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By: Ona Jurkevičiūtė

SP_Nov_4: News

November 2022

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.


Bąkowski, P., & Puccio, L. (2016). Foreign fighters – Member State responses and EU action.


Bindner, L. (2018). Jihadists’ Grievance Narratives against France. ICCT Policy Brief.

European Parliament. (2021, September 21). Jihadist terrorism in the EU since 2015: News:

European parliament.


France 24. (2018, May 24). Syrian Kurds announce capture of French jihadist known for nice

attack claim. France 24. Retrieved December 4, 2022, from


Mehra, T., & Paulussen, C. (2019, October 15). The repatriation of foreign fighters and their

families: Options, obligations, morality and long-term thinking. ICCT.



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

syria. ICCT.


OHCHR. (n.d.). Return and repatriation of foreign fighters and their families. OHCHR.

Retrieved December 4, 2022, from


Pugliese, M. (2020). France and foreign fighters: The controversial outsourcing of

prosecution. ISPI.


Edited by Noah and the Short Paper management team

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