Two U.S. women and six children with ties to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) were repatriated from northeast Syria, Kurdish-led authorities told Reuters on Wednesday, saying their return came at the request of the U.S. government.
The eight Americans are among thousands of wives and children of foreign jihadists detained by U.S.-backed forces who defeated the last ISIS foothold in Baghouz in eastern Syria in March. The Kurdish-led forces are holding the women and children in already overflowing camps, in addition to hundreds of foreign fighters in prisons.
Kurdish leaders say they cannot hold the foreigners forever and warn that the prisoners pose a threat in northeast Syria.
But few countries want to take back their citizens, who may be hard to prosecute, and the prospect has sparked fierce debate in their home countries, where there is little public sympathy for the families of jihadists.
Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of foreign relations in the Kurdish-led region, said foreign governments now appeared more willing to repatriate citizens but only for “humanitarian” reasons.
He told Reuters he expected more foreign women and children to be sent home from Syria in the near future.
Omar said the eight Americans were due to arrive in the United States on Wednesday.
U.S. officials have not yet commented on the transfer.
The Kurdish-led administration, which controls swathes of north and east Syria, said it had helped repatriate them based on their “free and voluntary desire to return to their country.”
U.S. fights Alabama woman’s bid to return
An Indiana woman, Samantha Elhassani, is back in the U.S. but in jail in that state. She currently faces a trial over lying to the FBI over her ties to ISIS, with her four children reportedly in the custody of Indiana’s human services department.
Elhassani has maintained she was deceived by her husband in travelling to the area.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, among others, have asserted that Hoda Muthana is not a U.S. citizen, despite being born in New Jersey and having spent most of her life in Alabama, because her father’s diplomatic status at the time of her birth does not automatically grant her birthright citizenship.
Muthana is still in Syria. The U.S. Justice Department has argued in court filings that the possession of a U.S. passport does not equal citizenship, and that there is “no unqualified right to government assistance for a U.S. citizen to return to the United States.”
Also in Syria is Kimberly Polman, who has U.S. and Canadian citizenship. Polman willingly travelled overseas with her husband, an ISIS sympathizer whom she originally met online and subsequently divorced.
She told The Associated Press in an interview in April that she greatly regrets her decision to do so.