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France brings 51 citizens home from IS camps in Syria

PARIS (AP) — French authorities on Tuesday repatriated 51 women and children from the former Islamic State-controlled areas in Syria, according to a statement from the national antiterrorist prosecutor’s office.

It’s the single largest return of women and children to France from camps in northeastern Syria since the territorial defeat of the Islamic State group in March 2019. France saw more of its citizens leave to join IS than any other country in Europe.

Tuesday’s group comprises 16 women, aged 22 to 39, and 35 minors, seven of whom are coming to France unaccompanied by adults. All but two of the women in the group are French citizens. Twelve women returned with their children and four of the women had previously agreed to the return of their children, according to the prosecutor’s statement.

Eight women were taken into custody for questioning and the other eight were detained on arrest warrants. The children were placed in the care of the child protective services attached to the Versailles Judicial Court.

One of the 35 minors is in police custody on suspicion of participating in activities of a terrorist criminal enterprise, according to the prosecutor’s statement. The minor will shortly turn 18, the statement said.

Many European countries were slow to allow the return of women and children for fear they would violently turn on their homelands. France, which saw more of its citizens join IS in Syria than any other European country and suffered multiple deadly attacks beginning in 2015, has been especially reluctant.

French authorities have insisted that adults who fought with IS should be prosecuted in the country where they had committed crimes.

In December, a 28-year-old Frenchwoman with diabetes died in a camp in Syria, leaving her 6-year-old daughter an orphan, according to the family’s lawyer, who had been requesting their return since 2019.

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