Tunisian families battle to repatriate children of militants

Taheyya, a grandmother from the Tunisian city of Kairouan, about 160 kilometres south of the capital Tunis, is pictured with her grandchildren whose uncle was killed in Syria, at her home on March 9, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 13 July 2020

Tunisian families battle to repatriate children of militants

  • Tunisians have constituted one of the largest groups of foreign militants in Syria, Iraq and Libya since 2011, with almost 3,000 departures, according to the Tunisian authorities

KAIROUAN, TUNISIA: Over WhatsApp from Tunisia, Taheyya has watched her grandchildren grow up in Syria, where her son joined a militant group.
She hopes one day to be able to hold the three surviving siblings in her arms, but for now they are stuck in a displacement camp in the war-torn country.
“These are our grandchildren. All we are asking is to be able to take care of them, for them to live somewhere other than in war, poverty and ignorance,” Taheyya said.
Like others AFP spoke to, she preferred not to provide her surname for fear of reprisals against the children.
For three years, Taheyya has done the rounds of ministries and NGOs to try to repatriate her three-year-old granddaughter and two grandsons, aged five and six.
Their father left for Syria in 2012, where he joined Daesh group and was killed.
She said the eldest grandchild needed treatment for a head injury, and two other siblings have already died because of a lack of medical care.
In a folder, Taheyya carefully keeps a bundle of documents that sums up their torturous lives: Pixelated photos, identity papers issued by the fleeting IS caliphate.
The children now live in a camp on the Turkish-Syrian border with their mother, a young Syrian who was married when she was not yet 14.
Tunisians have constituted one of the largest groups of foreign militants in Syria, Iraq and Libya since 2011, with almost 3,000 departures, according to the Tunisian authorities.
Like Taheyya, dozens of other families are trying to repatriate at least 140 Tunisian children stuck in conflict zones, where their parents are suspected of joining jihadist groups.


The Observatory of Rights and Freedoms of Tunis, which is in contact with the families, counts 104 children in Syria, almost all of them in camps. Three quarters were born there and are under the age of six.

The Observatory of Rights and Freedoms of Tunis, which is in contact with the families, counts 104 children in Syria, almost all of them in camps. Three quarters were born there and are under the age of six.
Another 36 are in Libya, either detained by militias or being looked after by the Red Crescent.
While public opinion at home is hostile toward the return of militants, President Kais Saied raised families’ hopes in January by bringing back six orphans from Libya and promising to “speed up the repatriation” of the others. But since then, there have been no further returns.
From a middle-class family in central Kairouan, Taheyya’s son was one of the first in his neighbourhood to leave for Syria.
A cook in the merchant navy, he survived a hostage-taking by Somali pirates and later joined groups fighting the regime in Syria.
He opened a restaurant in the city of Raqqa, once the de-facto capital of Daesh in Syria, and was killed in late 2018 while trying to flee, according to his family.
“He had asked me to take care of his children,” his younger brother said, adding that he himself had travelled to Turkey twice but had failed to obtain their return.
“We talk to them every two or three days, when the network allows, but we have gone for several months without news,” Taheyya said.
“I have never been able to hug them.”
Officials at the Tunisian Foreign Ministry said that “the will exists” for repatriations, pointing the finger at foreign authorities and the novel coronavirus pandemic that has slowed down discussions.
The Foreign Affairs Bureau of the Kurdish administration in northeastern Syria denied the Tunisian government had contacted them about repatriations.
AFP correspondents in Syria said they saw many Tunisians leaving the former Daesh bastion of Baghouz during the final battle of 2019.
People there were taken to the Kurdish-run Al-Hol camp, now home to thousands of Daesh wives and their children.
No specific figures were available for the number of Tunisians currently at Al-Hol.

US announces new sanctions on Iran defense ministry, atomic energy agency

Updated 13 min 4 sec ago

US announces new sanctions on Iran defense ministry, atomic energy agency

  • US adds five Iranian scientists to sanctions list
  • Washington stands ready to respond to future Iranian aggression

WASHINGTON: The United States slapped additional sanctions on Iran on Monday after the Trump administration’s unilateral weekend declaration that all United Nations penalties that were eased under the 2015 nuclear deal had been restored.
The announcement comes in defiance of the world community, which has rejected U..S. legal standing to impose the international sanctions and sets the stage for an ugly showdown at the annual UN General Assembly this week.

“The United States has now restored UN sanctions on Iran,” President Donald Trump said in a statement issued shortly after he signed an executive order spelling out how the US will enforce the “snapback” of the sanctions. “My actions today send a clear message to the Iranian regime and those in the international community who refuse to stand up to Iran.”

Trump’s administration named 27 people or entities that it said would be subject to UN sanctions, but the world body itself says that the decision is not up to Washington.
Speaking to reporters with fellow Cabinet secretaries at the State Department, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then announced the administration was hitting more than two dozen Iranian individuals and institutions with penalties. Nearly all of them, however, including the Iranian defense ministry and its atomic energy agency, were already subject to US sanctions that the administration had re-imposed after Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018.

Trump’s executive order mainly affects Iranian and foreign entities involved in conventional weapons and ballistic missile activity. A UN arms embargo on Iran is to expire in October under the terms of the nuclear deal, but Pompeo and others insist the snapback has rescinded its termination.
The Trump administration argues that it is enforcing the UN arms embargo that Iran has violated, including through an attack on Saudi oil facilities.
Accompanied by Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft and national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Pompeo said the US was acting because the rest of the world is refusing to confront the Iranian threat.

“We have made it very clear that every member state in the United Nations has a responsibility to enforce the sanctions,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters when asked about European opposition.
“That certainly includes the United Kingdom, France and Germany. We will have every expectation that those nations enforce these sanctions,” he said.
“No matter where you are in the world, you will risk sanctions,” he said, warning foreign companies and officials not to do business with targeted Iranian entities.

Craft said, “As we have in the past, we will stand alone to protect peace and security.”
The administration declared on Saturday that all UN sanctions against Iran had been restored because Tehran is violating parts of the nuclear deal in which it agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief.
But few UN member states believe the US has the legal standing to restore the sanctions because Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018. The US argues it retains the right to do so as an original participant in the deal and a member of the council.
The remaining world powers in the deal — France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia — have been struggling to offset the sanctions that the US re-imposed on Iran after the Trump administration left the pact, which the president said was one-sided in favor of Tehran.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran’s nuclear agency, said Monday that there is still a broad agreement among the international community that the nuclear pact should be preserved.
At a conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, Salehi said the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, has been “caught in a quasi-stalemate situation” since Trump pulled out in 2015.

While insisting it is not pursuing a nuclear weapon, Iran has been steadily breaking restrictions outlined in the deal on the amount of uranium it can enrich, the purity it can enrich it to, and other limitations. At the same time, Iran has far less enriched uranium and lower-purity uranium than it had before signing the deal, and it has continued to allow international inspectors into its nuclear facilities.

The United States has separately been seeking to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has increasingly sought cooperation with Iran on the oil sector.
The State Department said it was again imposing sanctions on Maduro under the executive order from Trump that is based on the UN resolution, pointing to defense transactions between Iran and the leftist Venezuelan leader.

“For nearly two years, corrupt officials in Tehran have worked with the illegitimate regime in Venezuela to flout the UN arms embargo,” Pompeo said.
“Our actions today are a warning that should be heard worldwide.”

Furthermore, Elliott Abrams, Washington’s envoy on Iran, said on Monday that the US is concerned about Iran’s cooperation with North Korea and will do whatever it can to prevent it, .
Abrams was responding to a reporter’s question on whether the United States had seen evidence that Tehran and Pyongyang had resumed cooperation on long-range missile development.
He spoke shortly after the Trump administration slapped the new sanctions on Iran.
(With Reuters, AFP and AP)