IN-LAND TERRORISM IN FRANCE: IS REPATRIATION A VIABLE SOLUTION?
By: Ona Jurkevičiūtė
Terrorism is one of the most prominent threats to national security in the 21st century.
Infamously, France experiences the most terrorist attacks in the European Union (Pugliese,
2020). The most common group who commit acts of terror in France are Jihadi Muslims - a
religious, extremist group whose ideology involves extensive use of violence in order to fulfill
the religious duty of spreading Islam (Bindner, 2018) There are other terrorist groups with
different ideologies; however, for the purpose of this paper, I will only focus on Jihadist
terrorism as it relates more closely to the notion of repatriation. It is important to note that
terrorists have a tendency to attack people rather than buildings or infrastructure, and aim to
maximize casualties, which makes them an extreme threat to the safety and welfare of the public
(European Parliament, 2018). Jihadi terrorism also includes the phenomenon of foreign terrorist
fighters (FTFs) - people who travel to and from areas of conflict, such as Syria and Iraq, and
commit acts of terror under the Jihadi ideology.
This paper posits that France must change its approach towards bringing justice to people
who commit acts of terror and introduce a framework of repatriation, under which foreign
terrorist fighters (and their families) would be brought home and tried under the French judicial
system. Repatriation includes “holding individuals accountable for violations of national and
international law for serious and systematic crimes committed in Syria and Iraq as appropriate
and commensurate with the available evidence” (OHCHR, 2022). Currently, France’s policy
regarding foreign fighters is to let them be tried in the countries they travel to, with the
possibility of revoking their French nationality (Bąkowski & Puccio, 2016). There are numerous
arguments why the status quo is ineffective and even counterproductive.
Firstly, leaving the trial and prosecution of foreign fighters up to the discretion of local
authorities in conflict areas like Syria or Iraq poses a threat to human rights. It is almost
impossible to ensure fair and sufficient trials in these countries, as the use of the death penalty, a
lack of transparency and access to defense counsel indicates that fair trial, or a trial at all, is not
ensured for fighters and their families. Moreover, particularly in Syria, torture is commonly used
as a sanctioning measure (Mehra & Paulussen, 2019). Therefore, prosecuting foreign terrorist
travelers in the countries of conflict is an ineffective method of countering terrorism. This can be
seen in the case of a French Jihadist Adrien Guihal. He led the group of people associated with
Islamic State (IS) and was in charge of the terrorist attack in Nice in 2016, which resulted in 86
casualties. After the attack, A. Guihal traveled to Syria along with other French Jihadists to be
later captured by Kurdish forces. Reportedly, around 300 Jihadists from this group were killed in
Syria and Iraq (France24, 2018). Therefore, it is evident that not repatriating foreign terrorist
fighters results in unfair treatment, torture, and execution in countries of conflict.
To counter this proposition, it can be argued that bringing people associated with
terrorism back to their country poses a threat of their misconduct (Mehra et. al, 2022). However,
such a threat would occur only in case of a failure of the French judicial system. In other words,
it would occur only if the repatriated individual manages to avoid trial and prosecution, or is
found not guilty. Finally, this threat is not based on factual evidence and is more likely a biased
It is also important to note that FTFs usually have families, who are not included in the
prosecution process. In most cases, family members would travel together with the fighters in
and out of Syria or Iraq, and be placed in the middle of the process of prosecution of the fighter.
This leads to children being detained in camps and held in inhumane conditions, as a result of
one of their parents being associated with terrorism and not being permitted to re-enter the
country of their origin. Repatriating the fighter together with their family would ensure that the
family members who are not under blame receive fair treatment and are not left in a ‘legal limbo’
(Mehra & Paulussen, 2019). It would not be appropriate to repatriate children without their
parents, therefore entire families should be repatriated.
Overall, countries in the EU have room for improvement in their counter-terrorism
approaches. The overarching goal is to protect human rights for all, even if they commit a
terrorist attack. Having an impartial stance and leaving the FTFs to be prosecuted in Syria or Iraq
results in unfair treatment, torture, the death penalty, and insubstantial trial. Oftentimes it also
leaves the children and families of the plaintiffs in a legal limbo where they are not able to return
to their home country safely and, therefore, end up in detention camps. On these grounds, France
should consider implementing a policy of repatriation of Foreign Terrorist Fighters.
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France 24. (2018, May 24). Syrian Kurds announce capture of French jihadist known for nice
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families: Options, obligations, morality and long-term thinking. ICCT. https://icct.nl/pu
Mehra, T., et al. (2022, September 19). The European Court of Human Rights sitting on the
fence?: Its ruling and impact on the repatriation of European children from north-east
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Retrieved December 4, 2022, from https://www.ohchr.org/en/special-procedures/sr
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