Belgium repatriates women and children linked to IS group fighters from Syria
Belgium flew 16 children of Islamic State jihadists and six mothers of Belgian nationality back on Tuesday from a camp in northeastern Syria, officials said.
The airlift is the largest of its kind carried out by Belgium to bring back the families of jihadists from Syria since the fall of IS in 2019.
“Last night was the final stage of an operation to repatriate 16 Belgian children from Syria, accompanied by mothers of Belgian nationality,” the Belgian federal prosecutor said.
“The military flight landed at 1.30 am (2330 GMT) last night,” it added, saying more details would be given at a press conference.
All children are under 12 years old. They were taken with the women from the Kurdish-controlled Al-Hol camp to cross the Iraqi border by road before boarding the plane, a judicial source told AFP.
The Belgian broadcaster RTBF reported that the mothers had already been convicted in Belgium for participating in the activities of a terrorist group.
Upon arrival in the country, they were handed over to the jurisdiction of the Belgian courts overnight.
The children had to undergo a medical examination before being handed over to the youth protection services.
As of 2012, more than 400 Belgians went to Syria to fight for the IS group, making it one of the European countries that saw the largest number of people leave.
In March 2021, Prime Minister Alexander de Croo said that Belgium must do everything it can to ensure the safe return of Belgian jihadist children under the age of 12.
Last July, Belgium brought home 10 children and six mothers from another camp in Syria.