SULUK, Syria (Reuters) – Three French women who escaped from a camp for suspected jihadists in northern Syria say they want to go home and face whatever legal action France requires over their alleged links to the Islamic State (IS) militant group.
The three, interviewed in Syria’s Suluk town, controlled by Syrian rebels backed by Turkey, said they had fled during the chaos of Turkey’s incursion into Syria last month and turned themselves over to Turkish forces in hopes of returning home.
The women, who declined to give their names, suggested they were prepared to go France for the sake of their children, adding that conditions in the camp in Ain Issa, run by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), had been very hard.
The women gave no details of their life before detention. They are believed to be among the wives and children of former IS fighters killed or detained after the jihadist group was expelled from its strongholds in Iraq and Syria.
Ankara’s unilateral offensive angered Washington and Turkey’s main European NATO allies, who fear a return of IS in the region. European countries are especially concerned about foreign Islamic State fighters and adult relatives returning to Europe.
France has said citizens who joined the militant group, which operated in both Syria and Iraq, should be tried near where crimes were committed.
However Turkey says it will start repatriating IS detainees to their own countries on Monday, sending them back even if their citizenships have been revoked.
The women’s preferred destination was France.
“We want to go back for our children to go on with their lives,” said one of the women, who like the others wore the niqab or full face veil.
“I’ve been here for five years and I want to go back and go on with my life, go back to the time I lost. That’s it.”
A second woman said she wanted to return to France “quickly” and whatever the French courts decided was “not a problem”.
Their lives in the detention had been difficult. “Children got sick very quickly. There was not much to eat,” she said. “I want to go back to France with my son, (who is) 2-12 years old.”
A third woman said: “We have no problems with a ruling in France. It is for that reason that we handed ourselves over to the Turks, to go back to our country.”
Turkey launched an offensive into northeastern Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia last month following a decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw troops from the region. The move prompted widespread concern over the fate of Islamic State prisoners in the region.
The YPG is the main element of the SDF, which has been a leading U.S. ally in beating back IS in the region. It has kept thousands of jihadists in jails across northeastern Syria.
Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Frances Kerry