U.S.-backed forces in Syria said they have captured eight foreign Islamic State fighters in the town of Hajin, including one American teen, days after announcing they had detained five others.
The Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, said Wednesday they had captured U.S. citizen Soulay Noah Su, 16, who had been going by the alias Abu Souleiman al-Amriki, as well as citizens of Germany, Russia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan.
The group announced over the weekend they had captured two purported Americans, including a Texan who had once applied to teach English to ISIS students in Mosul.
The arrests come amid concerns about whether neighboring Turkey — which considers America’s Kurdish partners terrorists — will be attacked in light of President Donald Trump’s call last month to rapidly withdraw U.S. forces from the country.
At least five Americans have been picked up on the battlefield, said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the George Washington University Program on Extremism, which tracks extremists and first identified the Texan who tried to join ISIS as a teacher who was captured over the weekend.
The program has identified more than 70 adults — mostly U.S. citizens or legal residents — who traveled from the U.S. to Iraq or Syria to join jihadi groups since 2011. The FBI has said about 300 Americans have left or tried to leave the U.S. to join ISIS.
As U.S.-backed forces in Syria close in on the final pockets of ISIS fighters near the Iraqi border, militants are trying to flee and planning to slow their opponents by attacking civilians, the YPG said in a statement. The YPG lead the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are partnered with the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition.
The latest batch of captured foreigners, who came under surveillance while plotting attacks on civilians, were captured during raids carried out by SDF special operations teams on Sunday and Monday, the YPG said.
Aside from the American teen, the others were identified as Lucas Glass, 31, from Germany; Bimuraev Begjan, 30, from Russia; Askar Zarmanbetov, 27, from Ukraine; Sattibek Oshibaev, 30, from Kazakhstan; Mohammad Dawlat, 22, from Tajikistan; Adil Rahimov, 58, from Uzbekistan; and Farhad Qaderov, 28, also from Uzbekistan.
The Kurdish administration in northern Syria has warned it will not be able to hold its prisoners if Turkish forces attack their territory, according to Rudaw, a Kurdish news agency based in Irbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish region.
Speaking in Israel over the weekend before visiting Turkey, Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton said the U.S. would not pull out until ISIS was defeated and not without a pledge from Turkey that it would not attack the Kurds.
The comments drew the ire of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who called the comments “a serious mistake” on Tuesday.
“Bolton’s remarks in Israel are not acceptable. It is not possible for me to swallow this,” Erdogan said during a speech in parliament. “We will not compromise.”
It’s not clear what will happen with the captured foreigners. The Kurds have refused to prosecute them as they are doing with locals, Rudaw reported. Over the weekend, Kazakhstan took back five of its nationals who had fought for ISIS, as well as 40 women and children.
Some 14 Americans who traveled to Iraq or Syria to fight for jihadi groups have returned to the U.S., Hughes said, and nearly all of them have been disillusioned by their experiences. Those convicted received sentences averaging about 10 years, but many have received leniency for cooperating with authorities and offering information on ISIS, he said.
Seven American minors known to have lived in jihadi-controlled territory have returned to the U.S., Hughes said. All but one of them were elementary school-aged children who had not been involved in acts of violence.
What makes the case for the teen captured this week unique is that he has been described as a “foreign fighter,” Hughes said.
The circumstances of how the teen came to be fighting for ISIS will factor into how prosecutors treat his case.
“It’s one thing if he left when he was 16 and somehow got over there — it’s another thing if he’s been over there for five years in the mix,” Hughes said. “Intent plays a big part.”
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