Germany and Denmark have repatriated 11 women who joined the IS terror group and their 37 children from northern Syria in the biggest such transfer since 2019, Berlin said.
“The children are not responsible for their situation… the mothers will have to answer for their acts,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement overnight from Wednesday to Thursday.
Germany brought home eight women and 23 children, while Denmark took back to its territory three women and 14 children as part of the same operation carried out with US military support, Berlin said.
German federal prosecutors said three of the women were arrested on arrival at Frankfurt airport and charged with membership in a terror organisation and for neglecting the care and upbringing of their children.
One of the accused, Romiena S., had allegedly showed her daughter IS execution videos as she raised her with the radical Islamist teachings of the group.
She is also accused of keeping watch on a Yazidi woman enslaved by the IS and requiring her to say Muslim prayers.
The other two arrested were named as Solale M. and Verena M.
Separately, Danish authorities said they have arrested the three women repatriated there, charging them with “promotion of terrorist activities” as well as their “entry and residence in a conflict zone”.
Denmark is still looking at repatriating another five children born to parents who are still in Syria but the mothers concerned have been stripped of their Danish nationalities and have not given their agreement for their children’s return.
– ‘Need protection’ –
Maas said he was “happy” to have brought back to Germany people, especially children, identified “as being in particular need of protection”.
“They are mostly sick children or those with a guardian in Germany, as well as their brothers and sisters and their mothers,” the foreign ministry said.
Lobby group Save the Children called for the the repatriation process to continue.
“We welcome the news that the Danish and German governments have taken 37 children out of the miserable conditions they had been living in,” said the group’s Syria Response Director Sonia Khush.
“Children in the camps face harsh conditions, with limited freedom of movement, inadequate basic services including water and education, and an ever-present risk of violence.”
She also urged Denmark to revisit its decision to strip the three mothers of their nationality while seeking to bring the children back to Europe.
“Mothers should not have to choose between staying with their children in camps with such harsh humanitarian conditions and letting go of them where they would have to live on their own,” she said.
The group was repatriated from the Roj camp in Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria.
Tabloid-style daily Bild reported that foreign ministry and police officials landed in the region early Wednesday on a US military plane, which then brought the group to Kuwait before they boarded a flight to Frankfurt.
The women are aged between 30 and 38 and come from several regions around Germany, Der Spiegel weekly reported.
Countries have been wrangling over how to treat captives linked to IS since the group’s fall in March 2019.
Most European countries carry out repatriations on a case-by-case basis.
Germany’s last joint repatriation alongside Finland in December 2020 brought back five women and 18 children.