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France faces repatriation choice after Syria jihadi woman's capture

An anti-Assad rebel removes an IS flag after driving the group out of the village of Akhtarin, near Aleppo, in October
An anti-Assad rebel removes an IS flag after driving the group out of the village of Akhtarin, near Aleppo, in October REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
Text by: Tony Cross
3 min

The French government faces a difficult decision following the capture of a notorious jihadi recruiter by Kurdish forces in Syria. It must decide whether to repatriate Emilie König, the first woman to be put on the US's international terrorist blacklist.


König's 70-year-old mother has written to Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian asking him to repatriate her daughter and her three children.

They are currently being held in a refugee camp run by groups fighting Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad.

She is reportedly being questioned by US special forces about her work for the Islamic State (IS) armed group and her mother claims she has been tortured since her capture by Kurdish anti-Assad fighters.

König's mother told Ouest France newspaper that she spoke to her daughter by phone this week and the she had "repented".

During their previous call in July, the 33-year-old "wanted to come back, she asked for forgiveness from her family, her friends and her country", she told the paper.

To repatriate or not

Several dozen French adults, jihadis and their wives, are currently in camps or prisons in Iraq or Syria, according to French intelligence.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said he will decide whether they will be repatriated according to individual circumstances, the cases of women with children proving the most problematic.

But right-wing politicians have opposed any repatriation.

The women should face trial where they are, Lydia Guirous, the spokeswoman of the Republicans party, said on Wednesday, insisting that repatriation might pose a security risk in France.

"I am a feminist, I believe that men and women must absolutely be treated in the same fashion," she told Sud Radio. "These women who joined up to go to fight in Syria or in Iraq against France, to betray France, to sign up to kill, know what they are doing."

And former junior minister Frédéric Lefebvre, who left the Republicans to form his own party, Agir, also opposed the idea.

Convert to Islam

Emilie König converted to Islam when she married a man of Algerian origin who is currently in jail for drugs offences.

She changed her name to Samra, adopted full cover and joined a radical Islamist group.

Summoned to court for distributing leaflets calling for armed jihad in 2012, she posted video of an altercation with a court official over her dress on social media.

She left for Syria later in the year, leaving her two children with her mother.

There she recorded propaganda videos for IS and phoned potential recruits, encouraging some of them to attack French soldiers' wives, according to French intelligence.

She is believed to have recruited 200 French women to IS.

In Syria König married a Frenchman, who has since died in combat, and had a child with him.

She had two other children last year.

Her father, Jean-Bernard König, was a gendarme who split up with her mother when Emilie was two-months-old.

Retired and living in the south of France today, he has no sympathy for his daughter.

"She did what she wanted and now it's too late," he told Ouest France. "She's in Syria? She can stay there!"

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