Iraq to take high profile ISIS fighters evacuated from northern Syria

Iraqi intelligence officials have confirmed the US will hand over scores of ISIS members from northern Syria

FILE - In this March 30, 2018, file, photo, Alexanda Amon Kotey, left, and El Shafee Elsheikh, who were allegedly among four British jihadis who made up a brutal Islamic State cell dubbed "The Beatles," sit on a sofa during an interview with The Associated Press at a security center in Kobani, Syria. The IS could get a new injection of life if conflict erupts between the Kurds and Turkey in northeast Syria as the U.S. pulls its troops back from the area. The White House has said Turkey will take over responsibility for the thousands of IS fighters captured during the long campaign that defeated the militants in Syria. But it’s not clear how that could happen. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
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Intelligence officials in Iraq have confirmed that the United States will handover nearly 50 ISIS militants from northern Syria into their custody.

The dozens of former ISIS fighters were expected to be handed over following President Donald Turmp’s earlier announcement that British ISIS militants Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh had been taken into US custody with other high profile members from the terror group.

The New York Times and Washington Post earlier reported the pair would be moved by the US to Iraq while roughly 40 highly valued ISIS fighters had been taken into US custody in a bid to ensure they did not escape during Turkey's ongoing military assault on northern Syria.

Kotey and Elsheikh, two of three remaining members of the torture cell nicknamed by their western hostages as “The Beatles”, rose to prominence because of their British accents and their reputation as some of ISIS’s most brutal operators.

The group, fronted by Mohammed Emwazi who became known as “Jihadi John”, carried out a string of executions killing US journalists like James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines when ISIS was at the height of its power.

From 2014 onwards the group held more than 20 western hostages, routinely torturing many of them.

The rare US move has been seen to lay the ground for the Kotey and Elsheikh to possibly stand trial in the United States but it has also raised the serious questions over the fate of other European ISIS fighters.

On Wednesday UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab spoke with his Turkish opposite number raising British concerns that Ankara’s attack in Northern Syria could destabilise the country and allow ISIS to regain a foothold in the region.

Britain and France alongside Germany are due to raise the issue of the Turkish offensive at the UN Security Council but the European nations have maintained that the will not seek the return their own home-grown ISIS fighters

The UK foreign office declined to comment on Kotey and Elsheikh’s individual cases but told The National all foreign ISIS fighters should face justice “whatever their nationality”.

A French diplomatic source told this newspaper it was Paris’ preference for ISIS fighters answer for what they had done in the countries where they had carried out their crimes. “We want Daesh fighters to be tried where they committed their crimes,” the source said.

Mr Trump, as he announced the extraction of the 40 ISIS fighters, called for Europe to take back its own fighters. Frustration over European nations failure to take responsibility for the former ISIS combatants was part of the motivation behind the US pull-out from Kurdish-held Syria with the White House indicating now Turkey would be responsible for the prisons.

Even before Turkish forces have encroached anywhere near the al-Hol camp, where some 70,000 ISIS women and children are being held by the Kurdish militias, Ankara has already indicated that it would like assistance in the long-term from the international community over the detention of the ISIS foreign fighters.

Human rights groups have been deeply critical of the UK government and its ambivalence towards Kotey and Elsheikh’s cases. “The bottom line is that they — like anyone else — should receive a fair trial for their alleged crimes and one which rules out the death penalty,” Allan Hogarth, Amnesty International UK’s Head of Advocacy and Programmes, said.

“Kotey and Elsheikh have allegedly committed the most appalling acts, and for that that absolutely should be brought to justice. But that shouldn’t mean that the USA, the UK or any other country abandons basic human rights principles in the process,” he added.