More than 270 returnees from Iraq and Syria under investigation in France

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – France says 271 alleged militants have come home from Iraq and Syria who will be subjected to investigation by public prosecutors for fear of potential terror links and attacks on home soil.

The suspected ISIS militants who returned to France are under investigation for terrorist activities in war zones, France’s Interior Minister Gerard Collumb said in an interview with the French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche as reported by Reuters today.

The number of returnees includes 217 adults and 54 minors, some who are currently in detention.

It is estimated that some 700 French nationals have fought for ISIS in Iraq in Syria. France, along with other European countries, is struggling with how to handle to influx of returnees from war zones.

Collumb told the Sunday newspaper it was difficult to estimate exactly how many French nationals has been killed during the fight against ISIS.

France has participated in the US led coalition in Iraq, helping Iraqi forces liberate Mosul last month.

The head of France’s Special Forces stated in June that his units had been directly involved in street battles during the operation to reclaim Mosul, but denied allegations at the time that they were directly targeting French nationals fighting for ISIS.

Collumb believes that France’s military interventions abroad have exposed their country to attacks by ISIS militants.

In November 2015 gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people in and around Paris and more than 100 more people were killed in other terror attacks in France in the past two-and-a-half years. ISIS had claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The threat of militant attacks in France is “very high”, Collumb said citing two different incidences where police were targeted on Paris’ Champs Elysees as well as seven foiled plots so far this year.

There is an increasing number of people being flagged for radicalized behavior under a preventative monitoring system, with more than 18,500 people currently on the list, he said.

Since the November 2015 attacks, France has been subject to state of emergency legislation, which gives police officers extended powers. A counter-terrorism bill is expected to be put before parliament in the coming months to incorporate some of these measures into ordinary law.

The US intelligence community estimates that some 40,000 foreign fighters have joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria since the terror organization first declared its caliphate in 2014.

The survivors would be returning home from the conflict zone “with a whole new set of skills, a whole new set of contacts, perhaps even specialized skills that go into the areas of weapons of mass destruction,” said the Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), Nicholas Rasmussen, at the Aspen Security Forum late last month.

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