Interview. Toulouse. Wives and children of returned jihadists: “Time bombs do not exist!”

According to estimates from M.e Ludovic Rivière, “about 70 French women and 150 children are still in camps in the Iraqi-Syrian zone”. (© Adobe Stock / Illustration)

They are back in national territory. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced the repatriation to France on Tuesday, July 5, 2022 of ” 35 French miners who was with camps in northeastern Syria », As well as return of 16 mothers.

“There are probably people from Toulouse”

Among them, “there are certainly Toulouse people, yes,” indicating Me Ludovic Rivierelawyer at Toulouse Bar (Haute-Garonne), who especially achieved in 2020 the repatriation of little Taymia, 7, from a Syrian refugee camp. Originally from Pink City and suffers from a heart defect, this child had been taken by her parents to the conflict zone when she was one year old. “She’s feeling better today,” the lawyer said.


The children from the last repatriation to date “have been handed over to the services responsible for Child Welfare and will be subject to medical follow-up”. For their part, the mothers were transferred “to the competent judicial authorities”, clarifies Quai d’Orsay. Accused of terrorist conspiracythe incur 30 years in prison.

News: How do you view this repatriation operation?

Master Ludovic Rivière: It is clear that the state is changing its doctrine and moving from case to case to more global repatriations. We, family lawyers, condemned the policy on a case-by-case basis because it was illegible: why save this child instead of another?
The case-by-case policy meant that women did not return. France believed they should be convicted on the spot. But it was legally impossible. Kurdish legislation does not even punish the fact of having joined a terrorist organization! Only for having participated in battle.
These French women can not be prosecuted there because there is no court, no offense, and even if a verdict were handed down, it would be illegal under international law. Because Rojava’s sovereignty (Syrian Kurdistan, editor’s note) has not been recognized.

“About 70 French women and 150 children are still there”

What legal procedure is used for these wives of repatriated jihadists?

Master Ludovic Rivière: Some of these 16 repatriated women have already been detained because they were the subject of international arrest warrants. Others have been remanded in custody because a search warrant had been issued against them. They will then be brought before the judges. And no doubt imprisoned.

How many French women and children are still detained in camps in Syria?

Master Ludovic Rivière: It is estimated that there are still 150 children and that there are still around 60 to 80 women living. We are happy for this significant repatriation. We will be able to take care of the children. And mothers will be prosecuted. The mere fact of having joined the Iraqi-Syrian zone in order to join Islamic State constitutes a crime of terrorist criminal association. No one wants to escape it. Moreover, when the French leave to join the ranks of the PKK Kurds, they are also subject to the same prosecution when they return …

Necessary worship of silence

What happens to the children when they return to France?

Master Ludovic Rivière: They are first examined by doctors. Then we make a psychological assessment. They have been through absolutely traumatic things. They are then placed in foster families specially trained to care for children from Iraqi-Syrian areas. These are so-called ‘special’ investments. The place where they are located is secret. I ignore it even for my clients.

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For Maître Ludovic Rivière, lawyers for jihadist families,
For Master Ludovic Rivière, lawyers for jihadist families, “to leave French children in the Iraqi-Syrian zone is to take the risk of being picked up by Daesh”. (© Alain Pitton)

Why such a degree of secrecy?

Master Ludovic Rivière: We do this first and foremost to protect them. These children could be victims of violence from people who would resent them because they are “Daesh children” or “jihadist children”, moreover, abominable terms. We took them there without them asking for anything! They are completely innocent.
And there is also a risk that these children will be taken by fanatics. They go to primary school. The company directors must know that, I imagine, but they are bound by professional secrecy. Information that these children are returning from Iraqi-Syrian areas is being shared as little as possible.

“Daesh said it would take his wives and children back”

Is it necessary in your eyes?

Master Ludovic Rivière: It is absolutely essential. Islamic State announced that it would take its wives and children back in some way. In France, in my opinion, that is impossible. But in the area … In January 2022, IS attacked a prison to free jihadists and 12-year-old children, locked inside a university, mixed with adults. They want their fighters back. And fear that Islamic State will attack the camps for doing the same with women and children is not a fantasy.

Will these children be monitored until they reach the majority?

Master Ludovic Rivière: The idea is that grandparents, aunts and uncles, large families, after their educational ability has been assessed, raise these children. Things happen gradually, over time. Supervised by child care specialists, child psychiatrists, educators … The process is long.

“Time bomb, this expression is really disgusting”

Some consider these children to be ‘ticking bombs’ …

Master Ludovic Rivière: Time bombs are a fantasy, they do not exist! To say that about a child is to mock him, to blame him when he did not ask to go. That these children have experienced trauma is indisputable. But they are imbued with resilience. If we take care of them, if we surround them, if we are kind to them, there will be nothing left of them. Children aged one and a half come home. They forgot. They have no memories of sometimes being born in the camps.
Time bomb, does that mean these kids are radicalized? It makes no sense ! What scares people are teenagers aged 16-18. They have the memory. But when they left, they did not choose it. They followed their parents. In fact, these teens need to be taken care of even more.

Some of these teens may have been involved in abuse …

Master Ludovic Rivière: This could actually be the case, for example within the kids of the caliphate, this kind of army of children and youth. When these return to France, they are assessed. And if the French intelligence services have information about serious matters, they are prosecuted.
Children in France can just as easily live in dysfunctional families, without adequate emotional support, and may later become criminals. But we are not saying they are ticking bombs. This expression is really disgusting.

“If we want to turn them into terrorists …”

How do you react to those who think we should leave them there?

Master Ludovic Rivière: It is obviously much more dangerous to leave these children in Syria. Unless we really want it to be terrorists. They will be taken over by Daesh, but will still be French. And one day, after ten years in Islamic State, they return … They must be brought back as soon as possible so that life in the camps does not leave scars that can never be erased.

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