EU countries are trying to figure out the issue of repatriating their Daesh citizens from Syria after US President Donald Trump threatened to release the captured fighters in the face of European inaction.

US President Donald Trump (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) at a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on November 11, 2018 marking the 100th anniversary of the 11 November 1918 armistice, ending World War I.
US President Donald Trump (L) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) at a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on November 11, 2018 marking the 100th anniversary of the 11 November 1918 armistice, ending World War I. (Benoit Tessier / AFP)

US President Donald Trump's demand that European countries take back their citizens fighting in Syria is receiving a mixed reaction, as nations pondered how to bring home-grown Daesh member to trial.

Germany and France both responded to Trump's demand on Monday, with the former refusing to undertake the repatriation en masse.

A German interior ministry spokesman said all Daesh fighters with German citizenship have a right to return to Germany but it was an uphill task.

"We are in talks with US and other EU governments on the question of Daesh fighters going back to Europe," one spokesman said on Monday.

TRT World's Jacob Brown reports.

The question of such foreign fighters has been a conundrum for the Europeans for several years. Daesh prisoners could be exposed to torture or the death penalty if they remain in jail in Syria or Iraq, and the EU opposes the death penalty.

But few European countries have embassies in Syria or Iraq, let alone extradition treaties to get their citizens back.

Proving who is who and gathering solid evidence against suspects that would stand up in European courts is virtually impossible. Then there is the question of what to do with the wives and children of European Daesh recruits.

Germany citizens can return but...

"It is certainly not as easy as they think in America," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters at a meeting of EU foreign ministers. "German citizens have the right to return, but we have little ability in Syria at present to check whether German citizens are actually affected."

Maas said authorities would have to "check to what extent they were involved in fighting for IS, which would result in criminal proceedings having to be opened against them."

"These people can come to Germany only if it is ensured that they can immediately be taken into custody," he said.


French fighters made up the largest contingent of European recruits. French officials are concerned because in 2015 and 2016, a Daesh cell of French and Belgian fighters crossed from Syria into Turkey, eventually launching deadly attacks on Paris and Brussels.

France will for now not act on Trump's call for European allies to repatriate Daesh fighters from Syria and will be taking back militants on a "case-by-case" basis, its justice minister said on Monday.

"There is a new geopolitical context, with the US withdrawal. For the time being, we are not changing our policy," Belloubet told France 2 television. "At this stage, France is not responding to (Trump's) demands," Belloubet said.

"The last territorial bastions of Daesh are falling, which doesn't mean that the action of Daesh is finished. On the contrary," said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

French government policy had been to categorically refuse to take back fighters and their wives. Le Drian referred to them as "enemies" of the nation who should face justice either in Syria or Iraq.

Paris is already trying to repatriate minors on a case-by-case basis.

Britain refuses to take back citizens who joined Daesh and has stripped them of their citizenship. Belgium has said previously that it would not make any great effort to secure the release of 12 citizens imprisoned in Syria and two in Iraq.

Other European countries have remained largely silent about the fate of men and women whom many see as a security threat.

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said the issue is "one of the greatest challenges ahead of us for the upcoming months."

"Our major endeavour now should be not to allow them to come back to Europe," said Szijjarto, whose staunchly anti-migrant government has linked extremist attacks to migration.

But Slovakian Foreign Minister Miroslav Lajcak, also part of an anti-migrant government, said "I would certainly be in favour" of Europe taking foreign fighters back.

"There is clearly a need to define ... the European position on this issue," Lajcak told reporters.

"Whether we like or dislike the US position, they make no secret of it. It's very clear," he said. "This is the key partnership for the European Union. But the rules of this partnership have changed and we need to be able to react to it."


A potential homecoming of the many foreign women who have gone to live in the so-called Daesh "caliphate" and their children, many of whom were born there, has been a subject of debate in Russia, with some security chiefs seeing them as potential threats.

Earlier this month, 27 children, from four to 13 years old, were flown from Iraq to the Moscow region.

Clutching stuffed toys and bundled in winter jackets, the children were carried off the cargo plane to face the Russian winter after years in the desert.

After health exams, they would be given into the care of their uncles, aunts, and grandparents in the Russian North Caucasus, the majority-Muslim territory in the south of Russia.

Another 30 children were brought back in late December.

"They attend school and kindergarten. Volunteers work with them and talk to them about what they have been through, explaining how they have been indoctrinated," said Kheda Saratova, an adviser to Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has assumed a central role in the process of repatriating Daesh relatives.

Russian authorities have given sometimes conflicting figures of returnees. Saratova said that about 200 children have been brought to Russia, but nearly 1,400 are still stuck in Iraq and Syria.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies