US Allies in Syria Hand over Chechen ISIS Families to Russia

US Allies in Syria Hand over Chechen ISIS Families to Russia

Tuesday, 14 November, 2017 - 09:30
Chechen families whose fathers and husbands are suspected to have fought for ISIS. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Al-Qamishli (eastern Syria) – Kamal Sheikho
On board a modern passenger jet, Luciana and a number of Chechen families arrived in Syria’s northeastern city of al-Qamishli from the Ain Issa camp before being transferred to Russian government.

A Grozny native in her mid-40s, Luciana, did not hide her confusion upon her arrival in Qamishli.

In broken Arabic, she explained her journey to Syria: “I traveled with my husband in the summer of 2014 and we settled down in Raqqa.”

“My husband was a member of ISIS and we had two children,” she continued.

“My husband was killed in an airstrike at the beginning of this year. Since then, I have remained alone with my children. After the battles in Raqqa intensified, we fled ISIS’ clutches and turned ourselves over to the Syrian Democratic Forces,” she revealed.

She asserted that she does not know what lies in store for her or her children.

“After they interrogated me, Kurdish authorities asked me if I wanted to return to my country and I immediately said yes. I did not know whether I was going to return to my family, go to jail or go through trial because I had secretly traveled to Syria and stayed in areas controlled by ISIS, which is considered a terrorist group in my country,” Luciana added.

On Sunday, a Russian military jet arrived in Qamishli from the Russian base in Syria’s Homeimem. It carried on board Russian senator Ziad Mohammed al-Sabsabi, deputy chief of the foreign relations committee at the Russian Duma, and General Alexei Kim.

The jet was to receive families from former Soviet republics that had joined ISIS.

The Russian officials were received in Qamishli by members of the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG) and the families were officially turned over to the Russians during a press conference.

Representative of the autonomous Kurdish authority Dr. Abdul Karim Omar told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Based on humanitarian principles and international treaties, we handed over a number of Russians who used to be members of ISIS.”

He stressed that investigations confirmed that these members were not involved in any fighting in Syria.

Based on their request to return home and without coming under any pressure, 13 women and 29 children were turned over to Russian authorities, he added.

This is the second time that Moscow asks for the return of Russians that had joined ISIS in Syria. Thirteen others were handed over to Russia during the summer, said Omar.

After the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) seized Raqqa from ISIS on October 17, dozens of Russian family members of the group turned themselves over to the SDF.

They were originally taken to the Ain Issa camp some 50 kms northwest of Raqqa. They were then taken to Qamishli before being returned to Russia.

Sabsabi told Asharq Al-Awsat: “We have exerted great efforts in looking for the women and children of ISIS in order to return them to Russia.”

The children will be returned to their families and they will sit through psychological programs. Women, who do not face complaints or charges, will be released, he said.

“Others will face criminal trials in Russia and they will get their punishment,” he vowed.

Moscow has since July been working on returning Russians that have headed to Syria and Iraq where they joined ISIS. This was prompted by media reports that a number of women and children had turned themselves over to the SDF.

YPG official spokesman Nouri Mahmoud said that his forces saved these families after the Raqqa battles intensified in October.

“We dealt with them humanely and according to principles of human rights and local laws,” he continued.

“We asked them to travel back to their country and we contacted Russian officials to hand them over officially,” he said.

As she headed to the Qamishli airport to return home, Luciana sadly remarked: “Three years were enough. They felt more like 30 years. I miss by mother, father and relatives very much. I just want to go back to my room and my bed and raise my children away from the war.”

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