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Syrian Kurdish officials setting up court to try foreign IS fighters

As European countries have failed to try their nationals from among Islamic State (IS) members detained by Syrian Kurds, Kurdish authorities intend to establish a special court to try them.

HASAKAH, Syria — Amid ongoing operations to find and eliminate remnants of the Islamic State (IS), the Kurdish-led Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria plans to begin public trials for accused members of the extremist organization.

The Social Justice Council of the Syrian Kurdish administration is setting up a special court to prosecute foreign IS militants whose home countries refuse to allow their return and to try them.

Council member and lawyer Faisal Sabri told Al-Monitor, “We asked the European countries to assume their responsibilities toward IS detainees by establishing an international court on Syrian soil and sending international judges to try them, but they did not respond to our request. We have to set up public trials for them in accordance with international laws and human rights covenants and treaties.”

“We have yet to determine when the trials will start,” Sabri continued. “We called on European and Arab countries to accept the extradition of their nationals from among IS children, orphans and wives residing in al-Hol camp. They have been posing a threat in the camp, which has turned into a hotbed of terrorism.”

In recent operations, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on March 11 raided a refugee camp in the town of al-Shuhail, east of Deir ez-Zor, and arrested four members of a family displaced from Hama for alleged past involvement with IS. The raid, using military helicopters provided by the US-led international coalition against IS, came a day after SDF arrested suspected members of IS cells in the town of al-Basira, in Deir ez-Zor province. Those detained possessed medium and light weapons and modern communications equipment, according to the SDF. Several other IS suspects were arrested in separate raids.

SDF officer Sarkhbon Ali said of the detainees from the sleeper cells, “Many of them are dangerous, have committed war crimes, and must be tried.” 

On Feb. 23 at a press conference in Qamishli, Fener al-Kait, co-head of the administration's External Affairs Department, had called on the international community to provide support and legal advice for the trial of 12,000 IS militants, including 3,000 foreigners of 50 different nationalities. In attendance was the Belgian parliamentary deputy George Dalman, who noted that there were 15 Belgians among the detainees and said that careful study is needed to determine how their trials should be conducted.

In Raqqa, Al-Monitor met Salem Ali, a farmer whose son was killed by IS four years ago. “When IS controlled the city of Raqqa, it confiscated our crops,” he said. “Our lives under IS went to hell. My son Muhammad tried to escape, but IS militants caught him and beheaded him … for treason. Most of those who carried out these executions were foreigners of various nationalities.”

A number of European and other countries have taken in some IS children. In early February, Rojava handed over to Russia 35 children with Russian citizenship. The children had been living in al-Hol, which holds tens of thousands of wives and children of accused IS members. Kamal Akef, spokesman for the External Affairs Department, said that in the past year, the self-administration had handed over 100 women and children to the government of Kosovo, five children to France, seven children from one family to Sweden, 30 women and 70 children to Kazakhstan and five children to Sudan.

Al-Hol is one of the largest refugee camps run by the Kurdish self-administration. It shelters around 74,000 Syrians and Iraqis, and some 40,000 wives and children of IS fighters occupy a separate section of the camp.

Birvan Omar, an administrator for the self-administration's Office of Humanitarian Organizations Affairs, also oversees the camp. “The al-Hol camp has experienced murders by IS women,” she told Al-Monitor, “Most of these crimes are carried out by members of all-female IS morality police, known as the Hisbah. Everyone who rejects IS beliefs in the camp is destined to die at the hands of these women.”

She said the children are being brought up in a horrifying environment. On March 14, Kurdish security forces at Al-Hol camp found the body of an Iraqi refugee who had been killed with a hammer. In an incident in February, another Iraqi man died after being stabbed. His body was found in the section of the camp housing IS families. There have been other killings with sharp objects, and tents have been set on fire with people in them.

“The children end up embracing IS ideology, and when they grow up, they will be a danger to the world,” Omar said. She called on the international community to rescue the children and deprogram and rehabilitate them to integrate into society.

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