x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 February 2018

UK faces increasing pressure to take back British Isil members

A former UK National Security Advisor has said Britain has "some responsibility" for the fighters

The Syrian Democratic Forces have captured hundreds of foreign Isil fighters
The Syrian Democratic Forces have captured hundreds of foreign Isil fighters

Britain is facing international and domestic pressure to put two ISIL fighters who held UK citizenship on trial for their roles in some of the notorious crimes of the group.

A former UK national security advisor has said that Britain has a responsibility to take back two British Isil fighters captured by Kurdish forces in Syria last month, as US officials also suggest they should be tried in the UK.

Speaking on British radio, Peter Ricketts, who served as UK National Security Advisor until 2012, said “I can absolutely understand that people don’t want these guys back, they sound despicable. On the other hand, we do believe in the rule of law and in accountability,” he said. “At the current time, they’re in a sort of stateless position; they’re not under anyone’s jurisdiction, they’re being held by an insurgency group. I think, in the end, the UK does have responsibility to take these people back in order to put them on trial.”

“In terms of showing people that you cannot commit these horrible crimes and be completely unaccountable for them later, I think – despite all the reluctance – I think that probably, if they were British people, we have some responsibility to take them back.”

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The comments came as UK and US defence secretaries Gavin Williamson and Jim Mattis were due to meet in Rome on Tuesday for talks between the countries involved in the war against Isil. It is expected that the two would discuss the matter of foreign fighters.

But the comments put Mr Ricketts at odds with several other British and US officials, including UK Defence secretary Gavin Williamson, who has said he doesn’t think the men "should ever set foot in this country again".

"They turned their back on Britain, our values and everything we stand for — they are the worst of the worst”, he said last week.

Tobias Elwood, a minister in the same department said that the two men should be handed over to the International Criminal Court, despite the US not recognising the court’s jurisdiction.

Hitherto, US officials have indicated a desire for the fighters to be tried in their home countries. Speaking on Monday, senior Pentagon official Kathryn Wheelbarger, said "We're working with the coalition on foreign fighter detainees, and generally expect these detainees to return to their country of origin for disposition”.

But last week it was reported that the two men had had their British citizenship revoked, complicating the matter further. US officials also rejected the possibility of them being sent to Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba.

Alexanda Kotey, 34, and Elshafee Elsheikh, 29, were members of the Isil cell known as ‘The Beatles”, the cell was tasked with guarding and executing western hostages.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), who have served as the international coalition’s main partner on the ground in Syria against Isil have captured hundreds of foreign fighters, but it remains unclear exactly how they will be dealt with or where they will be tried.

An official from the SDF confirmed they had yet to receive an extradition appeal from any country for the two men.