Must deal with foreign jihadists, says Mattis

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ROME, Feb 14, (AFP): US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Tuesday that doing nothing with foreign fighters captured in Syria “was not an option” after a meeting of the US-led anti-Islamic State group coalition in Rome. During the fierce offensive to oust the IS group from its former stronghold Raqqa, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have captured “hundreds” of foreign jihadists, Mattis said.

The United States does not want the prisoners to remain in Syria where they fear the power vacuum could allow the fighters to escape and once again take up arms. They say foreign fighters should be dealt with in their country of origin. “The bottom line is, we don’t want (the jihadists) to go back on the streets of Ankara, (…) Tunis, Paris or Brussels, (…),” said Mattis following the meeting with 13 of his international counterparts. “It is an international problem, it needs to be addressed by all engaged.”

But several countries do not want the jihadists to return home. Two Britons said to have carried out numerous beheadings are among the detainees. Alexanda Amon Kotey and El Shafee el-Sheikh — suspected members of a jihadist cell known “The Beatles” because of their British accents — are accused of abducting and decapitating around 20 hostages.

The victims included American journalist James Foley, who was beheaded in 2012. “I don’t think they should ever set foot in this country again,” Britain’s Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson recently told the Sun daily newspaper. The question of whether the detainees could be imprisoned at US military’s Guantanamo Bay prison was raised, but when asked directly for an answer Mattis declined to comment. The US Secretary of Defense now travels to Brussels for the second-leg of his European visit dedicated to the antijihadist fight.

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