Top court OKs stripping binational jihadist of French nationality

23rd January 2015, Comments 0 comments

France's top legal body ruled Friday that stripping a binational convicted jihadist of his French nationality was lawful, just as the country ups its fight against extremism.

The ruling by the Constitutional Council comes after the government announced a series of anti-terror measures in the wake of the deadly Paris attacks earlier this month and mulls whether to use this move more widely.

Ahmed Sahnouni, a Moroccan naturalised by France in 2003, was convicted and handed a seven-year prison term in March 2013 for being part of a terrorist organisation and was stripped of his citizenship in May last year.

Born in Casablanca in 1970, he was convicted for having overseen recruitment networks of aspiring jihadists to Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and the Sahel region of North Africa, raising funds for them and overseeing the operational coordination of volunteers once on the ground.

Under French law, authorities can strip people of their naturalised citizenship if they are convicted of "terror acts" -- but only if they have another nationality to fall back on. The measure has been used eight times since 1973.

The law also states that a person's nationality can be removed anytime during a 15-year period after being naturalised, or 15 years after being convicted for terror acts -- up from 10 years previously.

- 'More French than others?' -

Sahnouni's lawyer Nurettin Meseci had argued that the law creates inequalities between those who are French by birth and those who are naturalised.

"Are there French people who are more French than others?" he asked in court.

"If legislators believe that the fight against terrorism involves stripping nationalities, they are wrong."

He also argued the move aimed to expel his client to Morocco, "where he risks being sentenced to 20 years in prison."

Adding to this, Meseci said that increasing the time period during which a person can be stripped of their nationality from 10 to 15 years was "disproportionate."

But the Constitutional Council ruled that the seriousness of the fight against extremism justified the move and did not "violate the principle of equality."

The ruling comes as France still reels from the January 7-9 attacks in Paris that left 17 people dead, sending shockwaves around the world and prompting raids on suspected Islamist cells in neighbouring Belgium and Germany.

On Wednesday, the government unveiled a raft of measures to curb radicalisation and better monitor jihadists.

Prime Minister Manuel Valls said the attacks had raised "a legitimate question" as to what should be done about those who attack a country where they were born or that gave them citizenship.

Where foreign jihadists are concerned, Valls said 28 people had been expelled from France over the past three years.

For those who are French, he proposed a cross party debate on bringing back the offence of "national disgrace" -- used after World War II against collaborators with the Nazi regime and abolished in 1951.

Less severe than treason, and allowing authorities to strip citizens of some rights, Valls said that reviving the offence would be a strong symbol of "the consequences of... committing a terrorist act."

And for binationals, he said the government would be watching Friday's ruling closely.

The Constitutional Council's decision also comes at a time of serious diplomatic crisis between France and Morocco over torture complaints filed against top Moroccan officials last year.

Since then, bilateral judicial relations have been cut and anti-terrorism cooperation frozen.

© 2015 AFP

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