‘It would be better if they had died in battle’: Danish justice minister on returning Syria fighters

Denmark has convicted 13 people for travelling to Syria to take part in armed conflict. Nine have been sentenced to deportation from the country, according to Minister of Justice Søren Pape Poulsen.

'It would be better if they had died in battle': Danish justice minister on returning Syria fighters
Minister of Justice Søren Pape Poulsen. File photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Poulsen confirmed information at a parliamentary hearing about Danish citizens who have travelled to Syria to fight in the country’s eight-year conflict, broadcaster DR reports.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Anders Samuelsen was also present at the hearing, which was requested by the opposition Social Democrats.

The two ministers were asked to clarify how Danish citizens who have participated in conflicts abroad can be punished under the law, and whether Denmark has discussed the issue with international partners.

Poulsen said that the issue was a complex one and that it would require several rounds of international discussion between Denmark and its allies.

The minister stressed that Denmark is unable to deny re-entry into the country to its own citizens, even if they have participated as militants in conflicts on foreign soil.

“The fact is that we cannot prevent Danish citizens from coming to Denmark, and that includes foreign fighters. The threat from returning foreign fighters is serious – that is obvious,” he said.

“It would have been better if they had died in battle, but unfortunately, not all of them did,” the minister added.

Police security agency PET has estimated that 150 people have, since 2012, travelled from Denmark to Iraq or Syria to take part in wars there.

Of those, one third has returned to Denmark, according to the intelligence agency’s assessment.

The accuracy of the PET figures is far from certain, Poulsen said at the parliamentary consultation.

He added that authorities were doing all they can to prosecute foreign fighters who have returned to Denmark.

Those efforts have resulted in convictions of 13 people who have travelled to Syria or attempted to travel to Syria, he said.

“Nine of them have had their Danish citizenships revoked and been expelled [sentenced to deportation, ed.]. Five of those had dual citizenship. The remaining four had Danish citizenship only and could therefore not be deported,” the minister said.

READ ALSO: Danish politicians defy Trump by rejecting return of Isis fighters

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Ex-jihadi housewife jailed in Norway for joining IS

A Norwegian court on Tuesday sentenced a woman who lived as a housewife in Syria to prison for being a member of the Islamic State group (IS), despite not actively fighting herself.

Ex-jihadi housewife jailed in Norway for joining IS
The Kurdish-run al-Hol camp which holds suspected relatives of Islamic State fighters.Photo: Delil SOULEIMAN / AFP

The Oslo court sentenced the Norwegian-Pakistani woman to three and a half years in prison for “participating in a terrorist organisation” by taking care of her household and enabling her three husbands to fight.

“By travelling to an area controlled by IS in Syria… by moving in and living with her husbands, taking care of the children and various tasks at home, the defendant enabled her three husbands to actively participate in IS fighting,” judge Ingmar Nilsen said as he read out the verdict.

Being a housewife to three successive husbands did not render her a passive bystander, the judge said.

“On the contrary, she was a supporter who enabled the jihad, looked after her three husbands at home and raised the new generation of IS recruits,” he said.

The young woman, who admitted having “radical ideas” at the time, left for Syria in early 2013 to join an Islamist fighter, Bastian Vasquez, who was fighting the regime.

Although she did not take up arms herself, she was accused of having allowed her husbands to go fight while taking care of her two children and household chores.

The trial was the first prosecution in Norway of someone who had returned after joining IS.

“This is a special case,” prosecutor Geir Evanger acknowledged during the trial.

“This is the first time that, to put it bluntly, someone has been charged for being a wife and mother.”

The prosecution had called for a four-year sentence, while the defence had called for her acquittal and immediately appealed Tuesday’s verdict.

The woman’s lawyer, Nils Christian Nordhus, argued that his client had quickly wanted to leave Syria after being subjected to domestic violence.

She had also been a victim of human trafficking because she had been held against her will, he added.

But the judge stressed that she had participated in the organisation “knowingly” and of her own will.

The woman was repatriated to Norway in early 2020 on humanitarian grounds with her two children, including a young boy described as seriously ill.

At least four other Norwegian women and their children are being held in Kurdish-controlled camps in Syria.