Baghdad (AFP) – Iraq will try 12 French nationals accused of fighting for the Islamic State group, who were caught by US-backed fighters in neighbouring Syria and transferred to Baghdad in February.
No court date has been set, but the suspects will be tried according to Iraq’s counterterrorism law — which can dole out the death penalty to anyone who joined a “terrorist” group, even if they were not explicitly fighting.
Below are profiles of the 12 detainees, according to an Iraqi security official, the French Terrorism Analysis Center (CAT) and other sources compiled by AFP.
– Leonard Lopez –
Even before IS, 32-year-old Leonard Lopez was known to French authorities for his activity on Francophone jihadist website Ansar al-Haqq in the 2000s.
In July 2015, the native Parisian travelled with his wife and two children to IS-held Mosul in northern Iraq before entering Syria, according to French investigators.
Lopez, known as Abu Ibrahim al-Andalusi after joining IS, was sentenced in absentia in 2018 for his involvement in Ansar al-Haqq but is also wanted on other charges.
– Kevin Gonot –
Kevin Gonot, 32, entered Syria through Turkey to join IS rival and former Al-Qaeda branch Al-Nusra Front, according to a “confession” published by Iraq’s judiciary.
He then pledged allegiance to IS, fighting under the name Abu Sufyan, before being arrested in Syria with his mother, wife, and half-brother Thomas Collange, 31.
He said his father was killed in IS’s de facto Syrian capital, Raqa.
French courts have already sentenced Gonot in absentia to nine years in prison, according to CAT.
– Fodil Tahar Aouidate –
Fodil Tahar Aouidate, 32, made a first trip to Syria in 2013 and returned in 2014 to join IS, according to the French judiciary.
After 130 people were killed in IS’s 2015 Paris attacks, Aouidate appeared in a video saying it was his “great pleasure and joy to see these unbelievers suffer as we suffer here.”
Authorities also linked him to Belgium’s Salafist movement, including the Paris attacks mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud.
France convicted two of Aouidate’s sisters for “financing terrorism” for sending 15,000 euros to relatives in Syria.
– Mustapha Merzoughi –
A former French army soldier, Mustapha Merzoughi told Iraqi interrogators he joined IS after “research on social media and websites by IS and Al-Nusra Front”.
He travelled to Aleppo in northern Syria for “religious and military training” then pledged allegiance to IS in Mosul.
Merzoughi, who is of Tunisian origin, hails from Toulouse — also the hometown of Fabien and Jean-Michel Clain, who notoriously claimed the Paris attacks and were killed in Baghouz, IS’s last bastion in east Syria.
– Yassin Sakkam –
Yassin Sakkam, 29, left France in late 2014 to fight with IS, posting online pictures of himself carrying arms and speaking to multiple media outlets about IS.
France has been seeking his arrest since 2016 and Kurdish authorities detained him in Syria in 2017.
His brother Karim committed a suicide attack at the Iraqi-Jordanian border in 2015, according to CAT.
– Karam el-Harchaoui –
Karam el-Harchaoui, 32, left for Syria in 2014 from Belgium. According to Belgian daily HLN, his younger brother and their Belgian wives were also IS members.
– Salim Machou –
At 41, Salim Machou was a member of the infamous Tariq ibn Ziyad brigade, “a European foreign terrorist fighter cell” that carried out attacks in Iraq and Syria and planned the Paris and Brussels attacks, according to US officials.
– Vianney Ouraghi –
Vianney Ouraghi, 28, left France for Syria in 2013 and joined Al-Nusra, before jumping to IS when the latter declared its “caliphate” in 2014, according to CAT.
Of Algerian origin, Ouraghi told his Iraqi interrogators that he had abandoned studies in psychology in France after “having been persuaded to join IS through social media”.
He admitted undergoing religious and military training and was also present at “a foreign fighter shelter in Mosul”.
– Brahim Nejara –
Brahim Nejara, 33, was involved in IS’s foreign fighter operations, according to CAT.
He helped foreign fighters join IS in Syria, persuaded one of his brothers to commit an attack in France, and was associated with Foued Mohamed-Aggad, one of the suicide bombers at the Bataclan theatre in the 2015 Paris attacks.
– Bilel Kabaoui –
This 32-year-old hails from Sevres, around Paris, and travelled to IS territory in the summer of 2014, said CAT.
– Mohammed Berriri –
At 24, Mohammed Berriri worked with IS across various Syrian provinces, according to CAT, who did not specify whether he had spent time in Iraq with the group.
Iraq’s prime minister, Adel Abdel Mahdi, has hinted that Baghdad may try foreigners who have never fought in Iraq, saying his authorities had been pursuing some who “provided logistical support to those in Iraq, because as you know the battlefields became one.”
– Mourad Delhomme –
Mourad Delhomme, 40, is of Algerian origin and was arrested around a year ago in Syria’s eastern Deir Ezzor, according to the CAT.
CAT describes him as a “jihadist veteran who worked as a judge” in IS courts, which regularly doled out harsh punishments including death sentences and lashings to anyone who violated the group’s ultra-conservative rules.
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