Syrian militia says large number of IS foreign fighters held
BEIRUT (AP) — The Syrian Kurdish militia partnering with the U.S-led coalition to fight Islamic State militants said Monday that it is holding a “huge number” of foreign fighters in Syria and none of their home countries want them back.
The head of the People’s Defense Units, or the YPG, Sipan Hemo, speaking to reporters in a conference call Monday, said more than half of those detained in the battle against IS in Syria are foreign fighters from all over the world, including Russia, Europe, China, Japan and Arab countries.
The future of those militants remains unclear and the process for bringing them to justice unsettled amid a debate, mostly in Europe, about whether they should be allowed to return home.
Hemo provided no figure for the number of detainees captured by his forces in Syria but added it was a burden to keep them.
“We suffer from the large number of Daesh detainees that we have now,” Hemo said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.
Hemo said there is a “huge” number of IS foreign fighters and administrators from all over the world. Most of them are from Russia, Europe and Arab countries, he said.
Hemo said his forces have formally asked foreign governments to take their nationals to be tried at home. “Up until now, no one wants to take them back or to try them. We still have them in (local) prisons,” he said. “Honestly, we also don’t know what their future will be.”
Hemo said many of the local fighters were forced to work or cooperate with IS because they controlled their areas. He said those local detainees will likely face regular courts and will be tried or released. “They are regular people who had to live with Daesh.”
Even that is not exactly straightforward. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces have no international recognition and the Syrian government, which runs the local courts, doesn’t have a presence in the areas liberated from IS by the U.S-backed forces.
The SDF — with the YPG as its backbone — captured two British men last month, and U.S. officials interrogated them and identified them with biometric data and other tools. It was the most high profile capture publicly announced. British officials said they don’t want the two men, who were part of a cell that executed foreign hostages, to return home.
U.S. officials say the two men represent just a small portion of the hundreds of foreign-born IS terrorists that were captured or killed since October 2017 by the SDF.
Two French nationals, including a woman listed as a key recruiter, appeared in videos posted online last month to speak about the conditions of their detention in Syria.