Member states of the International Coalition gathered on Thursday to discuss the fates of thousands of ISIS militants still being held prisoner across Iraq and Syria.
On Thursday, member states of the International Coalition against ISIS met in Washington DC to discuss a number of pressing issues they face within the context of the on-going fight against the militant group. On top of the agenda was the matter of foreign militants of ISIS still being held across Iraq and Syria.
Although the representatives of most member states agreed that the group remains a threat even after the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, there have been disagreements on how to handle some 10,000 ISIS militants and thousands of other family members being held in the region.
Those who support the repatriation of the militants to their home countries represented one of the main positions in the conference. This positions, represented by the United States, argued that countries around the world, especially within the European Union, should repatriate their citizens who joined the group. Officials said that the burden is too much for Iraq to carry and warned that the group could recoup its power in the event of prison breaks, just as it did in the past.
Regarding Syria, officials warned that the region remains unstable amidst on-going Turkish operations in northern Syria and that there is a risk of militants escaping, a fear already realised during the mass escape in Ain Issa. In the interim, officials vowed to keep the pressure on ISIS while ensuring that the militants held in Iraq and Syria don’t escape.
The counter-position, supported by the EU and spearheaded by France, argues that the militants should be kept in the countries where they committed their crimes. The general fear among EU states is that some of the militants and most of the supporters cannot have their affiliation with ISIS confirmed beyond reasonable doubt, resulting in relatively small prison sentences. For many EU countries that are grappling with the impacts of the refugee crisis and other political issues, the public backlash towards the repatriation of the militants is not politically expedient.
They may not have much time to deliberate. Although not a formal part of the Coalition, Turkey, whose government says it holds 1,180 ISIS militants from 30 different countries, with another 850 held in the areas under the Operation Peace Spring, recently announced that it will deport these individuals to their home countries even if these countries stripped the individuals in question of their citizenship. The first deportations have commenced this week, but coordination has been shaky, leading to fears that the militants will slip through the cracks.
Regardless of the exact position, the matter of imprisoned ISIS militants is one that needs to be resolved sooner than later. The militants, should they escape, threaten to reform the group and conduct further attacks. Meanwhile, thousands of children born to ISIS militants or abducted by them remain in holding camps, with no challenge against the radicalising influence of the true-believers around them.