Iraq sentences fourth French Daesh fighter to death


News desk
An Iraqi court on Monday condemned a fourth French citizen to death for joining the Daesh group, despite France reiterating its opposition to capital punishment.
Mustapha Merzoughi, 37, was sentenced to death by hanging, according to an AFP journalist at the court.
In recent months Iraq has taken custody of thousands of extremists including foreigners captured in neighboring Syria by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) during the battle to destroy the IS “caliphate.”
Among them are 12 French citizens, three of whom — Kevin Gonot, Leonard Lopez and Salim Machou — were handed death sentences Sunday by a Baghdad court in a first for French extremists.
They have 30 days to appeal.
The trials have been criticized by rights groups, which say they often rely on evidence obtained through torture.
They have also raised the question of whether suspected Daesh militants should be tried in the region or repatriated, in the face of strong public opposition at home.
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 face capital punishment for waging their jihadist war in the region.
Paris on Monday reiterated its opposition to the death penalty, saying it would take “the necessary steps” to prevent Iraq from carrying out capital punishment against its citizens.
“France is opposed in principle to the death penalty at all times and in all places,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The evidence and the confession show that you joined the Daesh group, that you worked in its military branch,” the judge told Merzoughi on Monday before handing down his sentence.
Wearing a yellow prison uniform, Merzoughi said he was “not guilty of crimes and killings” but simply of traveling to Syria.
“I ask for forgiveness from the people of Iraq, Syria, France and the families of the victims,” he said.
Merzoughi told investigators he had served in the French army from 2000 to 2010, including a tour in Afghanistan in 2009.
In France, he lived in the southwestern city of Toulouse, the hometown of brothers Fabien and Jean-Michel Clain who claimed the deadly 2015 attacks in Paris and were killed fighting in Syria.
Passing through Belgium and then Morocco, the French citizen with Tunisian roots underwent “religious and military training in Aleppo,” in northern Syria.