THE conviction of a Trinidadian man in the US earlier this week on charges stemming from his involvement with the terrorist group ISIS, will not dampen the attempts made to repatriate women and children stranded in Syria, local activists have said.
On Monday, former Speaker Nizam Mohammed, Kwasi Atiba, a member of the Islamic Resource Society, and retired diplomat Patrick Edwards met with the Prime Minister at Whitehall to address the growing concern of repatriating some 100 women and children-refugees in camps in Syria under Turkish watch.
The following day, Emraan Ali was sentenced to 20 years in prison for his involvement with ISIS. Last year, his son Jihad was sentenced to 60 months. Both men pleaded guilty to assisting ISIS.
In 2018 Ali, 56, a Syria-based TT-US dual citizen and Eddie Aleong, also known as Ishmael Mohammed, Ishmail Muhammed and Ismail’il Ali, were sanctioned under Executive Order (EO) 13224, by the US Treasury Department for suspicion of financing ISIS.
Ali, who pleaded guilty to conspiring to support a foreign terrorist organisation, was sentenced by Chief Magistrate Judge Edwin G Torres of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida. At the end of his 20-year sentence he will be on a further 20-year mandatory monitoring.
Mohammed said the conviction intensifies the call ensuring that all security measures are looked at before repatriation.
“It is not a matter that will be resolved in a very casual manner. It is going to raise further concerns and part of our challenge will be to win public confidence regarding the idea of repatriation. To do so, we have to convince the public that whoever is being required to repatriate to Trinidad is not a security risk.”
He added that he did not believe the conviction will dampen the efforts made to bring home the women and children, who he said have not been convicted. He called for the verification of those in the camps and assist in having them return home.
Attorney Criston Williams, who has been advocating for the return of the women and children for the past five years, said the conviction supports his stance that if someone commits a crime they should face the time but questioned what crimes did the women and children commit.
“Our approach has never been to involve men in the repatriation, simply because we do not think that the country has the capacity at this stage. We have focused totally on women and children and their integration,” Williams said adding that the children are recognised as victims and should be treated as such.
The Human Rights Watch (HRW), an activist group supporting the reintegration of the women and children, has said there are almost 100 detainees. In the camps are 56 children, 21 women and 13 males, including a teenage boy.
A Sunday Newsday report last year said after the collapse of ISIS, TT citizens were among over 50,000 people at al-Hol who were detained by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias.
Most of the men who left the country to join have been killed and those who survived were taken to Syria and Iraq, along with women and children. At the time there were 73 children – 38 born in TT, 31 born in Syria, and four in Iraq – at the al-Hol, al-Hawl and al-Roj camps. There are also orphans.
Williams said there is a plan to visit Syria in June or July and conduct a verification exercise in order to begin the repatriation and called on the government to send Edwards with them as the diplomatic attache.