ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – A Syrian Kurdish group has handed a Belgian national it captured fighting with the Islamic State over to the Iraqi government, Brussels-based media reported on Saturday.
According to Dutch-language news website Het Laatste Nieuws (HLN), the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) turned custody of Bilal Al Marchohi, aged 23, over to Iraqi officials. He is reported to have traveled to Syria in 2013 to join the militant group.
Unlike the Syrian Kurds, Iraq has carried out death sentences for those accused of being Islamic State members. Local authorities in northeast Syria have refused to put foreign fighters on trial.
“We do not have the legitimacy to convict them and lack logistical support to hold them for a long time,” SDF spokesperson Kino Gabriel told Kurdistan 24 in December.
“I think one of the solutions would be to have an international court and to convict them for their crimes,” he added.
Marchohi and his wife Ilham Borjani were arrested by the SDF near Raqqa on Aug. 29, 2017. During the two months that followed, Marchohi was questioned extensively by US military intelligence.
He was earlier wanted in a manhunt by French police in May 2017 for allegations of involvement in an Islamic State attack plot in Paris.
However, his wife Borjani said in an interview in 2017, that he “never left Syria” and was simply a member of the group’s religious police.
According to Belgian journalist Guy Van Vlierden, there were already rumors in mid-2018 that he had been handed over to Iraqi authorities, but it was not until this week that a security source confirmed to the Belgian media that he was indeed in Iraqi custody.
It appears most likely that US forces made the actual physical transfer of Marchochi to Iraqi personnel.
In October 2018, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that IS suspects from France, Australia, and Lebanon were transported from northern Syria to Iraq.
Nadim Houry, a terrorism/counterterrorism director at HRW, told Kurdistan 24 the US’ reported “secret transfer” of Islamic State fighters from Iraq to Syria amounts to an “absence of a clear solution.”
The transfers “raise fundamental human rights concerns because we have documented torture and unfair trials in Iraq,” Houry said.
Iraqi officials have not yet announced a date for Marchohi’s expected trial.
Most European countries have refused to take back their citizens who joined the jihadist group and favor local prosecution, but oppose the death penalty.
“We support UN resolution on the crimes of [the Islamic State], and this resolution respects Iraqi sovereignty, and Iraqi judiciary will play [the] main role in prosecution of crimes,” Ramon Blecua, the EU Ambassador to Iraq, said during the MERI 2018 Forum in October, noting that this would be the case only as long as this does not lead to Iraqi carrying out the death penalty.
Editing by John J. Catherine