More suspected IS members leave extremists’ holdout in Syria

BAGHOUZ, Syria (AP) — Scores of suspected IS members, including foreign fighters, were screened and searched for concealed weapons and explosives Thursday after leaving the last pocket of territory held by the Islamic State group in Syria.

The men, their faces covered with dust, were divided into three groups — Syrians, Iraqis and other nationalities. Their names were taken and they were fingerprinted outside the eastern village of Baghouz, where the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by U.S. troops, have been battling the militants since September.

On Wednesday, hundreds of evacuees walked through the dusty desert plateau to get on trucks to carry them to displaced persons camps miles away. Meanwhile, lines of men walked guided by SDF troops to another corner of the plateau to be screened and searched.

As IS’s defeat neared, the anger of defiant supporters among the evacuees increased.

On Wednesday night, seven Yazidis, including two women, arrived at the SDF-controlled side. One of them identified herself as Israa, 20, and said she was sold as a sex slave to 10 different men.

Many Yazidis, followers of a minority faith, are still missing five years after IS militants stormed Yazidi towns and villages in Iraq’s Sinjar region and abducted women and children. Women were forced into sexual slavery and boys were taken to be indoctrinated in jihadi ideology.

On Thursday, the two Yazidi women — Israa and Adiba Murad, both 21, took off their veils and burned them in front of women fighters of the Women’s Protection Units, or YPJ, that is part of the SDF.

Thousands of people have trickled out of Baghouz in the last few days, a wave of evacuations that has brought the IS a step closer to defeat at the hands of the SDF. That would be a milestone in the devastating four-year campaign to defeat the group’s so-called “caliphate” that once covered a vast territory straddling both Syria and Iraq. The fight against IS has taken place amid Syria’s nearly 8-year-old civil war.

With the latest evacuations, hundreds of IS fighters, Syrians and foreigners have surrendered or been captured. They are in addition to about 1,000 foreign fighters the SDF has been holding. Hundreds of Iraqi fighters and some French IS members have been handed over to Baghdad by the SDF.

Last month, Iraq’s President Barham Saleh said during a visit to Paris that all IS militants who committed crimes against Iraq will be put on trial, including 13 suspected French militants who have been transferred to Iraq from Syria.

In Brussels on Thursday, Sweden floated the idea of an international tribunal to try foreign fighters who have fought alongside IS in Syria.
Swedish Justice Minister Morgan Johansson said he sees “great advantages to be able to convict those who have committed crimes” in connection with the fighting.

“Here is a situation where I believe we can use the same model” as international tribunals that investigated atrocities in Rwanda and Yugoslavia, he told reporters after a meeting of the European Union’s Justice and Home Affairs Council.

By Associated Press