Belgian Minister: No US request to repatriate ISIS members

“Until now, we haven’t received any official request.”

ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Belgium’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Minister Didier Reynders says he has not received any request from the United States to repatriate Islamic State members.

“Until now, we haven’t received any official request,” Reynders said on the sidelines of a NATO meeting of defense ministers in Brussels, according to HLN.

“But it’s possible that we will receive such a request regarding mothers (of children, and wives of jihadis) and maybe jihadis from European origin,” he added.

Last week, the US called on other countries to bring home hundreds of Islamic State sympathizers captured in Syria.

So far, European states, including Belgium, have been reluctant to bring back Islamic State fighters or women, and children that are stuck in Syria.

According to reports, Belgium is the country with the highest ratio of terrorist fighters from Europe.

The Brussels Times reported that the federal counterterrorism center had identified about 500 people from Belgium as foreign terrorist fighters. Over 400 of them have reached Syria and Iraq.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have captured several of them. Moreover, the Kurdish-led forces are expected to defeat the Islamic State in its last pocket in Syria soon. The Islamic State reportedly only controls one square-kilometer in the Baghuz village in the Deir al-Zor governorate.

Abdul Hamid al-Muhabash, the co-chair of the Democratic Autonomous Administration (DAA) in northeastern Syria, told Kurdistan 24 that the number of Islamic State fighters captured has now surpassed 1,500 due to the recent operations in Deir al-Zor.

However, until now, only four countries with the help of the US-led coalition, have taken back Islamic State fighters, the DAA official said.

Many EU countries fear that due to the lack of evidence, Islamic State supporters could be quickly released once they appear in court after returning home.

Nevertheless, since the US withdrawal decision, there is more pressure on European countries to take back their citizens who joined the Islamic State.

US Army General Joseph Votel, head of the US Central Command, said the US withdrawal would start in “weeks,” Reuters reported on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the French Foreign Ministry previously said Paris would prosecute Islamic State fighters if Syrian Kurds deport them.

According to Muhabash, it is not up to his administration to put Islamic State fighters on trial. Instead, he contended: “They should return to their countries.” 

Human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) have called on countries to return foreign Islamic State fighters and their wives and children.

“Legitimate security concerns are no license for governments to abandon young children and other nationals held without charge in squalid camps and prisons abroad,” Letta Tayler, a senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at the HRW, said on Tuesday.

Editing by Karzan Sulaivany