In a surprise move, the Netherlands has repatriated four of its nationals – a “jihadi bride” and two of her children along with a 12-year-old girl – who have been living in a Kurdish camp in Syria since the collapse of the Islamic State “caliphate” two years ago.
In a carefully choreographed transfer, the four were handed over at the Kurdish administration headquarters in the town of Qamishli on Saturday. They returned home via Erbil in Iraq, where the Netherlands has consular offices, and landed on Dutch soil on Sunday.
The woman has been identified only as “Ilham B” from Gouda. She and the three children have been living in the resettlement camp of al Roj, which holds mainly western women who travelled to Iraq and Syria to become brides for Islamic State fighters during the conflict.
The small Dutch delegation was led by the special envoy to Syria, Emiel de Bont, a highly experienced diplomat who said he had “a well-defined mandate” to undertake the mission on foot of court rulings in the specific cases – though he would give no further details.
Mr De Bont is believed to have been accompanied by Dirk Jan Nieuwenhuis, a senior official from the department of foreign affairs – and arrangements for the transfer have been going on for several months.
In a statement late on Saturday, the department revealed that one reason for the mission was to ensure that Ilham B stood trial in the Netherlands.
“B” has been on the wanted list since 2016, and judges said last year that the government should make every effort to bring her home as otherwise she would avoid prosecution.
In response, “B” made clear through her lawyer, Tamara Buruma, that she didn’t want to be tried in absentia but wanted to be in court in person.
Ms Buruma said she was pleased the Dutch state was “finally living up to its responsibilities”.
As in other European countries, the issue of whether jihadi brides or the children of fighters should be repatriated has been hugely contentious in the Netherlands. In 2019 a court ruling that they should be brought back was overturned on appeal.
The issue has also divided politics, with the Liberals (or VVD) and the Christian Democrats – the two largest parties in the caretaker coalition – opposed to repatriation, as is Geert Wilders’s right-wing Freedom Party.
Although “B” was arrested after landing on Sunday, there was an angry response. “Incomprehensible ... We need to keep the Netherlands safe,” tweeted Ingrid Michon of the Liberals.
Mr Wilders tweeted: “These terror women have forfeited the right to ever set foot on Dutch soil again.”
It emerged on Sunday evening that the 12-year-old was a victim of international child abduction.