The withdrawal of US troops, announced by President Donald Trump last December, is proving ever more problematic for Washington’s strategic allies. ISIS is loosing ground in northeastern Syria and the Arab-Kurdish coalition has captured hundreds of jihadists.
President Trump has now reminded European governments of their responsibilities. “The United States has asked the United Kingdom, France, Germany […] to take back more than 800 Islamic State fighters we captured and to try them,” he said on Twitter on February 17 explaining that otherwise, the United States would be “forced to release” them.
On same day, the French Secretary of State for the Interior, Laurent Nunez, was forced to respond to Donald Trump’s comment. “It’s the Kurds who hold them [the French jihadists] and we have every confidence in their ability to keep them [in detention],” he said, quoted by AFP.
On January 29, the government had to deny information from BFMTV that some 130 French jihadists, held in camps in Syria under the supervision of the Kurds, would be repatriated to France.
The UK government is facing a dilemma, especially concerning the wives or children of British fighters, which have become a major challenge to prosecute.
Diplomats meeting at this weekend’s Munich security conference, have warned that the capture of ISIS-held territory does not mean an end to terrorist threat, as these jihadists are already regathering in Iraq, notably Mosul.
Alex Younger, the head of MI6, has warned that returning British jihadists remain a source of deep concern amid ongoing debate about Shamina Begum, who ran away to Syria to join ISIS four years ago aged 15, and now wants to return to Britain. Begum is now one of some 40 000 people in a camp in northern Syria.
Younger told The Independent: “We are very concerned about this because all experience tells us that once someone has put themselves in that sort of position, they are likely to have acquired both the skills and connections that make them potentially very dangerous.”
Not only are they dangerous but the exercise is also costly. “It is worrying because when someone with that sort of background returns to the UK it requires a very significant level of resources to ensure they don’t present a threat to the people,” Younger explained.
But the UK could use a temporary exclusion order to block jihadists returning from Syria from entering the UK. It would legally stop a British citizen from returning home until they have agreed to investigation, monitoring and, if required, deradicalisation.
But Lord Carlile, a former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said the jihadist Begum would have to be accepted if she had not become a national of any other country, because under international law, it is not possible to render a person stateless.