France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps

Above, the Kurdish-run Al-Hol camp which holds relatives of suspected Daesh group fighters in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh governorate. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 05 July 2022

France repatriates 35 children, 16 mothers from Syria camps

  • The French government had long refused mass repatriations of the hundreds of French children detained in Kurdish-controlled camps, dealing with them on a case-by-case basis

PARIS: France repatriated 35 children and 16 mothers from camps in Syria holding family members of suspected Daesh terrorists on Tuesday in the largest such operation by Paris after pressure from campaigners.

The French government had long refused mass repatriations of the hundreds of French children detained in Kurdish-controlled camps, dealing with them on a case-by-case basis that rights groups criticized as deliberately slow.

“France has today undertaken the return to the country of 35 French minors who were in camps in northeast Syria. This operation also includes the return of 16 mothers from these same camps,” a statement from the Foreign Ministry said.

It added that the minors were handed over to child protection services while the mothers would face judicial proceedings that lawyers expect to lead to their prosecution for terror offenses.

One of the women was 37-year-old Emilie Konig, a Muslim convert from northwest France who became a notorious recruiter for the group and urged supporters in the West to carry out attacks, a security source told AFP.

Family members of the returnees said that French officials had entered the sprawling and squalid Roj camp on Monday to select orphans and women with medical problems for the flight home.

“It’s a 180-degree turn from the French government to repatriate women as well. It gives us hope, but there are still a lot of children over there,” the aunt of one of the repatriated women told AFP, asking not to be named.

Western countries have faced a dilemma over how to handle their citizens detained in Syria since the end of military operations against the Daesh group there in 2019.

Thousands of extremists in Europe decided to join the group as fighters, often bringing their wives and children to live in the “caliphate” declared in territory conquered in Iraq and Syria.

Until now, France had prioritized its security over welfare concerns for the detained, pointing to a series of attacks by Daesh militants, including the November 2015 assaults on Paris that left 130 people dead.

In a 2019 poll by Odoxa-Dentsu Consulting, seven out of 10 people surveyed were opposed to bringing back the children of jihadists to France.

Before Tuesday’s operation, Paris had repatriated 126 children since 2016.

The decision to return 51 people in a single operation points to a change in policy that came after Germany and Belgium announced that they would bring back all of their minors from Syria.

Around 150 remain in Syria, lawyers and campaigners said on Tuesday.

“Our country has isolated itself more and more by choosing inhumanity and irresponsibility, unlike Germany, Belgium and many other European countries,” the French campaign group Collective for United Families said in a statement on Tuesday.

A UN watchdog also increased  the pressure in February when it said that France had violated the rights of children by leaving them for years in inhuman and life-threatening conditions.

The president of the Seine-Saint-Denis region northeast of Paris, where many previous returnees have been housed, said it was important to make a distinction between Daesh fighters and children, many of whom are orphans.

“Whenever this issue becomes a news story, I’m aware of the fantasies that it can create,” Stephane Troussel told AFP recently. “The images of children indoctrinated by Daesh, weapons in their hands, are deeply ingrained.”

But “the children are not guilty. They are above all the victims of the deadly excesses of their parents and what they need more than anything is an opportunity to rebuild themselves if we want them to rejoin society,” he added.

A statement from France’s anti-terror prosecutor’s office said the mothers repatriated on Tuesday were aged between 22 and 39 and had been taken into custody.

In addition to Konig, there is also a mother-of-four with colon cancer whose mother, Pascale Descamps, went on hunger strike to campaign for her return on humanitarian grounds.

She left France in 2015 with her husband and three children. He was killed in combat, leading her to re-marry another Daesh extremist, who also died.

One of the minors, who is nearly 18, was also detained because “evidence exists likely to prove his association with a terrorist organization,” the statement from anti-terror prosecutors added.

Daesh declared a caliphate in 2014 in territory stretching across Iraq and Syria, but was progressively beaten back by a coalition of Western-backed local forces, losing its last territory in March 2019.


Turkish minister says deadly gun attack was ‘America-based’

Updated 02 October 2022

Turkish minister says deadly gun attack was ‘America-based’

  • Two suspected Kurdish militants opened fire on security force lodgings in the Mediterranean province of Mersin late on Monday, killing one officer and wounding a second officer and a civilian

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s interior minister on Saturday described a gun attack that killed a police officer in the country’s south as an “America-based” operation.

Two suspected Kurdish militants opened fire on security force lodgings in the Mediterranean province of Mersin late on Monday, killing one officer and wounding a second officer and a civilian. The female attackers, who Turkish authorities said were affiliated with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, later killed themselves by detonating suicide bombs.

“This action is an America-based action,” Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told ruling party officials in the Black Sea province of Giresun, according to the private Demiroren news agency and other outlets.

Soylu also said US authorities had requested the serial numbers of the firearms used in the attack from the Turkish police, without specifying which US agency made the request.

Turkish government officials have previously accused Washington of supporting the PKK by arming and training the group’s Syrian branch, known as the YPG.

Tens of thousands of people have been killed in the 38-year on-off conflict between the PKK and the Turkish state. The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the US and the EU. The US does not recognize the YPG, which helped combat the Daesh group in Syria, as a terrorist entity.

Soylu last year alleged American involvement in a failed coup attempt in Turkey in 2016 that killed more than 250 people.


Israeli forces kill Palestinian teenager in West Bank

Updated 02 October 2022

Israeli forces kill Palestinian teenager in West Bank

  • The shooting happened in Azariyah, a village just outside of Jerusalem, and marked the latest violence in what has become the deadliest year in the West Bank since 2015

JERUSALEM: Israeli forces on Saturday shot and killed a Palestinian teenager in the occupied West Bank after a group of youths smashed a hole through the Israeli separation barrier and began throwing objects at police.

The shooting happened in Azariyah, a village just outside of Jerusalem, and marked the latest violence in what has become the deadliest year in the West Bank since 2015.

Amateur video shared on social media showed a group of masked youths gathered in front of the towering concrete barrier and chanting slogans as they forced their way through a gate.

“Walk forward our popular fans,” they chanted. “A hole in the separation wall, a patrol explodes.”

Israel’s paramilitary border police said forces shot a protester who attempted to throw a firebomb at them as they came to disperse a demonstration.

It said demonstrators threw stones and explosives at them.

The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the dead youth as 18-year-old Fayez Damdoum.

Israel built the barrier some 20 years ago in what it said was a security measure meant to prevent attackers from entering Israel.

But the barrier frequently dips into the West Bank, carving off nearly 10 percent of its territory.

The Palestinians view the structure as an illegal land grab and symbol of Israel’s 55-year military occupation of the territory.

Israel captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.

Some 700,000 Israeli settlers now live in the two areas, which the Palestinians claim for a future state.

Saturday’s killing came at a time of heightened tensions. Israel has been carrying out stepped-up military activity in the West Bank, mostly in the northern cities of Jenin and Nablus, following a series of deadly Palestinian attacks inside Israel last spring.


At least 92 people killed in Iran crackdown on Mahsa Amini protests: IHR NGO

Updated 02 October 2022

At least 92 people killed in Iran crackdown on Mahsa Amini protests: IHR NGO

  • Protests broke out in Iran's Sistan and Balochistan province after the rape of a 15-year-old Baloch girl, allegedly by a local military commander
  • Amid global outcry, students in Iranian cities protest against crackdown since Mahsa Amini’s death

At least 92 people have been killed nationwide in Iran's crackdown on two weeks of protests that erupted following the death of Mahsa Amini who had been arrested by the morality police, the Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) NGO said on Sunday.
"The international community has a duty to investigate this crime and prevent further crimes from being committed by the Islamic Republic," said IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam.
Its previous toll had said 83 people were confirmed to have been killed in the protests.

Meanwhile in the city of Zahedan in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan at least 41 people were killed by the Iranian security forces in clashes that erupted last week, IHR NGO said.
IHR accused the security forces of "bloodily repressing" a protest that erupted on Friday after prayers in Zahedan over accusations a police chief in the port city of Chabahar, also in Sistan-Baluchistan province, had raped a 15-year-old girl from the Sunni Baluch minority.
It said the identities of those killed had been confirmed by the regional NGO Baluch Activists Campaign (BAC). Iran says five members of the Revolutionary Guards were killed in Zahedan in what official media described as a "terrorist incident".

IRGC intelligence chief killed 

Ali Mousavi, IRGC intelligence chief of Sistan and Balochistan, was shot during the confrontation with protesters. The IRGC-affiliated Tasnim News Agency reported that Mousavi was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Mousavi’s killing was claimed by the Jaish Al-Adl militant group, which says it is fighting for the independence of Sistan and Balochistan and greater rights for Baloch people, who are the main ethnic group in the province.

Footage emerging from Zahedan showed people carrying dead and wounded protesters amid heavy gunfire.

IRNA on Saturday identified the dead as Hamidreza Hashemi, a Revolutionary Guard colonel; Mohammad Amin Azarshokr, a Guard member; Mohamad Amin Arefi, a Basiji, or volunteer force with the IRG; and Saeed Borhan Rigi, also a Basiji.

Weeks of protest

Thousands of Iranians have taken to the streets over the last two weeks to protest the death of Mahsa Amini. The protesters have vented their anger over the treatment of women and wider repression in the Islamic Republic. The nationwide demonstrations rapidly escalated into calls for the overthrow of the clerical establishment that has ruled Iran since its 1979 Islamic revolution.

The protests have drawn supporters from various ethnic groups, including Kurdish opposition movements in the northwest that operate along the border with neighboring Iraq. Amini was an Iranian Kurd and the protests first erupted in Kurdish areas.

Iranian state TV has reported that dozens of protesters and police have been killed since the demonstrations began Sept. 17. An Associated Press count of official statements by authorities tallied more than 1,500 demonstrators arrested.

On Friday, Iran said it had arrested nine foreigners linked to the protests, which authorities have blamed on hostile foreign entities, without providing evidence.

It has been difficult to gauge the extent of the protests, particularly outside of Tehran. Iranian media have only sporadically covered the demonstrations.

Iranians based abroad and their supporters gathered in cities around the world in solidarity.

“Woman, life, freedom” and “Death to the dictator”, they chanted in the streets of Amini’s hometown of Saqqez, in Kurdistan province.

Riot police massed at major road junctions across the capital, as students demonstrated in Enghelab (Revolution) Square near Tehran University in the city centre to press for the release of arrested students.

Police clashed with the protesters who were chanting slogans and arrested some of them.

Video footage shared by the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group also showed student protests in other cities, including second city Mashhad and Karaj, west of the capital.

The protesters were seen chanting and women having removed their headscarves.

Demonstrations of support were called in 159 cities across the globe — from Auckland to New York and Seoul to Zurich, the Iranians for Justice and Human Rights group said. In Rome, at a rally of about 1,000 people, a half dozen women cut their hair in solidarity.

Iranian opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, meanwhile, reminded Iran’s armed forces of their duty to people’s lives and rights, the foreign-based opposition Telegram channel Kaleme reported.

Mousavi’s Green Movement challenged Iran’s disputed 2009 presidential election in unrest at a level unseen since its 1979 Islamic Revolution before being crushed by authorities.

“Obviously your capability that was awarded to you is for defending people, not suppression people, defending oppressed, not serving powerful people and oppressors,” he said.

(With AFP and AP)


US citizen allowed to leave Iranian prison for a week -lawyer

Updated 01 October 2022

US citizen allowed to leave Iranian prison for a week -lawyer

  • UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said Baquer Namazi is being allowed to leave Iran for medical treatment
  • It was unclear if Siamak's furlough might be a step toward his full release

DUBAI: Siamak Namazi, an Iranian-American businessman who has been imprisoned in Iran for nearly seven years, has been allowed out of Tehran’s Evin prison on a one-week, renewable furlough, his lawyer Jared Genser told Reuters on Saturday.
United Nations spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said in a statement that Siamak’s father, Baquer Namazi, is being allowed to leave Iran for medical treatment.
Baquer Namazi was convicted in Iran of “collaboration with a hostile government” in 2016 and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Iranian authorities released him on medical grounds in 2018 and closed his case in 2020, commuting his sentence to time served but effectively barring him from leaving the country.
His son, Siamak, was convicted of the same charge and has been held in Evin prison since 2015. The US government has described the charges against both as baseless.
It was unclear if Siamak’s furlough might be a step toward his full release, nor whether it signals the possible furlough or release of other US citizens detained in Iran.
“I am thrilled for the Namazi family that for the first time in seven years Siamak Namazi is sleeping at home with his family,” Genser, who represents the family, told Reuters, saying Siamak was staying with his parents at their Tehran apartment.
“This is a critical first step but of course we will not rest until the entire family is able to return to the United States and their long nightmare is finally over,” Genser added.


Iran students protest, global demonstrations over crackdown since Mahsa Amini death

Updated 01 October 2022

Iran students protest, global demonstrations over crackdown since Mahsa Amini death

  • Iranians based abroad and their supporters gathered in cities around the world in solidarity
  • “Woman, life, freedom” and “Death to the dictator” chanted in the streets

PARIS: Students demonstrated in Tehran and other Iranian cities Saturday against an ongoing crackdown on dissent over the death last month of Mahsa Amini in the custody of the Islamic republic’s notorious morality police.

Iranians based abroad and their supporters gathered in cities around the world in solidarity.

Cities including Auckland, London, Melbourne, New York, Paris, Rome, Seoul, Stockholm, Sydney and Zurich all witnessed anti-regime demonstrations.

A wave of street violence has rocked Iran since Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, died after her arrest by the morality police for allegedly failing to observe the Islamic republic’s strict dress code for women.

Protests have been held nightly for more than two weeks, despite a bloody crackdown that a rights group says has claimed more than 80 lives.

“Woman, life, freedom” and “Death to the dictator,” they chanted in the streets of Amini’s hometown of Saqqez, in Kurdistan province.
On Saturday, riot police massed at major road junctions across the capital, as students demonstrated in Enghelab (Revolution) Square near Tehran University in the city center to press for the release of arrested students.
Police clashed with the protesters who were chanting slogans and arrested some of them, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Video footage shared by the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group also showed student protests in other cities, including second city Mashhad and Karaj, west of the capital.
The protesters were seen chanting and women having removed their headscarves.
Demonstrations of support were called in 159 cities across the globe — from Auckland to New York and Seoul to Zurich, the Iranians for Justice and Human Rights group said.
In Rome, at a rally of about 1,000 people, a half dozen women cut their hair in solidarity.
But in Beirut, the head of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, Hasan Nasrallah, described Amini’s death as a “vague incident” that was being used against Tehran.
“This vague incident was exploited and people took to the streets,” Nasrallah said, adding that the protests do not reflect the true will of the Iranian people.
The protests flared in Iran on September 16, when Amini was pronounced dead three days after falling into a coma following her arrest.
Iran Human Rights group says at least 83 people have been killed in the crackdown. Amnesty International says it has confirmed 52 fatalities, while Iran’s Fars agency has put the death toll at “around 60.”
It is the bloodiest unrest in Iran since a ruthless crackdown on demonstrations in November 2019 over a sudden hike in fuel prices that killed at least 304 people, according to Amnesty.
Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister who has been under house arrest for more than a decade, urged security forces to halt the violence, in a message on the Instagram account of opposition group Kaleme.
“I would like to remind all the armed forces of their pledge to protect our land, Iran, and the lives, property, and rights of the people,” he said.
Iran’s intelligence ministry said Friday that “nine foreign nationals,” including from France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland, were arrested “at or behind the scene of riots,” along with 256 members of outlawed opposition groups.
Unrest also erupted on Friday in Iran’s southeastern Sistan-Baluchestan province, which borders Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said two of its colonels were killed, bringing the official toll to 20 dead during clashes in the province where three police stations were attacked.
“Several chain stores were looted and set on fire, and a number of banks and government centers were also damaged,” said Sistan-Baluchestan governor Hossein Khiabani.
Poverty-stricken Sistan-Baluchestan is a flashpoint for clashes with drug smuggling gangs, as well as rebels from the Baluchi minority and Sunni Muslim extremist groups.
Iran has blamed outside forces for the nationwide protests.
On Wednesday, the Revolutionary Guards launched cross-border missile and drone strikes that killed 14 people in autonomous Iraqi Kurdistan, accusing rebel groups in the region of fueling the unrest.
The US said one of its citizens was killed in the strikes.
On Saturday, Iranian forces mounted a new bombardment of Kurdish rebel bases over the border that caused damage but no casualties, a rebel official told AFP.