Russia pioneering return of ‘Daesh children’

Russia’s Emergencies Ministry says it has repatriated 27 children who are family members of the Daesh Group jailed in Iraq. (AP)
Updated 18 February 2019

Russia pioneering return of ‘Daesh children’

  • Earlier this month, 27 children, from four to 13 years old, were flown from Iraq to the Moscow region
  • The children themselves face a difficult reintegration process into life in Russia, a country they barely know

MOSCOW: As the end nears for the Daesh enclave in Syria and the fate of militants’ family members becomes a prescient issue, Russia can be seen as a pioneer in systematically returning children of extremist fighters home.
A potential homecoming of the many foreign women who have gone to live in the Daesh “caliphate” and their children, many of whom were born there, has been a subject of debate in Russia, with some security chiefs seeing them as potential threats.
Earlier this month, 27 children, from four to 13 years old, were flown from Iraq to the Moscow region.
Clutching stuffed toys and bundled in winter jackets, the children were carried off the cargo plane to face the Russian winter after years in the desert.
After health exams, they would be given into the care of their uncles, aunts, and grandparents in the Russian North Caucasus, the majority-Muslim territory in the south of Russia that is home to most of the Russians that had joined the Daesh group.
Another 30 children were brought back in late December.
“They attend school and kindergarten. Volunteers work with them and talk to them about what they have been through, explaining how they have been indoctrinated,” said Kheda Saratova, an adviser to Chechnya leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has assumed a central role in the process of repatriating extremists’ relatives.
Russian authorities have given sometimes conflicting figures of returnees. Saratova said that about 200 children have been brought to Russia, but nearly 1,400 are still stuck in Iraq and Syria.
Kadyrov, a longtime Kremlin protege with vast resources, began efforts to bring back fighters’ children in 2017. Diplomatic negotiations are often led by Aleppo-born Chechnya senator Ziyad Sabsabi.
Endorsing Kadyrov’s efforts, President Vladimir Putin in late 2017 called the drive to return the children “a very honorable and correct deed” and promised to help.
“It’s very good for the image of Kadyrov. He seems somebody who doesn’t just use violence against terrorists but who builds mosques and hands out humanitarian aid,” said Grigory Shvedov, who edits a Caucasus-focused news website Caucasian Knot.
When he began Russia’s intervention in Syria in 2015, Putin justified it by the need to kill extremists before they come to Russia.
Although some regions have tried rehabilitation programs for extremists, these have failed to catch on at the national level. Young men who returned from Syria or Iraq and turned themselves in have faced harsh punishment.
This month Russia’s Supreme Court confirmed a 16-year-term for a young man who went to Syria as a 19-year-old student and worked as a cook and driver on Daesh-controlled territory for six months.
Returning the wives of jihadists is also complicated by the absence of an extradition agreement between Russia and Iraq, where many have been sentenced, sometimes to life, in prison.
But there is also reluctance by Russia’s powerful security services to bring home adult civilians.
FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov in November noted that many women with children exiting conflict zones have been used by militants as suicide bombers or recruiters.
“The FSB sees them as dangerous, even though many of these wives purchase their freedom from the Kurds and will eventually return one way or another,” said Saratova.
Any affiliation with Daesh terrorists is a crime, since the group is banned under Russian law.
“Some sort of amnesty has been promised to many, but it doesn’t actually happen,” said Shvedov. “They are put on trial, (charges) sometimes trumped up and sometimes real.”
Last year, two women returned from Syria to their native Dagestan and were swiftly convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. The court eventually ruled to delay their time in prison until their children are older.
The children themselves face a difficult reintegration process into life in Russia, a country they barely know, after spending formative years in the “caliphate.”
Russian authorities hope that bringing them back into their extended families can minimize risks of radicalization once they reach adulthood in the Caucasus, a region with a history of extremism.


Pakistan extends military chief’s tenure amid Kashmir row

Updated 23 min 1 sec ago

Pakistan extends military chief’s tenure amid Kashmir row

  • The extension, which had been widely expected, was also confirmed by the military’s spokesman
  • The Pakistani military has long played an outsized role in national life

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan extended its military chief’s tenure Monday, ensuring stability in what is arguably the country’s most powerful position as tensions soar with rival India and Washington is expected to announce a withdrawal deal in Afghanistan.
“General Qamar Javed Bajwa is appointed as chief of army staff for another term of three years,” read a statement signed by Prime Minister Imran Khan and released by his office. “The decision has been taken in view of the regional security environment.”
The extension, which had been widely expected, was also confirmed by the military’s spokesman.
The Pakistani military has long played an outsized role in national life, ruling the country for roughly half its 72-year history and offering the muscular reassurance against nuclear arch-rival India that many Pakistanis see as vital to their identity.
Bajwa was appointed to lead the military in 2016, taking over from the hugely popular General Raheel Sharif, who won the hearts of millions with his bruising campaign against Islamic militants.
Bawja’s extension marks the second time in nearly a decade that the country’s top general had their traditional three-year term extended.
It comes as tensions have skyrocketed with New Delhi after Prime Minister Narendra Modi stripped the disputed Kashmir region of its autonomy earlier this month.
US President Donald Trump urged the nuclear-armed rivals over the weekend to come back to the negotiating table, conveying to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan the importance of “reducing tensions.”
Both India and Pakistan have controlled portions of the former princely state of Kashmir since independence in 1947. The dispute over the Muslim-majority region has been the spark for two major wars and countless clashes between them.
Earlier this year they again came close to all-out conflict, after a militant attack in Indian-held Kashmir in February was claimed by a group based in Pakistan, igniting tit-for-tat air strikes.
The Pakistani military is also believed to be playing a vital role in ongoing peace talks between the US and Taliban that aim to secure a withdrawal of American troops in exchange for insurgent promises that Afghanistan will not be used as a safe haven for groups such as Al Qaeda or Islamic State.
Pakistan was the Taliban’s chief sponsor when it took power in neighboring Afghanistan during the 1990s.
Its influence over the group, which has waged an insurgency since it was ousted from power by US-led forces in 2001, is seen as key in facilitating a political settlement with the government of President Ashraf Ghani.
Talat Masood, a military analyst and retired general, said the need for continuity was at the heart of the decision.
“I don’t think Pakistan would have thought of a change in command in these circumstances,” he told AFP.
The understanding between Premier Khan — branded by his opponents as the army’s “blue-eyed boy” — and Bajwa “has been excellent,” he added.