what they were doing. They aren't tourists. They are fighters against France and must face trial [in Iraq] if possible," he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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