Islamic State suspect deported by Turkey ‘stranded on border’

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An alleged IS member stands in a no man's land at the border between Turkey and Greece near Pazarkule, on 11 November 2019
The deported man is allegedly a US citizen and a captured member of the Islamic State group

A US citizen suspected of being an Islamic State militant is stranded on the border between Greece and Turkey, after Turkey expelled him.

The alleged militant was deported on Monday as Turkey launched a drive to repatriate captured jihadist fighters held in its prisons.

Greek police said they refused him entry when he tried to cross the border near the Greek town of Kastanies.

The man is reported to have spent the night stuck between the two borders.

A Turkish official told AFP news agency the man had refused to be returned to the US and instead asked to be sent to Greece.

On Tuesday he was still stuck on a strip of road between the two countries and witnesses said he had been trying to shout to reporters on the Turkish side.

The fate of foreign IS fighters has been a key question since the defeat of the group in territory it controlled in Syria and Iraq.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has indicated that 2,500 such militants are in prison in Turkey.

Who else has Turkey deported?

Turkey’s interior ministry said it had also deported a Dane alleged to be an IS member on Monday. Danish authorities said their citizen had been arrested on arrival in Copenhagen.

Germany said one of its citizens had also been expelled.

Turkey said more than 20 other European suspects, including 11 French citizens, two Irish nationals and several more Germans, are in the process of being repatriated to their countries of origin.

Turkey has long accused Western countries of refusing to take responsibility for citizens who joined Islamic State.

Germany, Denmark and the UK have repeatedly stripped people of citizenship for allegedly joining jihadist groups abroad, in a bid to block their return.

The UK is said to have withdrawn citizenship from more than 100 people – among them the IS recruit Shamima Begum, who left London as a teenager.

Media captionShamima Begum told the BBC she never sought to be an IS “poster girl”

On Tuesday UN chief Antonio Guterres called for international co-operation to resolve issues around foreign jihadists, saying it was not up to Syria and Iraq “to solve the problem for everyone”.

The UN has previously said countries should take responsibility for their own citizens unless they are to be prosecuted locally, in accordance with international standards.

Turkey has not confirmed whether those being repatriated were seized in Syria, or in Turkish territory.

Some IS members and their relatives were captured in north-eastern Syria in October, when Turkey launched a cross-border operation against the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) there.

At the time, the SDF said it was holding more than 12,000 suspected IS members in seven prisons in the area, at least 4,000 of them foreign nationals.

Relatives of suspected IS militants were also being held at a number of camps for displaced people – the largest of which, al-Hol, housed almost 70,000 people.

How will the repatriations work?

A French foreign ministry source told AFP news agency last week that suspected jihadists were often returned to France from Turkey under a 2014 agreement.

“Jihadists and their families are regularly sent back to France and arrested as they leave the plane. Most of the time it is done secretly. The news is not published, or released much later,” the source said.

A security patrol escorts women, reportedly wives of Islamic State (IS) group fighters, in the al-Hol camp in north-eastern Syria
Image captionA security patrol escorts women, reportedly wives of Islamic State group fighters, at a camp in Syria

Germany’s interior ministry said this week that “it did not wish to oppose the return of German citizens”.

A German foreign ministry official confirmed that legal proceedings involving at least three men, five women and two children were under way in Turkey.

On Monday a court in the Netherlands ruled that the country should take back the children of Dutch women who joined IS – but not necessarily their mothers.

Some 23 Dutch women and their 56 children are currently being held in detention camps in Syria, AFP reports.

It is unclear whether Turkey will be able to repatriate IS suspects who have had their home citizenships revoked.

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