World Bulletin / News Desk
Three returning French nationals who evaded arrest on suspicion of fighting in Syria after being refused permission to board a Paris plane from Turkey have surrendered to authorities in Marseille, according to their lawyer.
Pierre Le Bonjour told BFMTV that the trio -- among them the brother-of-law of Mohamed Merah, who is alleged to have been responsible for a March 2012 shooting spree in Toulouse in the country's southwest -- turned up at a police station in the south of France on Wednesday.
On Tuesday afternoon, French media had reported that the men had been arrested at Paris’ Orly Airport after Turkish authorities had handed them over to French authorities.
Turkey borders Syria, and some of those who sign up with Syrian militant groups have been using Turkey as a gateway.
However, one of the men's lawyers, Pierre Dunac, told ITele TV that the three had not been held at Orly, instead walking freely through another airport - Marseille.
French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told France Info radio Wednesday that it was an "unfortunate initiative" from Ankara -- the Turkish capital -- to send the three men -- expected in Paris -- to Marseille.
"There was obviously a big mess, partly due to the lack of cooperation with the Turkish authorities," he said.
He added that this incident shows that France needs to boost its cooperation and coordination with Turkey.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry told The Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that Ankara had done everything it could to facilitate the return.
"We did our best," said an official answering the phone at the ministry who did not wish to be named as he was not authorized to speak to media.
One of the suspects -- who identified himself as Imad Jebali -- told BFMTV that they were surprised to walk free once they came to the airport.
"We passed customs, we showed our passports, we showed them everything, that's what makes it amazing. Yet, no police officer was there to welcome us at the airport, even we were amazed," he said.
“We were thinking, 'this is it' they were going to catch us, we would be in custody. So no, nothing, no one came to get us."
The French Interior Ministry issued a statement late Tuesday saying that the pilot of the Paris flight from Istanbul had refused to allow the men to board, so Turkish authorities instead sent them to Marseille on another flight.
"French intelligence was informed by their Turkish counterparts of this change in flight after the arrival of the three deported French nationals on French soil," the statement reads.
Receiving this information, French security services and intelligence had pursued investigations under the warrant issued by the investigating judge of the anti-terrorist division against the three men, says the statement.
The three men were arrested in Turkey in August on "residency violations."Last Mod: 24 Eylül 2014, 14:56