The French government struggled to explain its bungling of the arrest of three men suspected of having fought for the Islamic State in Syria and deported by Turkey, after police waited for them at the wrong airport.
France joined the US in airstrikes in Iraq earlier. “This affair didn’t go as it should have,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said during a parliamentary debate on Wednesday. “The Interior Minister has spoken about it, and will have the chance to do so again.”
Meanwhile a 55-year-old French mountain guide became the first victim of the threatened “revenge” executions following western air attacks on Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq.
A video placed online by an Algerian jihadist group linked to Isil appeared to show the beheading of Hervé Gourdel, who was kidnapped earlier this week in a mountainous region of Algeria.
French officials said they believed the video to be authentic but could not immediately confirm Mr Gourdel’s death.
In the bungled arrest, the men turned themselves in at a gendarme station in southern France, BFM TV reported.
“We went through customs, we showed our passports, and there was no one to meet us,” one of the three men, who gave his name as Imad, told Europe1 radio. “We were quite surprised,” he said, adding that they planned to turn themselves in.
They rang the bell at the station in the town of Caylar and were told to wait outside because there was no one there. A police car came 20 minutes later to pick them up and take them to a nearby police station, according to BFM.
The missteps, which Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called a “major foul-up,” led to accusations of incompetence from the opposition and forced Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve to promise an investigation.
After being arrested in Turkey last month, the three men were put on a flight to Orly airport in Paris this week. The pilot of that plane refused to fly with them on board, according to a statement from the French Interior Ministry. Turkish police then placed them on a flight to Marseille without informing their French counterparts of the change until after their arrival in France, the ministry said.
A computerized passport system at Marseille airport that should have alerted police about the suspects’ arrival was broken, Le Drian said on France Info radio on Wednesday.
“It’s a complete mess but a large part of it is due to a lack of good cooperation with the Turkish authorities,” he said. Cazeneuve told reporters he’ll be speaking today to his Turkish counterpart to improve cooperation.
About 580 French have fought or are fighting in Syria, and 36 died there, Valls said. He said 189 have returned, of which 114 have been arrested, 78 charged, and 53 sent to jail.