Around 450 French nationals linked to the Islamic State are being held by Kurds or detained in refugee camps in northeastern Syria, the French foreign minister said.
“In the northeastern zone of Syria, we think that there are between 400 and 450 French people, some in camps, others held as prisoners, including children,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
He said only the children could be repatriated if they were orphans or if their mothers gave permission.
France has long insisted that its adult citizens captured in Iraq or Syria must face trial locally, refusing to repatriate them despite the risk they could receive death sentences.
“Our position is still the same and we will not shift: fighters must be judged where they have committed crimes,” Le Drian said.
A Baghdad court sentenced two more Frenchmen to death Tuesday for joining the Islamic State jihadist group, raising the number of French IS members on death row in Iraq to six.
Since March Paris has repatriated just five orphans and a three-year-old girl whose mother was sentenced to life in prison in Iraq.
Le Drian said that more than 100 French fighters were still present in Idlib, the last jihadist stronghold in Syria’s northwest which is being relentlessly bombed by President Bashar al-Assad’s troops.
He said the area was a “real time bomb” with about “30,000” rebel and jihadist fighters holed up there and evoked the threat of an influx of refugees from this region to Europe.