Spain repatriates 2 women, 13 children from Syrian camps

Spain repatriates 2 women, 13 children from Syrian camps
Spain has repatriated two Spanish women and 13 children from jihadist camps in Syria.
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The women and children arrived at Torrejon de Ardoz military airport near Madrid late on Monday [Getty]

Madrid has repatriated two Spanish women who were married to Islamic State group fighters, flying them home from jihadist camps in Syria with 13 children, the government said on Tuesday.

They arrived at Torrejon de Ardoz military airport near Madrid late on Monday, nearly two months after the Spanish government agreed to bring them home.

"The government has just repatriated two women and 13 Spanish minors from Syrian refugee camps," a foreign ministry statement said.

The two women were arrested on arrival and would be brought before a judge at the Audiencia Nacional, Spain's top criminal court, it said.

A court spokesman confirmed the women would appear in court on Wednesday morning on "terrorism-related charges".

The 13 children were taken into the care of the Madrid region's social services, it said.

The ministry said the extradition had taken "several months" because of the "complexity (of the operation) and due to the high-risk situation in the Syrian camps".

El Mundo newspaper said the pair arrived with their nine children, aged between three and 15, with El Pais daily saying the other four were orphans who were being looked after by one of the women.

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Over the past decade, thousands of extremists in Europe travelled to Syria to become fighters with the Islamic State group (IS), often taking their wives and children to live in the "caliphate" it set up in territory seized in Iraq and Syria.

Since the so-called "caliphate" fell in 2019, the return of family members of fighters who were either captured or killed has been a thorny issue for European countries.

- Third woman 'missing' -

One of the women who returned is reportedly married to an IS fighter who is currently jailed in Syria, while the other is widowed.

The women will face charges of cooperating with a terror organisation for allegedly helping IS. If convicted, they face up to five years behind bars.

Spain had in November agreed to repatriate three women, but the third woman -- whom El Mundo said was a teacher from Ceuta, one of Spain's two enclaves in North Africa -- could not be located, the paper said.

The women had been held in various detention camps in Syria since 2019.

They have claimed they were tricked by their husbands into going to Syria and did not participate in any jihadist activities, El Pais newspaper reported in November.

Spain also agreed to repatriate a Moroccan woman who was married to a Spanish fighter who died, along with her three children, but the family fled a detention camp near Iraq in 2020 and their whereabouts are unknown.

Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands have also repatriated relatives of jihadist fighters.