In Brief

What should be done with Islamic State fighters?

Donald Trump demands EU take back its 800 jihadists captured by US-backed forces

Donald Trump has told the European Union it must take back more than 800 Islamic State (IS) fighters captured by US-backed forces in Syria and put them on trial, as the final IS-held town prepares to fall.

Tweeting the demise of the so-called caliphate was imminent, the US president warned Britain and its European allies are running out of time to take back their jihadists captured in Syria to prevent a surge in terror attacks on home soil.

Some EU countries, notably France, “have said they are preparing to take back their former jihadists, but the UK has been more resistant,” The Guardian says. The UK maintains that “fighters held by the west’s Syrian Kurd allies can only return if they seek consular help in Turkey”.

The paper reports that the UK government “faces a dilemma, especially concerning the wives or children of British fighters, and a major challenge either to prosecute the fighters or prevent them from undertaking terrorist acts in their homeland”.

One “well-placed US government source” told The Sunday Telegraph Britain’s refusal to take back UK jihadists was effectively a policy of “leave them at large and hope they don’t find a way back”.

HuffPost UK says “Trump’s comments follow intense debate about the repatriation of foreign fighters and their relations to the UK – provoked by the case of 19-year-old Shamima Begum”.

The east London schoolgirl, who was just 15 when she left the UK and has just given birth to her third child, told The Times she remains unrepentant and had “no regrets” about her decision to run away from home.

According to AFP, Russia plans to repatriate 27 children whose mothers are being held in Iraq for belonging to IS. Thirty other children, whose fathers were killed in the fighting, were sent back to Moscow in late December.

However, the imminent defeat of Islamic State poses fresh questions about what to do with captured foreign fighters.

Most of those left in the tiny enclave of Baghouz near the Iraqi border, are foreigners, Reuters reports, “among the thousands drawn by [IS caliph Abu Bakr al-]Baghdadi’s promise of a new jihadist utopia straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border and expunging national borders”.

“Their fate, and that of their families, has befuddled foreign governments, with few ready to repatriate citizens who pledged allegiance to a group sworn to their destruction, but who might be hard to legally prosecute,” reports the news agency.

The US “is considering the transfer of some of the most hardened fighters to the American military camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where the alleged perpetrators of the 11 September attacks are still held”, The South China Morning Post says.

“Another potential fate for the militant captives is that they end up in the custody of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime” says the paper, although the US preference remains for individual countries to take responsibility for their own nationals.

Lord Dannatt, the former head of the British Army, backed Trump’s comments and said the UK had a “responsibility” to UK citizens who travelled to Iraq and Syria.

He told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday show: “If there are - as I think it's correct to say - a large number of foreign fighters in captivity in Syria who originate from countries like the UK, then they are our citizens and we have a responsibility to act responsibly towards them.”

Former attorney general and current Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright, also admitted the UK would be “obliged” to take back returning IS fighters.

“It’s clear, if you are dealing with a British citizen who wants to return to this country and they're not a dual citizen - so their only citizenship is British citizenship - then we are obliged, at some stage at least, to take them back,” he told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

The BBC says “the way returning IS returnees are dealt with in EU countries is based on criminal investigation and risk assessment”.

“Rehabilitation and reintegration schemes have been introduced inside and outside prison” it adds, with “other measures include restrictions on movement, and powers to withdraw and refuse to issue passports.”

Yet any move to return British jihadists to UK soil will be hugely contentious.

A new report by the anti-fascist group Hope not Hate has found a third of people in the UK think Islam is a threat to the British way of life.

The survey found that while polling showed attitudes towards Muslims in Britain had improved between 2011 and 2016, the terror attacks in the UK in 2017 had had a negative impact on perception.

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