US not looking at IS court, urges repatriation from Syria

A woman in the northeastern Syrian town of Qamishli visits a grave during the February 2019 funeral of a fighter from the Kurdish-led YPJ. The Syrian Kurdish administration is seeking an international tribunal to try members of the Islamic State group

The United States said Monday it was not looking at an international court to try Islamic State extremists and urged countries to repatriate them after Syria's Kurds proposed a tribunal.

Two days after the United States announced the complete defeat of the Islamic State group, the Kurdish force that holds some 9,000 foreign jihadists and their relatives -- 6,500 of them children -- voiced regret at the lack of response to US-led calls on Western nations to bring back their citizens for trial.

The Syrian Kurdish administration said that a better idea would be to set up an international tribunal in northeastern Syria to prosecute the fighters also known as ISIS, who at their zenith imposed a brutal interpretation of Islam on millions of people across Iraq and Syria and carried out widespread beheadings and sexual assaults.

But James Jeffrey, the US special representative on Syria policy, voiced little interest when asked about the proposal, saying: "We're not looking at that now."

The "priority is to pressure countries to take back their own citizens who may or may not have committed crimes," Jeffrey told reporters in Washington.

"If they put the effort into it, they can deal with it," he said.

Repatriation is a sensitive issue for Western nations such as France and Britain, which have experienced attacks by homegrown extremists and have little interest in seeing more return.

Britain has gone so far as to strip Islamic State proponents of citizenship.

In the most high-profile US case, the United States last month said that Hoda Muthana, a young woman from Alabama who joined the Islamic State group, was not a citizen due to her father's former diplomatic status.

President Donald Trump stunned allies in December when he ordered the withdrawal of 2,000 US troops from Syria, although faced with internal criticism he agreed to a limited presence.

Jeffrey said that forces had begun to withdraw in December but declined to specify exact plans, saying US troops will stay "in very limited numbers" in northeastern Syria and at the Al-Tanf base used by the US-led coalition.

The forces will "continue our clearing operations and stability operations against ISIS for a period of time not to be determined at this point," he said.