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An American Family Detained in Syria Is Sent Back to the U.S.

BEIRUT — Two American women and six children affiliated with the Islamic State have been returned to the United States from Syria at the request of American authorities, local forces in northeastern Syria said Wednesday.

An American official said that the group was a Cambodian-American family from the Seattle area, and that they had not yet arrived in the United States. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities regarding the case.

The Americans wanted to go back and did so “without any pressure or coercion,” Abdulkarim Omar, a senior official with the Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria, said in a statement.

He did not identify the Americans or provide any other details. It was not clear whether they would face prosecution when they came back to the United States, or what would happen to them.

The group appeared to be among the roughly 12,000 foreign women and children whom local Kurdish authorities have been holding in detention camps scattered across northeastern Syria, along with about 1,000 foreign fighters.

They were taken to the camps after they were captured or surrendered to United States-backed, Kurdish-led forces as the Islamic State’s so-called caliphate in Syria crumbled.

The Islamic State, which once controlled territory the size of Britain across Iraq and Syria, lost its last scrap of territory in March after a four-year military campaign.

As the Syrian camps overflowed last winter and Kurdish authorities and humanitarian groups struggled to shelter, feed and care for thousands of ISIS followers and their families, foreign governments were forced to weigh the fates of their citizens with new urgency.

The Kurds say they cannot detain other countries’ citizens indefinitely. But, in the face of security concerns and public opinion against repatriating people seen as potential threats, few governments have repatriated people from the camps. Most of those who have been brought back have been children, sometimes accompanied by their mothers.

The Trump administration has pushed other countries to take back their citizens, but it is unclear how many Americans the United States has repatriated.

Though it has brought back and prosecuted a handful of the small number of American fighters who joined the Islamic State, the administration has sought to bar Hoda Muthana, an American woman accused of spreading propaganda for ISIS, over a technical question about her citizenship.

A State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government was working to verify the citizenship of people claiming to be American in conflict zones on a case-by-case basis.

Source: NYT

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