Kurdish-led authorities in northeastern Syria announced Saturday that hundreds of Islamic State fighters held in prisons in the region will stand trial after their home country refused to return them.
The statement from the autonomous government of northern and eastern Syria said it was still calling for an international tribunal to try the fighters. It called on the United Nations, international human rights groups and local organizations to help facilitate the trial.
The US-backed and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are holding more than 10,000 captured IS fighters in about two dozen detention facilities — including 2,000 foreigners whose country refuses to return them. Fighters from some 60 countries entered Syria years ago and were captured fighting extremists, the statement said.
“The terrorist organization has committed horrific crimes and mass murder against the people of the region,” it said, adding that the acts were considered crimes against humanity and war crimes. It said the trial would be “fair and transparent in accordance with international and local laws related to terrorism”.
The SDF and the local Kurdish police force, known as Asayesh, also oversee some 51,000 family members of IS fighters, mostly women and children in the al-Hol camp. Many of these family members remain staunch supporters of the Islamic State, and militants have killed people in the camp over the years.
Saturday’s announcement came two days after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken co-chaired a meeting in Saudi Arabia of foreign ministers of the global coalition fighting IS, where he announced nearly $150 million in new U.S. funding for Stabilization work in Syria and Iraq. The extremist group no longer controls any territory, but its affiliates continue to carry out attacks in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
IS, also known as the global coalition to “fight the Islamic State,” includes more than 80 countries in a coordinated effort to fight the extremists, who at their height controlled much of Syria and Iraq. The U.S. pledge is part of new funding totaling more than $600 million, Blinken said.
Blinken did not specify, but U.S. aid to Syria is expected to go through Kurdish allies, the United Nations or international aid groups as the U.S. and other Western countries continue to impose sanctions on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Kurdish-led authorities did not say exactly where the trial will take place or when it will start. They are believed to have occurred in areas controlled by the SDF in northeastern and eastern Syria. The US military has a presence in areas controlled by SDF fighters.
On any given day, there are at least 900 U.S. troops in Syria, along with an unknown number of contractors.
The U.S. military provides advice and assistance to the Self-Defense Forces, including protecting detention facilities, and they also conduct counterterrorism missions against the Islamic State.
Kurdish-led authorities say 15,000 SDF fighters have been killed and 25,000 wounded in years of fighting against Islamic State. IS was formally defeated in Syria in March 2019, when the extremists lost the last piece of land they controlled, but their sleeper cells continued to carry out deadly attacks.
Last week, the SDF announced the handover of 50 ISIL fighters to Baghdad. It also said it had repatriated 170 Iraqis living in the al-Hol camp.
Mroue reported from Beirut.