‘If I can't return to Switzerland, I'd prefer a bullet in the head’

In northeast Syria, Swiss public television (RTS) interviewed a Swiss jihadist detained by the Kurds since January 2018, who claims he is being mistreated. 

This content was published on June 11, 2019 - 18:30
Olivier Pauchard and RTS

What should be done with citizens of Western countries who went off to join Islamic State in Syria? Several countries, including Switzerland, are faced with this conundrum. 

For the moment, Western governments – and their electorates – are not keen on the idea of repatriating these “combatants”. There is slightly more flexibility regarding their children. France, for example, has just repatriated a second group of children. They are aged 1 to 12 and are mostly orphans.

For the adults, however, the idea is that they rather be tried and sentenced where they are. That is the position of Swiss justice minister Karin Keller-Sutter. “Is it possible to try them on the spot? That's what I would prefer,” she told RTS.

Unprecedented testimony

The problem is that the conditions in which these Westerners are held often do not meet Western standards in terms of justice and human rights, a situation observed by several NGOs.

An RTS team from the "Temps Présent" current affairs programme managed to meet a Swiss jihadist from canton Vaud who is being held in a secret place where Kurdish forces (YPG) took him handcuffed and blindfolded. He agreed to answer the journalists’ questions during a one-hour interview. 

He says he is no longer receiving visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).External link Since July 2018, he has no news of his parents in Switzerland and no news since the end of 2018 of his wife and two-year-old daughter, who are being held by the Kurds in the al-Roj camp. The man does not have a lawyer. As a Swiss citizen he nevertheless has a right to consular protection, which includes "humane conditions of detention, respect for the rights of the defence and procedural guarantees".

A dozen cases

There are a dozen adults with links to Switzerland in a territory controlled by the Kurds. Interviewed by "Temps Présent", Abdul Karim Omar, head of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the Kurdistan Autonomous Authorities, said that “Switzerland is lucky, because it has only a few nationals here. It has not made any formal request to take back its nationals, including children. Nor have we received any request from the ICRC to take back Swiss nationals. We do not want to give these nationals to the ICRC; we must hand them over to the authorities of their country”.

The Kurdish authorities are calling for the establishment of an international court in the region they control, but European states are reluctant because of pressure from Turkey, which is opposed to any recognition of Kurdish autonomy.

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