Thursday 22 August 2019

Islamic terror suspects will be allowed home - Varadkar

Taoiseach says he is 'loath to revoke citizenship' after UK move

Held: Alexandr Bekmirzaev was captured by Kurdish fighters
Held: Alexandr Bekmirzaev was captured by Kurdish fighters
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Photo: Frank McGrath

Kevin Doyle in Egypt and Tom Brady

Ireland will take back extremists who have travelled to fight with terrorist groups like Isil, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said.

While he indicated each case would have to be considered on its own merits, Mr Varadkar said this country shouldn’t expect our citizens “to be somebody else’s problem”.

An estimated half-dozen Irish passport holders are believed to be still operating on behalf of Islamic State (Isil) in Syria.

Senior Garda security and intelligence officers reckon that many of the 30 suspects, who left here to join foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, are now dead. Others are missing and some may have headed to other “theatres of war” such as in the Philippines, the Horn of Africa and north Africa.

Mr Varadkar’s comments comes against the backdrop of an EU-wide debate over how to deal with returning fighters.

In recent days the UK moved to revoke the citizenship of ‘Isil bride’ Shamima Begum.

But speaking in Egypt, the Taoiseach said he would be “very loath to revoke anyone’s citizenship provided they are a citizen by right or acquired their citizenship appropriately”.

“I think it’s bad practice to revoke somebody’s citizenship and render them stateless and leave them to be somebody’s else’s problem,” he said.

Mr Varadkar was speaking to Irish journalists on the fringes of the first EU-Arab League of States summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, where how to counteract terrorism was high on the agenda.

He said there may be "as few as one" jihadi who has left Ireland and would be in a position to return.

"We'll have to consider whether those people legitimately acquired their citizenship," Mr Varadkar said.

Read More: Six Irish passport holders thought to still be operating for Isil in Syria

At the end of December last, Alexandr Ruzmatovich Bekmirzaev, who held an Irish passport and lived here for 13 years up to 2013, was captured by Kurdish fighters in an operation against Isil in Syria.

He was regarded by the Garda security section and military intelligence as a key member of a back-up logistics support cell for Isil in Dublin.

Bekmirzaev was held by members of Kurd-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who have rounded up foreign fighters as they push, with American support, to eliminate Isil from their remaining strongholds in Syria.

But the SDF has warned it cannot hold on to prisoners for much longer, particularly as the US is preparing to pull out its troops from the region.

Gardaí said Bekmirzaev, who was described as a "serious player", was one of at least 30 people known to have flown from Ireland to Syria and Iraq. Not all of them joined Isil, with some siding with the Kurds.

US President Donald Trump recently called on European countries to take back 800 Isil volunteers captured by US-backed forces in Syria and put them on trial.

Read More: Teenage girl who fled to Syria to join ISIS 'regrets speaking to the media'

Some EU countries including France and Germany have indicated they are preparing to take back their former jihadis but the UK is more opposed.

Debate in Britain has focused on the case of Shamima Begum, who fled London aged 15 to join Isil's self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria. She wants to return to the UK with her newborn son but has had her citizenship revoked.

Ms Begum, now 19, has given several interviews since she surfaced in a Syrian refugee camp, where she recently gave birth. She said she had no regrets about becoming a jihadi bride.

Her two older children have died, and she wanted to return to the UK so her newborn son would receive better care.

British Home Secretary Sajid Javid has revoked her UK citizenship, saying she qualifies for citizenship in Bangladesh, where her father is from.

Ahmed Ali said he would like to see his daughter return.

Mr Ali said: "I don't think he's [Sajid Javid] done the right thing because she is a British citizen, and if it turns out she has committed any crimes, she should face justice in the UK. She belongs to this country, she belongs to England.

"My daughter was a little child, she made a mistake, she didn't properly understand.

"I would like to make a plea to the British government not to strip her of her citizenship. If she has made any mistakes, bring her back to London, and let them do whatever they think is necessary."

Irish Independent

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