Paris (CNN)The French government has come under fire after Interior Minister Christophe Castaner reportedly said that jihadi fighters of French origin could be repatriated from Syria as US forces withdraw from that country.
Jihadi fighters of French origin could be repatriated from Syria
"There are currently people in prison who are being held because the Americans are there and they are going to be released," Castaner said in an interview Tuesday with CNN affiliate BFM TV.
"They will want to come back to France. What I want is for everyone who returns to France to be immediately handed over to justice."
Castaner said, "They are French before being jihadists," admitting that some have already returned to France and been arrested.
BFM TV reported the French fighters were expected to return in the coming weeks, numbering close to 130.
The French government has disputed that figure, saying it is "by no means confirmed."
Castaner's admission drew strong criticism from French opposition politicians, including the leader of the far-right National Front, Marine Le Pen, who called on the minister to revoke the jihadis' French citizenship.
"No @CCastaner! They are jihadists so they shouldn't be French anymore," Le Pen tweeted Tuesday.
Similar views were echoed Tuesday in the French Parliament, where lawmaker Valérie Boyer of the conservative Les Républicains party, called on the interior minister and government to "stop these jihadists from coming back to France under the pretense they once held a French passport, which they have burnt in the meantime anyway."
Seeking to reassure lawmakers after his interview, Castaner said that if French jihadis were to be expelled from Syria, "we know who they are, where they are and if they set foot in France, they would immediately be arrested and brought to justice."