Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Islamic State: How France Lost Track of Its Repatriated Jihadists

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Islamic State: How France Lost Track of Its Repatriated Jihadists

Article excerpt

Three French jihadists, suspected of fighting for Islamic State in Syria, are repatriated by Turkish authorities to France, where their lawyers say they want to talk to government officials.

First they're put on the wrong plane. Then, arriving in France, they pass immigration without being stopped. Finally, they go to the local police station, which is closed, then wait 20 minutes for an officer to escort them to another police station so they can turn themselves in, according to French press reports.

It sounds like a joke. But French opposition parties have seized on what they've dubbed "extraordinary amateurism" that shines a spotlight on the larger challenges facing European law enforcement as jihadists return home from Syria, potentially to continue their radical Islamic campaigns.

One of the Frenchmen's lawyers told local media the three suspects were relieved to be back home after realizing that their reasons for going to Syria "weren't necessarily good ones." One of the three is the brother-in-law of a gunman who fired into a Jewish school in 2012 and went on a rampage that ultimately killed seven people. Another is believed to be one of the shooter's close childhood friends.

Tuesday's comedy of errors began in Paris. Authorities waited for the men in the capital's Orly airport Tuesday after their expulsion from Turkey, according to a statement from France's Interior Ministry. But the men never turned up. Instead they were put on a plane to Marseille, in southern France; Turkish intelligence didn't notify the French it was too late.

In Marseille, the men walked unnoticed through passport control. Had they not turned themselves in, it is unclear how long it would have taken to find them. "The French aren't going to understand the attacks in Iraq if we aren't also mobilized at home, and now we hear that three jihadis just wandered around France without any problem," Nadine Morano, a minister in the government of former President Nicolas Sarkozy, was quoted by Bloomberg as saying. …

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