Iraqi President Barham Saleh said during a two-day visit to France that the French citizens were handed over from Syria, where troops with U.S.-led coalition forces detained them. The 13 will be prosecuted in accordance with Iraqi laws, he said.
"Anyone who is accused of committing crimes against Iraq, against Iraqi installations and against Iraqi personnel, we definitively are seeking them," Saleh said. "And seeking to try them, of course." At a news conference with Saleh, French President Emmanuel Macron said he would not identify the French citizens nor comment on their cases. He said it's Iraq' sovereign decision to decide whether the alleged militants should face the criminal justice system in the Mideast country.
An intelligence official said the Iraqi government has 13 French IS militants in custody after they were transferred from Syria a month ago. An Iraqi security official confirmed the report Monday and said the militants will be put on trial for crimes committed inside Iraq.
There were no details on their identities. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. The U.S. has called for countries to take back and try their own nationals. France's official position states that French "terrorist" fighters "must be tried wherever they committed their crimes," according to the French foreign affairs ministry.
The issue of captured foreign fighters in Syria poses a major conundrum for countries whose nationals have been imprisoned in the country. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces is holding more than 900 foreign fighters in prisons it runs in the country's north, many of them Iraqis and Europeans.
According to an Iraqi government statement issued Monday, about 280 Iraqi IS militants have been handed over by the SDF to Iraq in two successive batches last week, out of an estimated more than 500. Also last week, a French diplomatic official and a SDF official said they were trying to verify reports that Fabien Clain, a Frenchman who is one of Europe's most-wanted members of IS, was killed in an airstrike in Syria.
Macron insisted France will keep supporting Iraq as it faces security and stability challenges while rebuilding in areas that had been controlled by IS. Both countries also are seeking to strengthen their economic cooperation.
France remains militarily involved in Iraq through training and logistical support of Iraqi forces and intelligence missions.
Qassim Abdul-Zahra contributed to this story from Baghdad.