The French government has confirmed reports that U.S. troops in Iraq are holding three French Islamists who allegedly traveled to the region to fight with the Iraqi insurgency. They are believed linked to an Islamist cell that French police shattered in Paris last week. These and other Iraq-bound Islamists are a source of concern in Europe.
News about the detention of the three French Islamists by U.S. troops in Iraq was first reported in Friday's edition of France's Le Figaro newspaper. News agencies later reported the story independently. According to sources quoted by the various news agencies, U.S. troops arrested the three in Fallujah last November, and have detained them ever since. The French Foreign Ministry on Friday confirmed the three men are being held by U.S. forces in Iraq, but said little is known about them.
A Pentagon spokesman said U.S. Defense Department officials as a matter of policy do not discuss individual detainees or their nationalities.
All three men reportedly are part of a group of Islamists that was based in northeastern Paris. French police claimed they smashed that cell last week, arresting nearly a dozen people in two separate raids. Le Figaro had earlier reported that three members of the same Paris group had been killed by American troops in Iraq. French media also report that two of those arrested in Paris last week had intended to go to Iraq, to fight in the insurgency as well.
Those arrested reportedly have ties with other so-called Jihadists in Europe - radical extremists who endorse violent methods to establish Islamic states and fight against Western interests. The Paris group reportedly included ethnic Africans and North Africans, as well as a Christian convert to Islam.
In the past, hundreds of young radical men streamed from European countries to Afghanistan, Bosnia and Chechnya. Many were allegedly trained in al-Qaida camps in Afghanistan. Now, some experts are worried about a new wave of European recruits for the insurgency in Iraq.
Two men were also arrested in Germany a week ago. They are suspected of being part of a group that has helped at least a dozen radicals travel from Germany to Iraq.
But Mowafak Abboud, Iraq's new ambassador to France, believes that Iraq-bound radicals from Europe are not a major source of concern.
"It's not really in a large number," said Mowafak Abboud. "These people used to send more people to fight in Afghanistan, for example. Now, in Iraq, there are, I think, few people coming from Europe, recruited by these terrorist groups to send them to Iraq and join terrorist groups inside Iraq."
For example, Mr. Abboud believes only about 10 to 15 fighters left France for Iraq. French extremists also fought alongside counterparts in Afghanistan a few years ago. Seven of them ended up as prisoners in Guantanamo. The United States sent four back to France last year. Three remain, and may be the subject of talks between French and U.S. officials next week, when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Paris.