Turkey said on Monday it had begun sending back foreign jihadists to their countries of origin, with an American already expelled and more than 20 Europeans including French and Germans in the process of being deported.
A “foreign terrorist fighter” from the United States was deported early on Monday, with two more – from Germany and Denmark – expected to be expelled later in the day, interior ministry spokesman Ismail Catakli told state news agency Anadolu.
Seven more Germans were set to be deported on Thursday, he added, while 11 French citizens, two Irish and at least two additional Germans were also being processed.
Turkey has criticised Western countries for refusing to repatriate their citizens who left to join Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, and stripping some of them of their citizenship.
Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said last week that Turkey had nearly 1,200 foreign members of Isis in custody and had captured 287 during its recent operation in northern Syria.
It was not clear if all those being deported this week were captured in Syria, or if some were in Turkish territory.
“There is no need to try to escape from it, we will send them back to you. Deal with them how you want,” Soylu said on Friday.
A French official said that the French nationals being expelled were mostly women.
Some had been in Turkey for a long time, while others arrived recently, the official added, without giving further details.
These 11 will be tried, the official said, adding that discussions were under way to determine whether their arrival will be handled by civil or military airport authorities.
A French foreign ministry source said at the weekend that a number of jihadist suspects had been quietly repatriated under a 2014 agreement with Turkey, and that the current deportations were nothing new.
“Jihadists and their families are regularly sent back to France and arrested as they leave the aeroplane. Most of the time it is done secretly. The news is not published, or released much later,” the source said.
A German foreign ministry official confirmed the legal proceedings involving the 10 German nationals, saying they included three men, five women – at least two who lived in Syria – and two children.
Germany’s interior ministry said, “it did not wish to oppose the return of German citizens” and that authorities were still verifying the identities and the reasons for their repatriation.
Turkey has lately increased pressure on Europe to take responsibility for the problem.
“Turkey is not a hotel for Daesh members,” Soylu said last week, using another acronym for Isis.
The return of jihadists follows Turkey’s offensive last month in northern Syria against Kurdish militants who were holding thousands of Isis fighters and their families.
Turkey said it would take control of captured jihadists 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 lost their citizenship.
Although the 1961 New York Convention made it illegal to leave people stateless, several countries, including Britain and France, have not ratified it, and recent cases have triggered prolonged legal battles.
Britain alone has stripped more than 100 people of their citizenship for allegedly joining jihadist groups abroad.