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article imageJihadists in Syrian Kurdish jails: what we know

By AFP     Oct 23, 2018 in World

Syria's Kurds are holding hundreds of alleged foreign fighters from the Islamic State group, but say they will not try them and have urged their home countries to repatriate them.

Here is what we know:

- Hundreds in jail -

Kurdish forces who have been fighting IS in Syria with backing from the US-led coalition say they hold around 900 of the organisation's foreign jihadists from 44 countries.

The most infamous captives include Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee el-Sheikh, two survivors of the IS kidnapping quartet dubbed "The Beatles" due to their British accents. The group was notorious for videotaping beheadings.

Among the detained French jihadists is Adrien Guihal, who is said to have claimed a truck-ramming attack in the French city of Nice that killed 86 people in 2016.

A woman walks with a child at a camp for people linked to the Islamic State group in the village of ...
A woman walks with a child at a camp for people linked to the Islamic State group in the village of Malikiya in northern Syria near the border with Turkey on September 29, 2018
Delil souleiman, AFP

According to Kurdish foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar, Syrian Kurds also hold 550 women and around 1,200 children from the families of IS members.

Alleged fighters are usually detained in jail, while women and children are held separately in camps.

Many of the detainees do not have identity papers, Omar says.

"Some of the women have four children, each from a different father and each father from a different country," he says.

- No trials -

Since 2014, IS has lost most of a cross-border proto-state they once held in Syria and neighbouring Iraq to various offensives.

Iraq has sentenced dozens of foreigners to death or life in jail over belonging to the extremist group.

But the Kurdish authorities in northeastern Syria have repeatedly said they will not try any foreign fighters.

Kurdish foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar  seen here during an interview with AFP on Septemb...
Kurdish foreign affairs official Abdel Karim Omar, seen here during an interview with AFP on September 24, 2018, says his US-backed administation will not try any of the hundreds of foreign jihadists in its custody
Delil souleiman, AFP/File

"We try the local Syrian IS mercenaries, but we won't try the foreigners," Omar said.

"There are too many of them. It's a heavy burden we can't carry on our own," he said.

"We don't have any laws for capital punishment... If we did try them and their jail sentence ended, then where would they go?" he asked.

The Kurds were trying to exert "pressure on the international community and countries that have nationals in our region," Omar said.

"We are trying by all means for those countries to take back their nationals."

- 'Political considerations' -

Russia, Indonesia, and Sudan have agreed to take some nationals back, Omar said, and these have been mostly women and children.

But overall, Western countries, reeling from deadly attacks claimed by IS on home soil, have been reluctant.

On Tuesday, Pentagon Joint Chiefs chairman Joe Dunford said the delay in repatriating the foreign captives home for prosecution was due to "political considerations and inconsistent legal frameworks".

A mother sits with her children in a tent at a Kurdish-run camp for people linked to the Islamic Sta...
A mother sits with her children in a tent at a Kurdish-run camp for people linked to the Islamic State group in the northern Syrian village of Ain Iss on February 15, 2018
Delil souleiman, AFP/File

Concerns included "how we identify, prosecute, deradicalise and reintegrate foreign fighters", he said.

Two Americans -- a man and a woman -- were transferred back to the United States in July to be tried.

France has insisted any French adults held by Kurdish authorities should be tried where they are, so long as they face a "fair trial".

Britain has reportedly stripped Kotey and Sheikh of their citizenship, and made no efforts to repatriate them.

American media reported in August that the US administration was considering sending them to Guantanamo Bay.

- Talks? -

Omar says the Kurds "have been in touch with the Danish, Dutch and Canadian governments", but so far without results.

"After advancing past many stages, the Canadian government halted everything," he said.

Canadian official Stefano Maron however told AFP that "any information on an understanding towards repatriating Canadian citizens from Syria was unfounded".

Beyond those three countries, the Kurds appear to be showing more leniency with two key member states of the anti-IS coalition.

In recent months, the Kurds have selected and brought out several captives for interviews with the international media.

But a Kurdish military commander told AFP an agreement had been reached so "no French or American IS fighters were brought out in front of the media to avoid pressure" on both governments, he said.

The commander, who asked to remain anonymous, did not however give more details.

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