January 23, 2015 / 1:18 PM / 3 years ago

French court approves stripping nationality of Franco-Moroccan jihadist

PARIS (Reuters) - France's top court ruled on Friday it was possible to strip the nationality of a Franco-Moroccan man naturalized as French who was convicted on terrorism charges, paving the way for more dual nationality jihadists to lose their passports.

While Britain last year unveiled powers to strip suspected Islamist militants of their passports temporarily, France has so far stopped short of using the measure systematically even though hundreds of jihadists are joining Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria.

The move comes after President Francois Hollande's Socialist government unveiled a raft of new security measures weeks after two attacks in Paris by Islamist militants which killed 17 people and the three attackers.

"We should not, in any case, deprive ourselves of lawful means to ensure our values are respected," Prime Minister Manuel Valls told journalists near Paris.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said in a statement: "the government will continue to take the decision to strip (nationality) whenever legal conditions are appropriate."

Franco-Moroccan Ahmed Sahnouni el-Yaacoubi, naturalized in 2003, had appealed to the Constitutional Court to reverse a decision to strip him of his nationality when he was convicted in 2013 for conspiracy to commit terrorist acts.

While the Civil law code dictates that a naturalized person can be stripped of their French passport if convicted on terrorism charges, the measure has only been used on eight occasions since 1998, according to a lawmaker.

El-Yaacoubi's lawyer argued that removing his French passport violated human rights because it set him apart from native-born citizens.

"The Constitutional Court noted that people having acquired French nationality and those to whom French nationality was given at birth are in the same situation, but that the difference in treatment, which was created to fight terrorism, does not violate the principle of equality," the court wrote in a statement.

Nurettin Meseci, el-Yaacoubi's lawyer, criticized a decision he said was taken in an "emotional context" which was unfavorable to his client.

Proceedings will be undertaken to have el-Yaacoubi, found guilty of recruiting jihadists online, notably to fight in Afghanistan, deported to Morocco. But given that judicial cooperation between France and Morocco has been suspended since Feb., 2014, they could drag.

Reporting By Chine Labbe; Writing by Nicholas Vinocur; Editing by Andrew Callus

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