World

Turkey says it has started repatriation of captured ISIS militants

Turkey has deported an American foreign fighter and will soon deport another seven Germans, a spokesperson for the interior ministry was quoted as saying on Monday after state media said Ankara had begun repatriation of captured ISIS militants.

Turkey aims to repatriate around 2,500 militants, the majority of whom will go to European Union nations

Turkey's Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu says Turkey will start sending back ISIS members to their countries of origin. (Burhan Ozbilici/The Associated Press)

Turkey said on Monday it had deported two captives from the group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a German and an American, starting a program to repatriate detainees that has caused friction with its NATO allies since it launched an offensive in northern Syria.

Ankara says it has captured 287 militants in northeast Syria and already holds hundreds more ISIS suspects. It has accused European countries of being too slow to take back citizens who travelled to fight in the Middle East.

Allies have been worried that ISIS militants could escape as a result of Turkey's assault against Syrian Kurdish militia who have been holding thousands of the group's fighters and tens of thousands of their family members.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had warned last week that Ankara would begin to send back ISIS militants to their home countries on Monday even if their citizenships have been revoked.

Ministry spokesperson Ismail Catakli said one American and one German were deported on Monday. He did not specify where they were sent, although Turkey has repeatedly said detainees would be sent to their native countries.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said there are 1,201 ISIS prisoners in Turkish jails. (Adem Altan/AFP/Getty Images)

Greek police said Turkish police officers came to the border post at the Greek town of Kastanies on Monday and requested that an American citizen of Arab descent accompanying them be admitted to Greece as he had been arrested for exceeding his stay in Turkey.

The man was refused entry and returned to Turkey, accompanied by the Turkish police, the statement from Greek police headquarters said. It was not clear if he was the American referred to by the interior ministry.

'Interrogations 90% finished'

The 23 others to be deported in the coming days were all European, including a Dane expected to be sent abroad later on Monday, as well as two Irish nationals, nine other Germans and 11 French citizens.

"Efforts to identify the nationalities of foreign fighters captured in Syria have been completed, with their interrogations 90 per cent finished and the relevant countries notified," Catakli said, according to state-owned Anadolu news agency.

Germany's foreign ministry said Ankara had informed Berlin of 10 people: three men, five women and two children. A spokesperson said he did not know whether any were ISIS fighters, but did not contest their citizenship. The ministry said seven were expected on Thursday and two on Friday.

"Citizens can rest assured that each individual case will be carefully examined by the German authorities," Interior Minister Horst Seehofer said. "We will do everything possible to prevent returnees with links to IS (Islamic State) becoming a threat in Germany."

The Danish Public Prosecutor said on Monday that Denmark and Turkey were in contact over a Danish citizen convicted of terrorism charges in Turkey.

While German and Danish authorities have confirmed they were aware of the Turkish plans, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said she was not aware of them.

A Dutch court in The Hague ruled on Monday that the Netherlands must help repatriate children of women who joined ISIS, but the mothers do not need to be accepted back.

Turkey aims to repatriate around 2,500 militants, the majority of whom will be sent to European Union nations, state broadcaster TRT Haber said, adding there were currently 813 jihadists at 12 deportation centres in the country.

Widespread concern over fate of prisoners

Turkey launched an offensive into northeastern Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia last month following a decision by President Donald Trump to withdraw U.S. troops from the region.

The YPG, the main element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and a U.S. ally against ISIS, has kept thousands of jihadists in jails across northeast Syria.

The Turkish offensive prompted widespread concern over the fate of the prisoners, with Turkey's Western allies and the SDF warning it could hinder the fight against ISIS and aid its resurgence.

Turkey, which views the YPG as a terrorist group linked with insurgent Kurdish militants on its own soil, has rejected those concerns and vowed to combat ISIS with its allies.

Denmark, Germany, U.K. revoked some citizenships

It has repeatedly called on European countries, including France, to take back their citizens fighting for the jihadists.

Europeans comprise a fifth of the around 10,000 ISIS fighters held captive in Syria by Kurdish militias. Denmark, Germany and Britain have so far revoked some citizenships.

Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was cited as saying that there are 1,201 ISIS prisoners in Turkish jails, while Turkey had captured 287 militants in Syria.

The United States said last month that it had killed ISIS's leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in northwestern Syria. Last week, Erdogan said Turkey had captured 13 people from Baghdadi's close circle, adding that they were being interrogated.

ISIS has vowed revenge against the United States.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.