Isil suspects returned in prisoner swaps face execution
Foreign Islamic State suspects captured by the UK’S allies in Syria and then exchanged in secret prisoner swap deals have been executed by jihadists as punishment for defecting. Two of those involved in the deals, a woman from Tajikistan and a Frenchman, were murdered shortly after being sent back to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) territory against their will, witnesses say.
The Daily Telegraph revealed in June how hundreds of foreign men, women and children detained by the Kurdishled Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were swapped in return for Kurdish fighters held by Isil.
Legal groups yesterday expressed concern that Isil suspects who were forcibly sent back to a battlefield were later executed, saying it undermined international law. One woman, named Sitora, a 24-year-old from Tajikistan whose surname is not known, was executed after being returned to Isil. She was captured by the SDF last November and sent to Roj camp for foreign female Isil suspects in northern Syria, along with two young children she had from two Russian Isil fighters.
In March, the SDF central office reportedly called up those in the camp who were from Russia and central Asian states, telling them they would be taken back by their home countries.
But Sitora and her children, who were aged three and one, were instead taken by bus to Hajin, a town in eastern Deir Ezzor province still under Isil control.
A witness said she was taken to a square in the town and publicly executed, an act intended to warn others thinking of trying to flee the ever-dwindling “caliphate”.
“She looked very scared,” said Ahmed, a witness who asked that his surname not be published. “She was killed with several others. They made a show of it.
“Isil was very happy to have all these people back as it shows them to be stronger than they are.”
It is unclear what has happened to her children. In another case, an unidentified French fighter of African descent was shot in the head in Hajin in early September. The killing was filmed and sent out by the jihadists to send a stark message to others.
“He and any others who think they can escape the Islamic State, they should know we can catch them anywhere,” the masked executioner is heard saying before shooting him and five Syrian fighters who tried to flee.
A British woman at Roj camp last week said women had until recently been taken out of the camps and not told where they were going.
“They were taken out of here and never came back, but we heard they didn’t go home,” said Reema Iqbal, 30, from east London, who said there were rumours around the camp that many more than two had actually been executed.
She said she and other British women were worried that they could face the same fate if the UK government continued to refuse to allow them to return.
“It is terrible that people end up being sent back to Isil and then get executed in the public square,” said Clive Stafford Smith, founder of legal action charity Reprieve, who confirmed the reports.
“The fault here does not lie with the Kurds, but with the fact that the West has abandoned them with thousands of detainees, including 1,248 entirely innocent children, with no support,” he said, adding that the forcible return of minors raised serious ethical questions.
“What does it take to persuade countries like Britain to take responsibility for our citizens? If we don’t, more innocent people will die.”
The SDF is holding thousands of foreign Isil fighters and their families,
‘It is terrible that people end up being sent back to Isil and then get executed in the public square’
who were either captured or surrendered during offensives on their former strongholds in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. Kurdish officials have warned that they will not try foreign suspects themselves and will not hold them forever.
British and other European authorities have refused to take responsibility for their citizens held in prisons and camps around northern Syria, leaving six British men, four women and at least nine children in legal limbo.
The SDF is fighting Isil in the last of its territory in the towns of Soussa and Hajin. Last week they suffered a major setback after Isil counter-attacked during a sandstorm, killing and capturing dozens of SDF fighters.
The capture of large numbers of their fighters raises the prospect that the SDF could once again trade suspects in their custody for the return of their comrades.
A picture that reportedly shows Isil fighters with members of the Syrian Democratic Forces taken prisoner last week
Roj camp in northern Syria, where 370 women from 46 countries are held as Isil suspects