Wed, 24 Jul 2019

Officials in Kosovo say 110 citizens have been returned to the country from Syria, including four alleged fighters with the extremist group Islamic State (IS).

The four fighters were immediately arrested and the state prosecutor said indictments against them will soon follow.

Kosovar police chief Rashit Qalaj said at a news conference on April 20 that 32 women and 74 children, including nine who had lost their parents during the conflict in Syria, were among the returnees.

Qalaj said there were still 30 fighters as well as 49 women and eight children in Syria.

Speaking at the press conference in Pristina, the justice minister said authorities had worked for months to return the 110 citizens from Syria.

Abelrad Tahiri said the move had been done in close coordination with the United States.

The U.S. Embassy in Pristina welcomed the repatriation in an April 20 statement.

'With this repatriation, Kosovo has set an important example for all members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS and the international community to follow,' the statement said.

'We applaud their compassion in accepting the return of this large number of civilians.'

The returnees landed aboard a plane at the Pristina airport late on April 19.

Reuters news agency reported that counterterrorism police were guarding the airport's cargo building and an airplane carrying the U.S. flag was seen at the airport, although it was not immediately known if the craft had transported the individuals from Syria.

Since 2012, some 400 citizens of Muslim-majority Kosovo have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight on the side of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

More than 70 of them have been killed, while many remain in the region.

SEE ALSO: Self-Proclaimed IS Commander From Kosovo Killed

In February, Kosovar police said that 44 women and 48 children were still in the Syria conflict zone.

At that time, police said 56 citizens from Kosovo were still believed to be in the region fighting for IS.

Under Kosovar law, any person who participates in foreign wars faces 15 years in prison.

IS captured wide swaths of territory from the Syrian and Iraqi governments in 2014, declaring a so-called 'caliphate' there.

U.S.-backed forces helped drive the extremists from both countries, with only a few still holding out in small pockets of captured areas.

Countries in Europe and elsewhere have reported that hundreds of their citizens left to fight for IS and other extremist groups in the Middle East.

Some have been killed, others captured, and still others have attempted to return to their home countries, worrying officials about radicalized groups of returnees.

With reporting by Reuters

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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