10/02/2020 Washington, DC (International Christian Concern) – Yesterday, the Department of Justice sent out a press release saying that the United States had successfully repatriated four Americans, charged with terrorism-related offenses for their participation in ISIS’ genocide of religious minorities, from Syria and Iraq who were being held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). This brings the total of repatriated Americans from the two countries up to 27, ten of whom are being charged for their support to ISIS with the other 17 comprised of family members of ISIS fighters who are not being charged. With this transfer, the United States has successfully repatriated all Americans held by the SDF.
Following the defeat of ISIS in Syria last year, the SDF held those affiliated with the militants in detainment camps such as al-Hol. This camp primarily consists of ISIS wives, widows, and children. Their ideology has made internal security difficult, as these detainees have organized the Hisba (a secret religious police). In the past, Yazidi women and girls who were sexually enslaved by ISIS have been discovered being held captive by these detainees. It is possible that these detainees are holding more hostages belonging to religious minorities. In 2019, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the now-deceased leader of ISIS, sent an audio message into the camps riddled with anti-Christian language, encouraging the liberation of these detainees.
This continues a pattern of American repatriation of people who travel to the Middle East to assist ISIS, for the purpose of trying them back on American soil. Though many European countries also have many citizens currently detained in Syria by the SDF, they have been more hesitant to repatriate them due to legal and political hurtles. In the DOJ press release, Ambassador Nathan Sales, State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism, encouraged other nations to follow the United States’ lead on this issue.
“This announcement should serve as a warning to those who travel, or attempt to travel, to join and fight with ISIS,” said John Brown, FBI Executive Assistant for National Security. “We remain vigilant in our efforts to prevent terrorism as well as hold terrorists, and those who provide support to terrorist organizations, accountable for their actions.”
ISIS has committed genocide against Christians and Yazidis in Iraq’s Nineveh Plains and attempted to wipe out these minority religious communities. Although ISIS was declared territorially defeated in 2017, insurgencies and violence from remaining ISIS fighters still threaten the safety of Christians in Iraq and Syria. Most Christians and Yazidis remain displaced and are forced to live with the trauma from the violence that they have experienced as a result of ISIS.