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Middle East

Fourth French citizen given death penalty in Iraq for IS membership

Mustapha Merzoughi was mainly active in Aleppo. The city's Salaheddine district here visible on 13 April 2019.
Mustapha Merzoughi was mainly active in Aleppo. The city's Salaheddine district here visible on 13 April 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

A fourth French citizen was condemned to death by hanging in an Iraqi court on Monday because of his membership to the Islamic State armed (IS) group, according to Agence France Presse news agency.

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"The evidence and the confession show that you joined the Islamic State group, that you worked in its military branch," the judge told Mustapha Merzoughi, 37, before sentencing him.

In its attempt to eradicate jihadist cells, Iraq has tried and sentenced more than 500 alleged foreign members of IS since 2018.

"I'm not guilty of crimes and killings. I'm guilty of going (to Syria)," Merzoughi said in court.

"I ask for forgiveness from the people of Iraq, Syria, France and the families of the victims," he added.

Merzoughi, a Frenchman of Tunisian origin, said he had served in the French army from 2000 to 2010, but had been living in Toulouse.

Court documents cited that he had religious and military training in Aleppo, Syria.

Other trials to come

Another Frenchman appeared before an Iraqi judge on Monday, but his trial was postponed because he alleged he was beaten while in prison.

Fodhil Tahar Aouidate, 32, will be medically examined before returning to court on 2 June.

France’s Justice Ministry said Aouidate went to Syria in 2013 and joined IS there in 2014.

Aouidate was featured in a video after the November 2015 Paris attacks carried out by IS. He said it was his "great pleasure and joy to see these unbelievers suffer as we suffer here."

Monday's trial came a day after an Iraqi court sentenced three other French citizens to death for joining IS, making them the first French jihadists to be handed capital punishment.

Kevin Gonot, Leonard Lopez and Salim Machou were among 12 French citizens captured in Syria by US-backed fighters.

In February they were transferred to Iraq for trial. They have 30 days to appeal their sentences.

Human rights groups have heavily criticised the trials of suspected IS fighters in Iraq. Activists they say the courts often rely on circumstantial evidence or confessions made under duress.

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