Brussels (AFP) — Belgian authorities have been ordered to repatriate a woman who joined the Islamic State group and her two children from the camp in Syria where she is being held, a lawyer for her family said Thursday.
The Belgian government has 75 days to bring back the 23-year-old Belgian woman and her children from the Al-Roj camp controlled by Kurdish fighters under the order issued by a Brussels court, the lawyer, Nicolas Cohen, told AFP, confirming a report on Belgian state television.
The ruling lays bare a debate in Europe over the fate of European citizens who left to join IS and who are now being held in camps in Syria and Iraq following the defeat of the jihadists’ so-called “caliphate”.
The Kurdish fighters controlling the camps, and the United States, have urged the European countries to take back their citizens to face justice.
But governments are loath to do so, wary of being able to gather sufficient evidence for successful prosecutions and afraid of having to release battle-hardened jihadists on to their streets.
– ‘Legal revolution’ –
According to Belgian media, the woman and her two children have been in the camp since February 2018 and have said they want to return to Belgium.
The woman reportedly left in January 2015 to join her father, a former Al-Qaeda member who had joined IS a month earlier. She later told a Belgian TV channel she regretted her choice and wanted to serve out any sentence in Belgium.
Cohen called the Brussels court order “a real legal revolution” that confronted the government with its “obligations”.
“The government doesn’t have sole say over what international action it must take regarding its citizens,” he said.
The woman “knows she will be prosecuted in Belgium,” he said. The children would be taken into care.
“The goal now is to bring the children back, and their mothers as well in the interest of those children,” Cohen said.
OCAM, Belgium’s anti-terrorist agency, says there are 55 men and women classified as “foreign terrorist fighters” being held in Kurdish-controlled camps in Syria and Iraq. There are also 69 children with links to Belgium in Syria.
Six Belgian orphans, one of them a young adult, who were born to parents who joined the IS group were repatriated to Belgium in mid-June.
According to the European Commission, between 600 and 650 children with at least one parent from an EU member state are in camps or detention centres in Syria.