Turkey begins deporting foreign jihadists

Istanbul: Turkey said Monday it had begun sending back foreign jihadists to their countries of origin, with an American already expelled and more than 20 Europeans in the process of deportation.

A “foreign terrorist fighter” from the US was deported early on Monday, with two more — from Germany and Denmark — due to be expelled later in the day, interior ministry spokesman Ismail Catakli told state news agency Anadolu.

Seven more Germans were due for deportation 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 the Islamic State group (IS) 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 IS 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 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.

Turkey has frequently sent back captured jihadists in recent years, but has lately increased pressure on Europe to take responsibility for the problem.

It follows its offensive last month in northern Syria against Kurdish militants who were holding thousands of IS 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.

Over the weekend, a French foreign ministry source told AFP that jihadist suspects were frequently repatriated to France under a 2014 agreement with Turkey, and that the system was functioning well.

“Jihadists and their families are regularly sent back to France and arrested as they leave the airplance. Most of the time it is done secretly. The news is not published, or released much later,” the source said.

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.

High-profile cases such as teenage IS recruit Shamima Begum, and another alleged recruit Jack Letts, have sparked court proceedings and fierce political debate in Britain.