Europe still doing nothing to deal with its ISIS members in Syria

Europe
A MEMBER of ISIS waves the group’s flag in Raqqa recently

A MEMBER of ISIS waves the group’s flag in Raqqa. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Syrian Democratic Forces hold up to 10,000 ISIS fighters. More than 1,000 of these  are foreign fighters and hundreds of them are from Europe. However European countries don’t want their ISIS citizens back. They hope Syria will continue to be a dumping ground for extremists, and that the SDF will continue to serve as Europe’s Middle Eastern jailor.

The SDF was never trained or expected to be a long-term jailor, or manager of detention facilities. But since the US-led Coalition of 70 countries never coordinated what to do with the ISIS  prisoners that fell into its hands, the prisoners were sent to be held by the SDF.

As US President Donald Trump has indicated, the US doesn’t want to waste more money on more Guantanamo-style facilities. Europe doesn’t want its citizens either. With a few exceptions, such as Kosovo, most wealthy European countries don’t want responsibility.

Trump was livid in his press conference on Sunday, taking to task European countries for the “tremendous disappointment” they have been. Unlike Russia, Syria’s regime, Iraq, the SDF and other countries who actually did things to help fight ISIS, the countries in Europe where 5,000 ISIS fighters came from, have done little to address the problem their citizens present in Syria.

“They came from France, they came from Germany, they came from the UK,” Trump said. “And I actually said to them, if you don’t take them, I’m going to drop them right on your border and you can have fun capturing them.” Trump pointed out that the US is thousands of miles away and there is a large ocean between the US and ISIS, whereas Europe has contiguity with Turkey and Syria, where the ISIS detainees are.

Since Trump decided to withdraw in December 2018 the US has sought to pressure Europe to do something with its ISIS fighters. But the UK and other countries have found legal loopholes to avoid the issue. The UK even stripped some of citizenship. Some European countries have transitioned from giving rehabilitation packages and gym memberships to returning extremists, a practice that took place up until 2014, to simply not wanting them.

Even though these men and women grew up in Europe, speak the languages, have citizenship and family back home, and in many cases were educated and radicalized in Europe, London, Berlin and Paris don’t want them coming home. But they don’t want to pay anyone else to keep them either, nor do they want them handed over to the Syrian regime where their citizens might suffer human rights abuses.

Some European countries have joined the US-led Coalition and France and the UK sent special forces to Syria. Other countries helped train the Iraqi army. But they never had a plan for what to do with their own citizens. It appears many European countries prefered to ignore the radicalization that led their citizens to join ISIS and that they waited until 2015, when ISIS attacked places in France and other countries, to actually seek to do something about the problem. 

Then, with intelligence services warning that the returning ISIS members were a threat, these countries did try to infiltrate ISIS networks and it appears they hoped their citizens would die on the battlefield or something disappear. But this isn’t the 1950s when governments disappear citizens, so the plethora of European ISIS members who turned up alive in 2019 when the last pockets of ISIS surrendered, have become a unwanted burden. No Nuremberg-style trials for them. No repatriation. No sending them to Iraq or the Syrian regime, even though they committed their genocidal crimes in Iraq and Syria.

Trump wants US forces to secure the oil. The SDF is being asked to keep holding the detainees. But eventually the detainees will either be released, they will escape, or they will be handed over to someone else, such as the regime. Or some of them might meet with mysterious accidents and be forgotten about. Governments in Berlin, Paris and London seem to prefer the latter option.

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