What happened: Turkey has begun to deport ISIS fighters to their home countries. In the first wave it plans to return 23 foreign ISIS fighters under its control starting with a small number of US, British, Belgian and German citizens.
- The announcement by the Turkish Interior Ministry came after an American, who is suspected of being an ISIS fighter, requested that he be sent to Greece, but ended up stranded for several days in the international zone between the Greek and Turkish border after Greek authorities refused to let him in.
- He was deported on Monday as part of Turkey’s controversial new policy to deport foreign nationals in its custody. The US have provided the necessary travel documents for the American to be deported back to his home country, the Ministry said.
- On Thursday evening, The Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism branch arrested a British man on suspicion of “Syria-related” terror offences at Heathrow Airport after he arrived in the UK from Turkey. He is the first suspected ISIS fighter to be forced to return to the UK. Lisa Smith, an Irish woman who allegedly joined ISIS, and her two-year-old daughter, are due to be deported to Ireland.
- Until now, UK policy has been to refuse to repatriate Britons held in camps in northern Syria, and UK authorities have stripped some suspected ISIS fighters of their citizenship, preventing any attempt to return to the UK.
- Speaking to reporters in Ankara on Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened that Turkey could release all of its jailed foreign ISIS fighters and send them to Europe. He said: “Whether [the deported ISIS fighters] are stuck there at the border it doesn’t concern us. We will continue to send them. Whether they take them or not, it is not our concern. These gates will open and these ISIS members who have started to be sent to you will continue to be sent. Then you can take care of your own problem.”
Context: Turkey has grown increasingly frustrated by the reluctance of European countries to take responsibility for their citizens.
- Turkey is believed to be holding up to 1,200 foreign ISIS fighters in detention centres, including those who have been stripped of their citizenship in an attempt to prevent them returning home. The Interior Ministry said it would be sending a total of 23 foreigners to their countries in the days ahead.
- The suspected UK-national is one of several alleged British ISIS supporters held in Turkish prisons, where Aine Davis – a member of the so called “Beatles” ISIS cell – was imprisoned after a 2017 trial. According to the Independent, only one in 10 of the around 400 suspected ISIS personnel who have returned to the UK since 2014 have been prosecuted.
- Germany’s Foreign Ministry confirmed on Monday that a German citizen had returned to Berlin from Turkey, and that a further nine will be arriving this week. The suspects’ alleged links to ISIS are still being investigated by German authorities.
Looking ahead: Turkish authorities intend to return as many as 250 suspected ISIS foreign fighters they are currently holding in detention centres. The 23 suspects that the Interior Ministry says it plans to deport in the coming days are just the start of a longer process. The return of UK nationals who were actively involved with ISIS presents a series of challenges for UK authorities. Prosecuting individuals relies on gathering concrete evidence of their crimes which involves witness testimony from victims who could be scattered across Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. The Intelligence services will also need to make difficult decisions about what level of surveillance each individual will be placed under in order to monitor their activity and prevent future terrorist attacks.