France will repatriate about 130 French citizens and their families who fought as volunteers for ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to local media reports
The more than 100 fighters are currently being held as prisoners of war the Kurdish YPG forces in northern Syria. The Kurds have said they are reluctant to keep the captured militants following US President Donald J. Trump‘s hasty decision to immediately withdraw American forces from the theatre of combat without having consulted with the West’s allies – including the Kurds, who took on the task of carrying out most of the fighting against ISIS since the radical terrorist group first appeared in 2014.
In a statement to Bloomberg, France’s Interior Minister Christophe Castaner confirmed that the French government would accept the repatriation of an unspecified number of French citizens that had been captured as ISIS fighters.
The French government wants to ensure that certain ISIS militants who possess French passport do not escape or disappear into the Syrian or Iraqi hinterland, according to Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
“If the forces detaining these French fighters decide to deport them to France, they would be immediately handed over to the judicial authorities,” Le Drian clarified.
Most of the returnees will, in fact, be the women and children of ISIS fights. France’s Justice Minister, Nicole Belloubet, told French radio that as many as 75% of those coming back would likely be younger than age 7.
An estimated 2,000 French citizens have joined ISIS since 2011, many of whom later went on to carry out terrorist activities in France in the subsequent years, including attacks in Paris in November 2015 that were coordinated from ISIS’ self-declared capital in Raqqa, Syria.
Raqqa was later liberated by Kurdish forces in 2017 after some of the heaviest urban combat in recent decades.
The Kurdish YPG authorities have also informed the German government that they want to return the German citizens who are currently in their custody, most of whom are women and children, prior to the US’ withdrawal. There are approximately 270 German passport holders in Iraq or Syria who had family or marriages connections to ISIS, 75% of whom are children under the age of three.
The Syrian Democratic Forces have captured around 800 fighters, 600 women, and more than 1,200 children since ISIS began to lose ground to combat units that coordinated closely with the US and other NATO allies in their campaign to destroy the Islamic State. The total number of those captured is relatively small when taking into account intelligence reports which estimate that as many as 40,000 volunteer foreign fighters – mostly from the Maghreb, Gulf States, Russia’s North Caucasus, and Central Asia – travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS.
The US withdrawal and the threat of a Turkish military assault have left Kurdish forces stretched thin and incapable of guaranteeing that they can devote personnel to the task of guarding ISIS captives. c
The United States’ State Department and the CIA have been pushing EU countries to take back captured ISIS fighters that hold citizen rights in the respective countries ahead of a European foreign ministers’ summit in Poland.