3 French jihadists arrested and deported

ISLAMABAD: Three French jihadists, held in secret since they entered the country illegally 10 months ago, have been deported, officials said on Thursday.

The three men reportedly planned to travel to Afghanistan to fight Nato troops. French investigators revealed that Pakistani police arrested the trio on May 28 last year, after they entered the country illegally through the Iranian border.

They were detained along with Naamen Meziche, another Frenchman of North African descent, who is known to western security services as a member of al Qaeda.

Meziche’s arrest was announced last June but French and Pakistani officials had kept quiet about the other three. Investigators believe Meziche could have been taking the other three to the tribal belt, a rear base for the Taliban’s war in Afghanistan and a location of al Qaeda training camps.

“They said they came to Pakistan to deepen their knowledge of Islam and to fight in Afghanistan,” one investigator said on condition of anonymity. Officials say the three men left France in January 2012, telling their families in Orleans, south of Paris, that they were going on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

On Thursday a French diplomatic source confirmed that the last of the three suspects was now back on French soil, after being deported over the last 48 hours.

After their deportation, investigators are expected to question the men in France, where the case is likely to draw parallels with Mohammed Merah, a 23-year-old who shot dead seven people in southwest France in March 2012.

It remains unclear whether they will face trial. A new law banning French citizens from going abroad for militant training came into force last December, only after their arrest.