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Turkey begins repatriating Western ISIS fighters

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said his country is not "a hotel" for militants.
Image: Men suspected of being affiliated with the Islamic State (IS) group, gather in a prison cell in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh
Men suspected of being affiliated with ISIS wait in a prison cell in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasakeh on Oct. 26.Fadel Senna / AFP - Getty Images

LONDON — Turkey said Monday that it has started the repatriation of captured foreign Islamic State group militants, including one American who has already been returned to the United States.

State-run Anadolu news agency quoted a spokesman for Turkey’s interior ministry as saying that three foreign ISIS fighters will be deported from the country Monday.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had warned last week that Ankara would begin sending back ISIS members to their home countries even if their citizenship has been revoked. Soylu said that Turkey is not "a hotel" for militants and announced that the deportations would start Monday.

About 1,200 foreign ISIS fighters were in Turkish prisons, Soylu said last week.

“A U.S. citizen Daesh terrorist has been repatriated after the completion of legal procedures,” Ismail Catakli, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, told Anadolu, referring to ISIS by its Arabic name.

Several Western countries have stripped ISIS members of their nationalities over security concerns, making it impossible for them to go back.

The deportation of a German national is in progress, Catakli said, adding that a Danish national would also be repatriated Monday. He added that seven more German nationals will be deported later this week.

Legal proceedings for two Irish nationals were about to end and they would also be repatriated soon, Catakli told Anadolu.

Two other German and 11 French nationals are also to be deported, according to Catakli. U.S. officials did not immediately comment on Ankara's announcement.

Cristofer Burger, a spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry, confirmed Monday that Turkey had informed Germany of planned repatriations.

Burger said Turkey planned to send seven German citizens Thursday and another two Friday.

Burger added that they had received personal details of the German nationals, but were not able to say if they had ties with ISIS. He said police and security services are currently looking into possible connections.

He said that of the 10 German citizens Turkey plans to send this week, three are men, five are women and two are children. Burger added that so far they know that two of the women had spent time inside Syria.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said in a radio interview Monday she was not aware of any repatriations of French ISIS fighters from Turkey, but said there is a protocol in place for when that might happen.

Turkey has accused Western countries, especially in Europe, of being too slow to take back citizens who traveled to the Middle East to fight for ISIS.

President Donald Trump has called on his European allies to take back their nationals who have fought for the Islamic State militant group on several occasions.

As U.S.-backed forces in Syria closed in on the extremist group's final sliver of territory in February, Trump said "the United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial."

In October, Turkey launched a military offensive in northeast Syria, where Kurdish forces, allied with the U.S., held ISIS captives, some of whom managed to escape during the early days of the operation.

Turkey's offensive has drawn widespread criticism from European leaders and raised fears of an ISIS resurgence.

Yuliya Talmazan reported from London; Carlo Angerer from Mainz, Germany; Nancy Ing from Paris; and Charlene Gubash from Cairo.