ERBIL, Kurdistan Region (Kurdistan 24) – Over 1,300 family members of Islamic State (IS) foreign fighters who surrendered to Kurdish forces are being held at a camp for displaced people in northern Iraq.
The families, consisting of foreign women and children, surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga forces at the end of August following the offensive against the militant group in Tal Afar.
According to Iraqi security officials, there are 1,333 individuals from 14 countries who are being held at a displaced person camp in the Nineveh Province.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with military protocol, said the women and children would not be charged with crimes and instead would be repatriated to their home countries.
Most of the family members are from Central Asia, Russia, Turkey, Japan, and South Korea, the Associated Press reported.
During IS’ rise in 2014, thousands of foreigners traveled to Iraq and Syria to live in the group’s self-proclaimed caliphate.
Since then, territory under IS control has shrunk significantly as US-backed forces in Iraq and Syria have retaken several cities and towns.
Feyruza, one of the women at the camp who is originally from Dagestan in Russia, told AP she moved to Tal Afar in 2015 to practice Islamic freedom, a right denied in her home country.
“We were told that in Iraq they had implemented Islam and we came here, and it was true,” she said.
Another woman named Aybenis from Azerbaijan said she and others were unaware of the militant group’s crimes.
“We didn’t see any killings. It didn’t happen,” she said. “What we saw was the implementation of Islamic rule.”
According to the women, the fate of their husbands who surrendered to Kurdish Peshmerga forces separately is unknown.
The issue of IS family members or suspected IS members is a growing concern for local security and law enforcement in Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.
Some have argued affiliates of the militant group cannot be rehabilitated, while others believe they should face trial on a case by case basis.
It is unclear what the status of foreign-born fighters and their families would be under Iraqi law and whether they would be extradited back to their home countries for prosecution.
Brigadier General Kamel Harki, a Kurdish commander, said some of the captured extremists were handed over to Iraqi authorities while others were killed for trying to attack Peshmerga forces during their surrender.
Iraqi troops, backed by US-led coalition warplanes, captured Mosul—IS’ de facto capital and major stronghold in the country—after nearly 10 months of heavy clashes.
The offensive was followed up with a campaign to recapture Tal Afar, west of Mosul, which lasted about two-weeks with less resistance from the extremist group.
Kurdish and Iraqi forces are now preparing for an operation against the group in Hawija, located in western Kirkuk.
Editing by G.H. Renaud