Europe

Syria war: Kosovo brings back 110 citizens including jihadists

Image shows a young Kosovar child looking at Kosovar police officers Image copyright AFP
Image caption The group mostly included young children and their mothers

Kosovo has brought back 110 of its citizens from Syria, mostly mothers and their children but also several jihadist fighters.

The group contained 74 children, 32 women and four men suspected of fighting for the Islamic State group (IS) who were arrested on arrival.

They flew back with the help of the US military before police escorted them to an army barracks near Pristina.

The issue of repatriations has come to the fore since the collapse of IS.

"An important and sensitive operation was organised in which the government of Kosovo, with the help of the [US], has returned 110 of its citizens from Syria," Kosovo's Justice Minister, Abelard Tahiri, said on Saturday.

"We will not stop before bringing every citizen... back to their country and anyone that has committed any crime or was part of these terrorist organisations will face justice," he added.

Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is 90% Muslim.

More than 300 of its citizens have travelled to Syria since 2012, according to government figures. This number includes 70 men who were killed fighting alongside jihadist groups, Reuters news agency reports.

Police say 30 Kosovan fighters, 49 women and 8 children still remain in conflict zones in Syria and Iraq.

Image caption A map showing the verified origin countries of children who travelled to Iraq or Syria

In recent months, a number of women have come forward to say they want to return to their home countries, including the UK, US and France, so they could raise their children in peace.

In response, the UK and US have barred two mothers from returning.

Shamima Begum, who joined IS in Syria aged 15, begged to return home shortly before giving birth to a son, but the UK government refused to let her back.

She did not renounce her allegiance to IS and the government removed her citizenship. There was much sympathy for her plight when her baby died in March.

Meanwhile, that same month, France brought back five young children of jihadist fighters.

The recent repatriations come weeks after some IS militants reportedly fled into the desert from Baghuz - their last stronghold.

The area was declared "freed" by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on 23 March.

Although the declaration marked the last territorial victory over the group's "caliphate", experts warn it does not mean the end of IS or its ideology.

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