Jakarta said Monday that it was ready to accept Indonesian Islamic State fighters captured by Turkey in neighboring Syria during a recent offensive against the Kurdish militia.
“We are prepared to deal with them,” the head of the Counter-Foreign Terrorist Fighters (FTF) Task Force at Indonesia’s Densus 88 anti-terrorist police unit, Didik Novi Rahmanto, told BenarNews.
Didik said an estimated 28 Indonesian IS detainees were believed to be among those who were abandoned by forces from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) after Turkey’s offensive in northeastern Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia, the main element of the SDF.
The Turkish move followed a decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw forces from the region which sparked concern about the fate of IS detainees there.
“Because of the Turkish attack on the SDF, the detainees were abandoned so there were some who ran away,” Didik said.
“We don’t know how many ISIS prisoners from Indonesia are being held by Turkey. There could be more [than 28],” he said.
Turkey’s Interior Minister, Suleyman Soylu, warned on Monday that the country would send captured IS members back to their countries even if their citizenships had been revoked, Reuters reported.
“We will send back those in our hands, but the world has come up with a new method now: revoking their citizenships,” Soylu said, alluding to the refusal of some European countries to take back captured IS fighters.
Turkey considers YPG as a terrorist group linked to Kurdish insurgents seeking independence from Ankara rule.
The SDF has been a leading U.S. ally against IS and has kept thousands of militants in jails across northeastern Syria.
Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) has anticipated the prospect of IS militants returning, said the agency’s director for prevention, Brig. Gen. Hamli.
“Obviously we are prepared,” Hamli, who goes by one name, told BenarNews. “Some of them have returned before.”
There have been conflicting reports about the number of Indonesian IS fighters and their families in Syria.
Citing data from border authorities in Syria, Didik said there were an estimated 1,500 IS fighters and their families from Indonesia, including 700 languishing in three camps.
He said repatriating them would not be easy considering the cost, the threat they pose and work required to deradicalize and rehabilitate them.
“The mechanism has so far involved legal proceedings [for fighters] while women and children are subjected to a program at the Social Affairs Ministry facility in Cipayung [in eastern Jakarta],” he said.
Stanislaus Riyanta, a terrorism analyst at the University of Indonesia, said returning IS fighters could pose a security threat.
“This is something to be aware of. If they can freely return to society, they can actually build new cells,” he said
“They have to go through legal proceedings because they have joined a banned organization. After that they also have to undergo deradicalization and rehabilitation,” he said.
Indonesian security officials had earlier said at least 100 Indonesian men, women and children were languishing in several Syrian camps.
Jakarta has said it is in the process of verifying the citizenship of those who claimed to be Indonesian citizens and is still considering whether they will be repatriated.
The Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said in a report in August that Indonesia should begin repatriating its most vulnerable citizens who joined IS and not let them remain in the camps where they face intimidation from other supporters of the extremist group.
In March, the SDF declared they had captured the last bastion of IS, which once controlled a swath of land that spilled across the boundaries of Iraq and Syria.
The victory of the SDF ushered in complex issues, including the extradition – or legal proceedings – for captured foreign militant fighters, as well as their wives and children.
With the demise of IS’ self-proclaimed caliphate, European countries are also grappling with the fate of their citizens in Syria.
Britain and some other countries have refused to repatriate their citizens who joined IS.
The British government has revoked the citizenship of some nationals, including Shamima Begum, a 19-year-old woman of Bangladeshi parentage who ran away from her home in London and made her way to Syria with two other teenage girls in 2015.
While Britain allows dual nationality, Indonesia recognizes it only for children up to 18 years, with a three-year grace period. By the time people turn 21, they are required to notify Indonesian immigration authorities if they intend to keep or renounce their citizenship in favor of the other nationality.
In 2017, BNPT reported that at least 1,321 Indonesians had joined IS or tried to enlist. Of that number, 84 were killed, 482 were deported while trying to enter Syria, and 62 had returned from Syria. Another 63 were stopped at Indonesian airports while trying to travel to the Middle East.
Citing intelligence data from his government, Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu told a security forum in Singapore last year that about 400 of 31,500 foreign fighters who had joined IS in Syria were from Indonesia.