Twelve women and 28 children will be repatriated to the Netherlands from detention camps in northern Syria, the Dutch government announced on Tuesday, making the country’s largest group yet to be brought back.
They will face charges on their return for joining the ISIS extremist group.
The move comes after a Dutch court in May recommended that the women be returned immediately to the Netherlands, or that a commitment to return then be made within four months.
“The cabinet is transferring twelve Dutch women suspected of terrorist offences and their 28 children to the Netherlands,” two government ministers said.
“The women will be arrested after arrival in the Netherlands and will be tried,” Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra and Justice Minister Dilan Yesilgoz-Zegerius said in a letter to parliament.
The ministerial letter declined to say from which camp the women and children will be fetched or when, adding only it will be done via a “special operation.”
The children will be taken into the care of the Dutch child protection services, the ministers added.
Western countries have faced a dilemma over how to handle their citizens detained in Syria since the end of military operations against ISIS there in 2019.
Thousands of extremists in Europe decided to join the group as fighters, often taking their wives and children to live in the “caliphate” declared in territory conquered in Iraq and Syria.
Some 300 Dutch citizens travelled to Syria during the height of the civil war, according to Dutch government figures.
About 120 still remain – many in Kurdish-controlled camps and detention centers in northern Syria, or in Iraq and Turkey.
The return of extremist fighters to stand trial in the Netherlands is a politically sensitive subject and the country’s anti-terror agency has warned that returning citizens may have an intention to continue “supporting jihadist activities.”
Dutch courts earlier this year sentenced a woman to three-and-a-half years behind bars for joining the now-defunct ISIS group.
The 28-year-old – identified only as Ilham B. – was repatriated last year from the al-Roj detention camp in northeast Syria after she joined ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra extremist groups with her husband in 2013.
In February the government also repatriated five women from the al-Roj camp to face trial in the Netherlands.
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