A Baghdad court Sunday sentenced to death three French citizens for being members of the Islamic State group, an Iraqi judicial official said. The verdict raised fresh questions about the legal treatment of thousands of foreign nationals formerly with the extremist group.
The official said the three were among 12 French citizens whom the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces handed over to Iraq in January.
They can appeal the sentences within a month, according to the official.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media. Iraqi President Barham Saleh had said during a February visit to Paris that the 12 will be prosecuted in accordance with Iraqi laws.
The SDF has handed over to Iraq hundreds of suspected IS members in recent months.
The trials of the French nationals in Baghdad raise the difficult question of whether foreign IS suspects should be tried and punished in the country of their alleged crimes, even when there are serious doubts about the impartiality of the courts in Iraq and Syria. The thousands of men and women who came from around the world to join the self-styled Islamic caliphate have been left in limbo following the group's territorial defeat earlier this year in Syria. Many of their home countries hesitate to take back citizens they see as having gone willingly to join the extremist group.
In March, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi asserted Iraq's authority to try foreign IS suspects detained in Syria because "the battlefields were one."
The three men are the first French IS members to receive death sentences in Iraq. It wasn't immediately clear how France, which abolished the death penalty nearly four decades ago, will react to the sentence. It could be a test for how the international community handles the thousands of foreign nationals who stayed, or were trapped, with the Islamic State group through its dying days.
The women and children are languishing in camps run by the Kurdish forces that led the fight against IS in northeast Syria, where the militants made their last stand. Thousands more men are detained by the Kurdish-led SDF, held in jails in northeast Syria on the suspicion that they fought for IS.
Iraqi prosecutors say the 12 French nationals are accused of belonging to IS, were parties or accomplices to its crimes, and threatened the national security of Iraq. Simply belonging to the extremist group is punishable by life in prison or execution under Iraq's counter-terrorism laws.
A French diplomatic official, speaking on condition of anonymity to speak freely about policy, said France recognizes the right of Iraq to try people for crimes committed in Iraq.
But human rights groups and advocates of the men in France say it is not certain that the men committed crimes in Iraq, or if they were even ever in the country. They also doubt the impartiality of the courts, which have handed down hundreds of death sentences to Iraqi suspects in trials that run for just a few minutes.
Iraq has detained or imprisoned at least 19,000 people accused of connections to IS or other terror-related offenses, and sentenced more than 3,000 of them to death, according to an analysis by The Associated Press last year.