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Turkey starts deporting IS terrorists

By LIU XUAN | China Daily | Updated: 2019-11-13 09:43

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu speaks during a news conference for foreign media correspondents in Istanbul, Turkey, Aug 21, 2019. [Photo/Agencies]

Move could complicate situation as Ankara holds 1,200 foreign fighters

Turkey on Monday began repatriating Western prisoners who fought for the Islamic State group, thereby complicating the situation in the Middle East.

A US citizen and a Dane were the first to be deported and a German was scheduled to be sent home later in the day, according to state-run Anadolu Agency, citing Turkey's Interior Ministry spokesman Ismail Catakli. Seven more Germans were slated to leave the country on Thursday, the report said.

Danish authorities said their citizen was arrested upon arrival in Copenhagen on Monday and faces terror charges in Denmark.

Danish Justice Minister Nick Hakkerup told Danish broadcaster TV2 that any Danes who fought for the IS group, and are repatriated to the country "must be punished as severely as possible".

There was some confusion about the fate of the US citizen deported on Monday. Greek police said that Turkey had attempted to deport him over their shared land border, but Greek authorities rejected the man and sent him back to Turkey.

Stavros Tziamalides, an official from the border town of Kastanies, Greece, said the border gate was shut on the Greek side and there was a greater presence of Greek police and border guards from the European Border and Coast Guard Agency.

A US State Department official said that US authorities "are aware of reports of the detainment of a US citizen by Turkish authorities" but could not comment further because of privacy rules.

Two more Germans as well as two Irish nationals and 11 French nationals, all captured in Syria, were also to be transferred to their home countries soon, Catakli said. German officials said they will not refuse entry to German citizens.

The move came a week after Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said Turkey was not a "hotel" for former IS fighters, and criticized Western nations that were reluctant to take back citizens who had joined the ranks of the IS as it sought to establish a "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria.

Soylu said about 1,200 foreign IS fighters were in Turkish prisons and 287 members, including women and children, were recaptured in northeastern Syria during Turkey's offensive there last month.

Zhang Bo, a researcher from the Institute of West-Asian and African Studies of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said Turkey's move could make the anti-terrorism action in the Middle East area even more complicated.

It remains a question whether some Western countries will accept the return of former IS fighters, Zhang said. "If not, Turkey may release the prisoners, who may flee to other countries, form new terrorist groups, and thus bring more threats and become a hidden danger," Zhang said.

"Even if the Western countries accept their deported citizens, it is still doubtful whether such countries will be able to eliminate the prisoners' extremist thoughts."

Dissatisfaction expressed

He added that Turkey's actions were also indicators of Ankara's dissatisfaction with criticisms from the United States and European countries over Turkey's military presence in northern Syria and its policy toward the Syrian Kurds.

The stepped-up effort to deport foreign extremists follows Turkey's offensive against Kurdish forces who were holding thousands of IS fighters and their families.

Turkey said it would take control of captured IS fighters in areas that it seized from Kurdish groups, but demanded greater assistance from Europe.

It remains unclear, however, whether Turkey will be able to repatriate those who have been striped of their citizenship. Britain has revoked the citizenship of some IS fighters to prevent their return.

AP and AFP contributed to this story.

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