Europe torn over Islamic State children in Syria
For years, they heard little from daughters who went to join Islamic State. Now dozens of families across Europe have received messages from those same women, desperate to return home from detention in Syria.
Suzanne Anciaux and Nabila Mazouz, attend a meeting of “Mothers’ Jihad”, a group aiming to repatriate Belgian women and children held in Syrian refugee camps, in Antwerp, Belgium September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
They are among 650 Europeans, many of them infants, held by U.S.-backed Kurdish militias in three camps since IS was routed last year, according to Kurdish sources. Unwanted by their Kurdish guards, they are also a headache for officials in Europe.
In letters sent via the Red Cross and in phone messages, the women plead for their children to be allowed home to be raised in the countries they left behind.
In one message played by a woman at a cafe in Antwerp, the chatter of her young grandchildren underscores their mother’s pleas.
Another woman in Paris wants to care for three grandchildren she has never met, born after her daughter left for Syria in 2014, at the age 18. “They are innocent,” she said. “They had no part in any of this.”
Like other relatives of those held in Syria, the two mothers asked to remain anonymous – afraid of being linked to IS and worried their daughters may face reprisals.
The United States has taken custody of some citizens, as have Russia and Indonesia, and wants Europe to do the same – fearing the camps may breed a new generation of militants.
“We are telling European governments: ‘Take your people back, prosecute them. … They are more of a threat to you here than back home,’” a senior U.S. counterterrorism official said.