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Europeans divided over the return of jihadists from Syria

February 20th 2019

US President Donald Trump's demand that European countries take back their citizens fighting in Syria is receiving a mixed reaction as nations ponder how to bring home-grown members of the Islamic State (IS) group to trial.

"There will be no decision at the level of the European Union, it is a matter for national governments” declared the head of the European diplomacy Federica Mogherini at the end of the meeting of the foreign ministers on February 18. "But we can have a common reflection to bring a coordinated response," she added.

On the eve, US President Donald Trump called on Europe to take back citizens captured in the fight against Islamic State jihadists in Syria for prosecution back home.

But while IS is about to be defeated in Syria by the Arab-Kurdish alliance, the fate of Europeans held by Kurdish forces divides European countries. In fact, around 800 foreign fighters were being held in prisons, along with around 700 wives and 1,500 children in camps for the displaced.

Kurdish-led authorities in north Syria said on Monday they would not free foreign Islamic State group detainees. Still, the Kurdish authorities urged European countries to take responsibility. With the departure of US troops and in the event of Turkey's assault on Kurdish forces, they warn that prisoners risk escaping and describe the detainees as a "time bomb".

Several European countries do not have adequate criminal provisions to judge their jihadist nationals on their soil, although some, like Belgium, are considering the creation of an ad hoc international jurisdiction. European countries would like to take back their fighters on a “case-by-case” basis and face the hostility of some of their public opinion fiercely opposed to these returns.

According to European police agency Europol, some 5,000 Europeans — most from Britain, France, Germany and Belgium — went to fight in Syria and Iraq, of whom some 1,500 have returned.