On November 11th, Turkey began repatriating captured ISIS militants to the European countries of their respective citizenship, Turkish state outlet TRT Haber reported.
Thus, the country’s authorities began to implement what the Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu in the previous week said would happen.
The report doesn’t say how many ISIS militants exactly would be returned to their countries of citizenship.
On November 8th, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that 1201 members of ISIS were detained in Turkish prisons. Of them, 287 militants were captured in Syria.
On the same day, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said militants captured during its military incursion in northern Syria – where many “former” ISIS fighters were being held in prisons after being captured by Kurdish forces – would be repatriated.
“We are telling them: ‘We’ll repatriate these people to you’, and we are starting as of Monday [November 11th],” Soylu said.
A source at the French Foreign Ministry told Euronews that foreign jihadists were a security issue both for France and Turkey — and that it was therefore in the two countries’ best interest to handle their cases in an orderly manner.
On November 14th, the US-led coalition against ISIS would convene to discuss how to handle these repatriated terrorists.
The Foreign Ministry official said that there was already ‘close and efficient cooperation’ in place with Turkey to handle the case of French jihadists and their children.
A Belgian Foreign Ministry spokesperson said “less than five” Belgian fighters — men and women — were currently detained by Turkish authorities.
“A strong, tested bilateral procedure fully involving Belgian authorities and Turkey exists for the repatriation of fighters arrested on Turkish soil to Belgium. We assume that this procedure will be used,” the spokesperson said. “The timing is in the hands of Turkish authorities,” the spokesperson added.
France, Belgium and the UK, and other EU states, understandably, do not want the “former” terrorists back, but rather maintain that they should face justice in Syria and Iraq.
The UK has undertaken a step that takes it past simple rhetoric – it stripped the citizenship of dozens of militants. The Netherlands did the same.
In a written statement, a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said:
“Our priority is the safety and security of the UK and the people who live here. Those who have fought for or supported Daesh should wherever possible face justice for their crimes in the most appropriate jurisdiction, which will often be in the region where their offences have been committed.”
The Belgian Foreign Ministry at the same time said the country’s position was to seek trial for IS fighters “near the place where they committed their crimes.”
“This must imperatively be done in fair conditions and in compliance with international law. Discussions are continuing and Belgium remains convinced that this is the solution that minimizes the risks for our society while respecting the rights of the defendant,” a ministry spokesman said.
The UK’s move to take away citizenship makes sense, but as per international law an individual cannot be stateless, so they are, technically, still UK citizens, if they’re not holders of a passport of any other country and Turkey is within its right to repatriate them.
Turkey has long criticized its European allies for refusing to take back IS fighters who are their citizens. Ankara warned that it would send “former” militants to their countries of citizenship, even if the authorities of these countries annul the citizenship of the deported jihadists.
“We are not a hotel for any ISIS member,” Turkish Interior Minister Suleiman Soilu said in Ankara on November 2nd.
At the same time, the Turkish Interior Minister criticized the decision of several European states, in particular Great Britain and the Netherlands, to deprive citizenship of suspects of membership in the Islamic State. Such measures are “unacceptable and irresponsible,” Soylu said back then.
Euronews cited unnamed experts according to whom many of the countries are unwilling to take back the ISIS militants back, because some of the evidence against them in court wouldn’t stand up. Meaning that they would have “former” ISIS militants roaming freely in their cities.