BAGHDAD, Aug 6, (Agencies): An Iraqi court sentenced a French man and a German woman to life in prison on Monday for belonging to Islamic State, forging ahead with the trial of hundreds of people — many foreigners — captured after the militant group’s defeat last year.
French citizen Lahcen Ammar Gueboudj, in his 50s, and the German, Nadia Rainer Hermann, 22, had both pleaded not guilty to joining the hardline Islamist group that captured a third of Iraq and swathes of Syria in 2014.
Though Gueboudj and Hermann were tried individually, they were brought out for sentencing with 13 others tried on Monday, crowding the small courtroom. During Gueboudj’s roughly 30-minute trial, he said he had only come to the region to retrieve his son who had joined Islamic State and had been living in its de facto Syrian capital, Raqqa. “I would never have left France if my son hadn’t been in Syria,” he told the judge, through a translator, in Baghdad’s Central Criminal Court. “I know I’m crazy to have gone to Syria.” Speaking to Reuters in French through the bars of a holding cell outside the courtroom before he was sentenced, a dishevelled Gueboudj said he had signed papers he had not understood were a confession during the investigation.
Hermann and Gueboudj both told Reuters they had spoken to consular staff only once since being detained in 2017. They had court-appointed lawyers present on Monday but had neither met with nor spoken to them, they said. The sentences can be appealed. Embassy staff and translators from both countries attended Monday’s hearing. Hermann was sentenced in January to a year in jail for entering Iraq illegally.
Asked by the judge whether she believed in Islamic State’s ideology, she said no. However, she earlier admitted to the judge that she had received a salary of 50,000 Iraqi dinars ($42) per month, which confirmed her membership to the group. “This whole process is confusing,” Hermann, who wore a blue prison uniform over a black abaya and a grey headscarf, told Reuters before the verdict, speaking in German from the holding cell, in the presence of Iraqi prison guards. Hermann was the only woman being tried on charges relating to Islamic State on Monday.
Iraq has been prosecuting women of various nationalities for months, and was sentencing roughly 10 women a day at the peak of trials in the spring. Around 20 foreign women, including nationals of Turkey, Germany and Azerbaijan, have been sentenced to death for membership of Islamic State.
The United Nations on Monday hailed Iraq’s “credible” vote recount, which paves the way for a government to be formed nearly three months after polls. Iraq’s May 12 parliamentary elections were marred by allegations of fraud, prompting the country’s supreme court to order a partial manual recount. As an official announced the checks had concluded, the UN said it had observed the recount and found it to be “conducted in a manner that is credible, professional and transparent”. “We are very pleased that it’s been concluded and we look forward to the next steps in this process towards the formation of the new government,” said a statement by Alice Walpole, a UN envoy to Iraq.
Iraqi officials have not specified when the results will be announced, after which lawmakers will take their seats in parliament, elect a president and begin the process for forming a government. Judge Laith Hamza, spokesman for the electoral commission, said Monday the recount “in all polling stations in Iraq and abroad where complaints were registered has ended”.
The commission decided not to undertake such checks for Al-Russafa, one of the largest voting districts in eastern Baghdad, where a fire in June ripped through Iraq’s biggest ballot warehouse. In the arson attack “882 ballot boxes entirely went up in smoke”, Hamza said in a statement, despite authorities at the time suggesting the votes were saved. Three police officers and an electoral commission employee were arrested over the blaze.
“The official results will be announced shortly,” said Imad Jamil, responsible for the vote in Al-Russafa. The recount will not however change the balance of power in the new parliament. Each list should keep the same number of seats announced in May, but the lawmakers elected could be modified, according to experts. When results were initially announced in May, the anti-graft alliance of nationalist cleric Moqtada Sadr had won the largest number of seats.
The election saw a record low turnout of 44.5 percent, with many Iraqis disillusioned by the political class. Iraq has seen a month of unrest since protests erupted in the south of the country and spread to Baghdad, with demonstrators rallying against a lack of public services and jobs.