Britain and other European nations that are refusing to repatriate Islamic State fighters and put them on trial in their country of origin are creating a risk to regional security, the US defence secretary warned at the start of his visit to London.
Mark Esper said there were around 2,000 foreign fighters, many from Europe, held in north-east Syria, but asking the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces to keep them in makeshift jails was an increasing risk to the fragile security of the region.
“It’s an untenable situation,” Esper said in a briefing on the first day of a two-day visit to London. “How long can this last? Our view has been they should repatriated and dealt with appropriately … otherwise that’s a risk to the region.”
Around 250 to 300 foreign fighters who are still in Syria are estimated to have come from the UK, but Britain is increasingly unwilling to allow any to return and stand trial following Isis’s defeat in Syria and Iraq.
Several have been stripped of their British citizenship, such as Jack Letts, who was raised in Oxfordshire by British and Canadian parents. He left home to join Isis five years ago, but has been held a prisoner in Syria for the past two years.
Esper, who is due to meet defence secretary Ben Wallace on Friday, said he was relaying a message from the US administration. “We are asking a lot of the folks that are holding them, the Kurds,” Esper added.
Two of the most notorious Isis fighters still being held in north East Syria, Londoners El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Kotey, are subject of an ongoing legal battle as to where they will be put on trial for murdering western hostages in Syria. Read more