AANES: On Trying ISIS Foreign Fighters

By KCS Editorial Board

“We can no longer keep these prisoners without an indictment or trial. These people must be held accountable for their crimes. They remain a danger not only to the region, but to the entire world. These are thousands of the most brutal ISIS fighters. We cannot keep them anymore. It is creating a security problem for our region.”

— Bedran Çiya Kurd

On the evening of June 15th, 2023, The Kurdish Center for Studies held an exclusive press conference with Bedran Çiya Kurd, Co-Chair of the Department for External Affairs in the Autonomous Administration for North and East Syria (AANES) in Rojava. Journalists and academics were invited to attend the panel via Zoom and around 100 did, while simultaneous translation of his remarks was offered in English and German.

The subject for discussion was the upcoming trials of foreign ISIS fighters that were recently announced by the AANES, which has drawn immense interest from around the world. Çiya Kurd opened up his remarks by reviewing some of the daunting figures up to this point, showing the challenge ahead. He stated that there are currently over 2,000+ foreign fighters who were captured by the SDF in the final battle of Baghouz, and 50,000+ family members (primarily wives and children) of ISIS held in AANES camps.

Çiya Kurd stressed several points during the one-hour press conference, which featured a question-and-answer period from attendees. The following are some of his most poignant remarks:

“We gave more than 13,000 martyrs in this fight to defeat ISIS. And we have thousands of wounded, injured, and disabled, who have sacrificed. This is why it is important to get justice. But we also want to keep international standards for these trials.”

“ISIS is reorganizing itself and getting stronger day by day. Two years ago, we had had to carry out 113 operations against ISIS sleeper cells and we arrested 260 ISIS members. But in the previous year, we have had to carry out more than 2,000 such operations. This is because ISIS is trying to revive itself and get stronger. If we do not prevent this, ISIS will rise again and threaten the entire region and indeed the world.”

“We have called up the international community and asked them for support. But they have all failed to respond or assist us with these ISIS trials. The struggle against terror cannot only be carried out literally on the battlefield, but it must be confronted in a court of law. So far, the fight and struggle against terrorism was only on the military level. But this is not sufficient. We need to address it on the security and judiciary level but also understand its social origins. We must defeat terrorism holistically.”

In addressing the practicality of the upcoming ISIS trials, Çiya Kurd clarified a number of logistical matters, they are as follows:

‣     The official starting date could not be announced right now for security reasons and fears that ISIS sleeper cells might launch attacks to help their brethren escape.

‣     The trials will be held in the three official languages of the AANES: Kurdish, Arabic, and Syriac, but also interpreters would be provided for ISIS detainees who speak other languages.

‣     The foreign ISIS fighter detainees will be charged for crimes against humanity and genocide, including large terrorist attacks and war crimes in Kobanê, Heseke, and Deir ez-Zor.

‣     It is possible that women could be tried if there is evidence to implicate them as active participants in ISIS crimes.

‣     No death penalty will be imposed as punishment since the AANES forbids it in their Social Contract.

‣     The trials will not be held with the coordination of the Assad regime in Damascus.

‣     Foreign fighters will need to be tried first before they can be repatriated back to their countries of origin. If there are bi-lateral agreements with such countries, then AANES may transfer the convicted.

‣     Filming of the trials will be allowed, and they will be open to the international press and observers.

‣     Public monitors, experts, and international lawyers are invited and welcome to participate in the trials, which will be “fair and transparent”.

‣     The AANES welcomes any and all evidence collected from other countries, organizations, and international researchers to determine the truth.

‣     The Yazidi community has collected a large amount of evidence and women Yazidi victims will be integral to these trials and achieving justice against ISIS.

‣     So far, the reactions have been mixed from ISIS fighter detainees, with some of them showing regret and remorse, while others are still unapologetically committed to the ISIS ideology.

‣     The speed of the trials will be based on the work of the judiciary and when certain cases have all of their documents and evidence properly collected.

‣     Foreign countries refusing to repatriate the wives and children of ISIS also affects the resources available to try the foreign fighters themselves.

‣     Security for these trials must be shared by the International Coalition and negotiations are currently being held with them on how to ensure that.

‣     Neither the US or Russia has yet to guarantee safety from Turkish drone attacks during these trials, and Turkey’s continued attacks are an “ongoing problem” which place the entire process at risk and are helping ISIS reemerge.

‣     Both the US and Russia have a responsibility to rein in Turkey’s military so that legal justice can finally be served against ISIS.

‣     There is already a blueprint on how to do conduct these trials, as since 2014, more than 8,000 Syrian ISIS fighters have been tried and convicted. The guilty are currently in AANES prisons and serving their sentences.

‣     The ISIS foreign fighter trials will be a “very long process” and a “very heavy burden” on the AANES, but they are confident they will succeed.

In summary, with the parameters of the upcoming trials against ISIS fighters set in place, the ball is really in the international community’s court, including the US-led International Coalition to defeat ISIS and Russia, who both have a solemn responsibility to guarantee the safety of the Rojava region during these proceedings. It will not be possible to conduct lengthy professional trials with foreign observers and global media present if there is a state of war where Turkey’s Bayraktar killer drones can strike vehicles without notice and terrorize the public as they continue to do across Rojava.

Defeating ISIS required a global solution, though the defense forces in Rojava (SDF/YPG/YPJ) bore most of that burden. Now, with the legal aspect of their demise requiring attention, the world can help repay their gratitude by supporting the AANES and their noble effort to seek justice for the thousands of victims which ISIS terrorized. These trials of foreign ISIS fighters are not about vengeance but justice, as there are still thousands of Yazidi girls and women missing, and thousands more of every group scarred for life based on the reign of cruelty which the ISIS Caliphate carried out.

Ideally, these trials will bring to light all of the facts so that these fighters can be held responsible, but also any states who may have helped coordinate their growth or actions, in particular Turkey, from which nearly all of these foreign ISIS fighters travelled into Syria from. Justice is truth in action and trials are the best ways to find out all of the facts.


  • KCS Editorial Board

    The KCS Editorial Board consists of a number of international editors located globally who blind review and read articles as they are submitted. The Board involves individuals with a PhD or Master's level of education relating to the Kurdish issue, political theory, economics, conflict theory, democracy, state and nation building amongst other disciplines. At times the board will co-publish articles in order to protect the privacy of contributors or if a topic is of extreme importance and requires urgent attention. Feel free to submit proposals or articles to the Board at [email protected].

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