On Monday, European positions differed regarding US President Donald Trump’s demand that European countries take back citizens who have joined the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and are now in custody.
The potential return of ISIS fighters from Syria was one of the major subjects mentioned and discussed by EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.
“Europe will not be able to respond unanimously to the US demand to repatriate ISIS fighters held in Syria,” Austria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Karin Kneissl, told Asharq Al-Awsat.
“I think it will depend on each country’s vision on how to deal with this file, because some countries have a large number of fighters and others have very few.”
“Each country will also have to consider this subject in a legal framework,” she added.
The Hungarian Minister for Foreign Affairs, Péter Szijjártó, told Asharq Al-Awsat that this is one of the most difficult challenges, especially after the great success achieved by the International Coalition in the fight against ISIS.
“But we should first focus our efforts on cutting back the road for ISIS militants’ return to Europe. We can close the Western Balkans route and tighten external border controls.”
“There is a problem. We are aware of that in Europe,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said before holding talks with his European counterparts in Brussels.
“If we want to find a reasonable solution, then we have to discuss this, not send tweets back and forth. That doesn’t make sense,” he stressed, criticizing how Trump raised the issue on Twitter.
Meanwhile, Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria said they will not release detained ISIS fighters, but added that countries must take responsibility, Reuters reported.
Abdulkarim Omar, co-chair of foreign relations in the region held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, said authorities there were holding some 800 foreign fighters. Around 700 of the fighters’ wives and 1,500 of their children are also in camps. Dozens more fighters and family members are arriving each day.
He said the detainees represent a “time bomb”, saying ISIS fighters could escape if the autonomous Kurdish-led area was threatened with attack by Turkey.
In an interview with AFP on Sunday in Paris, top Syrian Kurdish official, Aldar Khalil, said that it would be best for foreign ISIS fighters to return to their countries, adding that it if they don’t, “a tribunal or two could be set up to try them.”
In response to Trump’s request, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, addressed upon her arrival at the meeting in Brussels the issue of the return of the so-called captured European “foreign fighters” in northern Syria.
“We might discuss that but, to my understanding, the call was for member states to take back nationals. It might be part of the discussion we will have on Syria,” Mogherini explained.
This article was edited by The Syrian Observer. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.