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Turkey Begins To Deport ISIS Fighters Back To Their Home Countries


ISIS fighters captured in Syria face many, many, many years in prison. So which countries should be stuck with the trouble and expense of holding them? Turkey says it should not be Turkey. The country is holding a number of ISIS fighters in prison and says it will now start returning them to their countries of origin. In many cases, they're from Europe, and Turkey says one is American.

NPR's Peter Kenyon is following all this from Istanbul. Hi there, Peter.


INSKEEP: So when we say European countries, which countries do they come from?

KENYON: Well, the Interior Ministry here says there's seven Germans. They're scheduled to be, quote, "repatriated" on Thursday. There's also a bunch of proceedings going on. One is aimed at deporting 11 French citizens allegedly captured by Turkish forces in northern Syria. Other processes are underway for an unspecified number of foreign fighters said to be from Ireland, Germany, Denmark. But where these people are citizens has become complicated by the fact that some countries are stripping these folks of their citizenship. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says, that doesn't matter; they're going back anyway. And as you said, one of them is an American.

INSKEEP: Now there's the question of expense - millions of U.S. dollars to keep somebody in prison, potentially, for a long time; the question of politics - people don't want them around. But who is that American as far as is known?

KENYON: It's not known - not known publicly. There's - no identities of any of these people have been released. Turkey said they were going to repatriate this U.S. citizen. And then there was video up on the Turkey-Greece border, and it showed a man, reportedly this terrorist, hands raised in apparent frustration as if to say - hey, where am I supposed to go? The Greek police say they denied him entry twice. This morning, he was nowhere to be seen. But President Erdogan gave a speech before he left for the U.S. saying, hey, he's not our problem.

INSKEEP: So based on the video anyway, it appears that Turkey just took him to the edge of the country and said, good luck. But he couldn't get anywhere. Is that what happened?

KENYON: Yes. The Greek police put out a statement saying twice he showed up on their side. The first time, he said I don't really want to come here, but here I am. And they turned him away. And the second time, they turned him away again.

INSKEEP: So when Turkey talks about sending people back to Germany or doing something with this American, do their countries of origin - their countries of citizenship - have to take them back?

KENYON: Well, they say not. And as we've mentioned, they're stripping the citizenship away, which means they certainly wouldn't have to take them back in their view. And that's exactly what's happening. Countries are saying, we don't want these people back. Germany has been not quite as definitive as some of the others. But there's no one lining up just saying, yes, please, we want these folks.

INSKEEP: This is almost a version of the Guantanamo problem that the United States has had. Right?


INSKEEP: The U.S. established this prison - this detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, because - well, politically speaking, nobody wanted al-Qaida-type fighters or ISIS fighters in the United States.

KENYON: Right. And Turkey has no Guantanamo - that I'm aware of anyway - and certainly has not announced any plans to relocate these people to some third place like that.

INSKEEP: So if one of these people is reportedly American, is this likely to be an agenda item when Turkey's President Erdogan visits the White House this week and talks with President Trump?

KENYON: Well, certainly, Erdogan would like the U.S. to take back this person and any other American citizens who fought with ISIS and their family members, too - likely to come up.

There's a lot of other issues as well. Turkey's been buying Russian missiles. That has folks unhappy. Do they still deserve to be in NATO? What about the U.S. support for Syrian Kurdish fighters? Ankara sees them as terrorists. How is that going to be playing out? So there's a lot of issues to be discussed. I do think that this will probably be one of them, though.

INSKEEP: Peter, thanks for the update.

KENYON: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.