PARIS, Oct 21, (AP): The forces fighting the remnants of the Islamic State group in Syria have tacit instructions on dealing with the foreigners who joined the extremist group by the thousands: Kill them on the battlefield. As they made their last stand in the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, an estimated 300 extremists holed up in and around a sports stadium and a hospital argued among themselves about whether to surrender, according to Kurdish commanders leading the forces that closed in.
The final days were brutal — 75 coalition airstrikes in 48 hours and a flurry of desperate IS car bombs that were easily spotted in the sliver of devastated landscape still under militant control. No government publicly expressed concern about the fate of its citizens who left and joined the Islamic State fighters plotting attacks at home and abroad.
In France, which has suffered repeated violence claimed by the Islamic State — including the Nov. 13, 2015, attacks in Paris — Defense Minister Florence Parly was among the few to say it aloud. “If the jihadis perish in this fight, I would say that’s for the best,” Parly told Europe 1 radio last week. Those were the orders, according to the US. “Our mission is to make sure that any foreign fighter who is here, who joined ISIS from a foreign country and came into Syria, they will die here in Syria,” said Brett McGurk, the top US envoy for the anti-IS coalition, in an interview with Dubai-based Al-Aan television.
“So if they’re in Raqqa, they’re going to die in Raqqa,” he said. The coalition has given names and photos to the Kurdish fighters to identify the foreign jihadis, who are seen as a threat back home and a burden on their justice systems, according to a commander with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces. The commander said his US-backed fighters are checking for wanted men among the dead or the few foreigners among the captured. An official with the powerful YPG, the backbone of the SDF that also runs the local security and intelligence branches, said foreigners who decided to fight until the end will be “eliminated.” For the few prisoners, the Kurds try to reach out to the home countries, “and we try to hand them in. But many would not want to take their (detainees),” he said.
Both men spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the sensitive issue with reporters. No country will admit to refusing to take back citizens who joined the Islamic State, including women and their children. But few are making much of an effort to recover them. In Iraq, hundreds of Islamic State fighters have surrendered or have been taken into custody, and their families have been rounded up into detention camps.
The men are put on trial and face the death penalty if convicted of terrorism charges — even if they are foreigners. One Russian fighter has already been hanged. France, which routinely intervenes when citizens abroad face capital punishment, has said nothing about its jihadis in Iraq. More French joined the group, also known by its Arab acronym DAESH, than any other European country.