Detained foreign militants are ticking bombs — SDF


By Tony Gamal-Gabriel

Syria’s Kurds warned Sunday that despite the demise of Daesh’s (so-called IS) “caliphate”, the thousands of foreign militants they hold are a time-bomb the world urgently needs to defuse.

World leaders were quick to hail Saturday’s announcement by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces that the last shred of land controlled by Daesh had been conquered.

But as the SDF swept the devastated the riverside village of Baghouz where militants made their dramatic last stand, the top Syrian Kurdish foreign affairs official warned that Daesh members captured during the assault still posed a threat.

“There are thousands of fighters, children and women and from 54 countries, not including Iraqis and Syrians, who are a serious burden and danger for us and for the international community,” Abdel Karim Omar told AFP.

“Numbers increased massively during the last 20 days of the Baghouz operation,” he said.

As the SDF’s months-long, US-backed assault against the last Daesh strongholds in the Euphrates Valley closed in, militants and their families gradually gathered in the final refuge of Baghouz.

While some managed to escape, many foreigners stayed behind, either surrendering or fighting to the death.

According to the SDF, 66,000 people left the last Daesh pocket since January, including 5,000 militants and 24,000 of their relatives.

The assault was paused multiple times as the force opened humanitarian corridors for people to evacuate.

It screened droves of people scrambling out of Baghouz in recent weeks then dispatched them to camps further north, where most are still held.

Most of the militants’ relatives who fled have been crammed into the Al-Hol camp, a facility built for 20,000 people but which now shelters 72,000.

‘Future terrorists’

The de facto autonomous Kurdish administration is northeastern Syria has warned it does not have capacity to detain so many people, let alone put them on trial. But many of the suspected militants’ countries of origin are reluctant to take them back due to potential security risks and the likely public backlash.

Some have even withdrawn citizenship from their nationals detained in Syria.

“There has to be coordination between us and the international community to address this danger,” Abdel Karim Omar said.

“There are thousands of children who have been raised according to IS ideology,” he added.

“If these children are not re-educated and re-integrated in their societies of origin, they are potential future terrorists.”

The SDF’s main support has been the international military coalition launched by the United States in mid-2014 to counter the expansion of Daesh.

The coalition has provided weapons and carried out 34,000 airstrikes in support of local forces in Iraq and Syria, most of the recent ones to back ground advances by the SDF Kurdish-Arab alliance.

The aerial campaigns against Daesh hubs across a “caliphate” which once spanned territory the size of the United Kingdom have leveled major cities and contributed to the biggest wave of displacement since World War II.

According to the Airwars monitoring NGO, at least 7,500 civilians have died as a result of coalition actions in four and half years. — AFP