Tuesday, 21 June 2022
By Liv Klingert
Credit: Y. Boechat / Wikimedia Commons
After the liberation of Iraqi and Syrian territories from the self-proclaimed caliphate of the Islamic State (IS), certain European countries have chosen to repatriate the children of IS fighters as well as their mothers – if they possessed European citizenship.
From Monday to Tuesday, Belgium repatriated 16 children and 6 mothers who have been detained in Syria since the collapse of IS in 2019, reported Le Soir. It is the second operation of its kind for Belgium after the country repatriated from Syria ten children and six mothers in July 2021.
The move comes after decisions taken by the National Security Council (CNS) on 2 June.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo’s office explained that “the priority of the CNS has always been to put the children of Belgian nationality in safety and to offer them a future in Belgium. But all analysis shows that repatriating mothers strengthens our national security, allowing for better monitoring and strengthening control.”
The issues around repatriation concern political, legal and ethical arguments, such as the dire humanitarian conditions in the camps in north-eastern Syria, the risk of further radicalisation, and settling who should be responsible for managing these people.
Well known to Belgian female jihadism
The mission to repatriate the 16 children and 6 mothers in 2022 came after the reappearance of four Belgian mothers, who had until now disappeared from the radar in the Al-Hol camp. They were later identified by Kurdish authorities and transferred to the other better maintained camp, Roj.
Some of these detainees are well known for their involvement in Belgian female jihadism, including Nora Verhoeven (4 children), who was convicted in 2015 during the Sharia4Belgium trial; Sabah Hammani from Antwerp (3 children); Soraya Et-Talaie (3 children), who sentenced to five years in prison in 2019; and Fatima Bazarouj (3 children), from Molenbeek, with an infamous family, with all its sibling joining the ranks of Isis.
The six repatriated women are all charged for the “participation in the activities of a terrorist group”, according to the Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office. They have been sentenced for up to five years in prison on Tuesday.
All the repatriated minors are under 12, some much younger. The 16th repatriated child was motherless, but the son of an Antwerp jihadist whose fate is uncertain.
Belgian repatriation in the past
At the beginning of 2021, the Belgian government changed tactics on its approach to its nationals detained in Syria. The government was confronted with two camps which held the wives and children of jihadists in Syrian Kurdistan, with a focus on Al-Hol, an outlier in which Isis law still reigns and where murders and escapes often happen.
For the Belgian government, repatriating the male Belgian jihadists remains out of the question, but the government announced it would bring back all children under 12, and on a case by case basis, their mother.
After obtaining DNA samples and interrogating the women, Belgium repatriated six women and ten children in July last year.
Following the latest Belgian repatriation, only four women and five children of Belgian origin remain detained in Syria.