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US calls French proposal to try ISIS prisoners in Iraq ‘irresponsible’

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers remarks. (Michael Gross/Zuma Press/TNS)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States has called “irresponsible” a French proposal to put thousands of jailed Islamist extremists on trial in Iraq, as Washington and its European allies clashed over what to do with thousands of militants being held in Syria.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on November 14 that European and other countries fighting Islamic State (IS) militants must take back and prosecute their nationals detained in Iraq and Syria to help prevent the group from retaking territory in the war-torn countries.

“Coalition members must take back the thousands of foreign terrorist fighters in custody and impose accountability for the atrocities they have perpetrated,” Pompeo said.

Officials from more than 30 countries met to discuss the extremist issue during a Washington summit proposed by France, which has expressed concerns over by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last month to pull U.S. troops from Syria.

The move allowed Turkey to create a buffer zone at its border with Syria and required U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters to flee the area. The Kurds had been guarding the IS prisoners, raising fears that many extremists could escape during the turmoil.

France, Britain, other European nations, and those in Central Asia have been reluctant to allow the return of hardened militant fighters back into their countries.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said his government favored the “certain and lasting detention” of fighters and said the majority of prisoners were Iraqis and Syrians.

“For our part, we will continue to say that they should be tried as close as possible to the crimes they committed,” he told reporters.

“Let’s never forget that these women and men who joined [IS] made a fully conscious choice to fight for a terrorist organization,” he said.

Nathan Sales, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, acknowledged after the meeting that there remains “a difference of opinion about the best way to resolve this problem” among the allies.

“The United States thinks that it’s inappropriate to ask Iraq in particular to shoulder the additional burden of foreign fighters, particularly from Europe,” Sales told reporters after the one-day meeting.

“It would be irresponsible for any country to expect Iraq to solve that problem for them,” he said.

“We think there should be a sense of urgency to repatriate now while we still can,” he said.