BERLIN — Germany has repatriated eight women who joined the Islamic State terror group and 23 children from northern Syria, the foreign ministry said overnight from Wednesday to Thursday, the biggest such transfer since 2019.
“The children are not responsible for their situation… the mothers will have to answer for their acts,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a statement, adding that “many of them were held in custody on arrival in Germany.”
Denmark also brought three women and 14 children to its territory as part of the same operation, carried out with US military support, Berlin said.
Maas said he was “happy” to have brought back to Germany people, especially children, identified “as being in particular need of protection.”
“They are mostly sick children or those with a guardian in Germany, as well as their brothers and sisters and their mothers,” the foreign ministry said.
The group was repatriated from the Roj camp in Kurdish-controlled northeastern Syria.
Tabloid-style daily Bild reported that foreign ministry and police officials landed in the region early Wednesday on a US military plane, which then brought the group to Kuwait before they boarded a flight to Frankfurt.
The women are aged between 30 and 38 and come from several regions around Germany, Der Spiegel weekly reported.
German federal prosecutors said three women — whom it identified only as Solale M., Romiena S. and Verena M. in line with local privacy rules — were arrested on arrival at Frankfurt airport. They are accused of membership in a foreign terror organization, taking the children with them against their fathers’ will and violations of their duties of care and education.
Countries have been wrangling over how to treat captives linked to IS since the group’s fall in March 2019.
Most European countries carry out repatriations on a case-by-case basis.
Germany’s last joint repatriation alongside Finland in December 2020 brought back five women and 18 children.