Britain and Belgium have repeated their argument that their nationals who fought for the so-called Islamic State in Syria and Iraq should face justice in the countries where their crimes were committed, not returned home to face trial.
Britain’s Home Office and Belgium’s Foreign Ministry spoke to Euronews a day after Turkey threatened to send ISIS fighters captured during its offensive in northern Syria back to their home countries.
Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu warned Saturday that his country was “not a hotel for ISIS members” and accused Europe of leaving the Turkish authorities to deal with the prisoners alone.
“That is not acceptable to us. It’s also irresponsible,” he said.
Turkey has captured some escaped jihadists over the last month after it launched a military incursion in northeastern Syria.
Western nations have been wrestling with how to handle suspected militants and their families seeking to return from combat zones in Iraq and Syria.
The policy of many European countries thus far, notably France and Britain, had been to refuse taking back fighters and their wives – with exceptions made for children.
The reluctance felt in Europe may stem from the worry that much of the evidence against any returning fighters may not stand up in court, a number of experts have suggested.
In a written statement, a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office said: “Our priority is the safety and security of the UK and the people who live here.
“Those who have fought for or supported Daesh should wherever possible face justice for their crimes in the most appropriate jurisdiction, which will often be in the region where their offences have been committed.”
“We are working closely with international partners to address issues associated with foreign terrorist fighters, including the pursuit of justice against participants in terrorism overseas”, the statement continued.
In a fact sheet published on its website, the British Home Office said it had a “range of powers available” to prevent the return of individuals assessed to pose a national security risk to the UK – including the withdrawal of British passports for those who hold dual citizenships or temporary exclusion orders.
Reached by Euronews, the Belgian Foreign Ministry said the country’s position was still to seek trial for IS fighters “near the place where they committed their crimes.”
“This must imperatively be done in fair conditions and in compliance with international law. Discussions are continuing and Belgium remains convinced that this is the solution that minimizes the risks for our society while respecting the rights of the defendant,” a ministry spokesman said.
European powers have launched talks with Iraqi officials to enable jihadists being held in Syria to face trial in Iraq – but progress appeared slow.
But the US withdrawal from Syria and Turkish military intervention is forcing Europe to rethink its strategy, raising the risk of jihadists escaping or returning home.
Kurdish officials have said almost 800 people fled a jihadist prisoner camp after the Turkish offensive into northern Syria targeted the area.