As many as 700 French nationals were still fighting with Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria as of November 2017, while nearly 2,000 French citizens are believed to have travelled to join the group during the conflict.
But the biggest question lies with some 500 French children under 18 in the region. Dozens of them are in refugee camps in northern Syria run by France’s Kurdish allies. So far, 77 French children, most of them under eight, have arrived back from Iraq and Syria.
As reported by the BBC, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian earlier this year said that while adult French fighters would be tried wherever they were arrested, children were a different matter.
“We want to make sure we can repatriate them to France, with the help of the Red Cross,” he explained.
Muriel Domenach, who runs the French government’s de-radicalisation programme for returnee children, says that French authorities found themselves asking: “Are they victims or are they dangerous?”
“They’re victims, of their parents’ choice to start with, but they might be dangerous. We don’t know what they experienced on the ground. Probably they witnessed horrific events.”
According to the BBC, bringing back the children of IS supporters is a sensitive issue in France. The Paris prosecutor has described them as “time bombs” because of the danger he believed they posed.