Turkey has deported an American member of the Islamic State (Isil) back to the US and will soon start sending back Europeans, the Turkish government said Monday, as it began carrying out its pledge to send foreign jihadists home.
The Turkish interior ministry refused to say whether it had any immediate plans to send back British Isil suspects but Turkey has complained in the past that the UK is refusing to repatriate its citizens.
So far one unnamed American jihadist has been sent back to the US and seven Germans will be deported on Thursday, said Ismail Catakli, a spokesman for the interior ministry.
"One American foreign terrorist fighter was deported from Turkey after completing the procedures," he said. "The travel programme of seven foreign terrorist fighters of German origin was completed at the repatriation centres. They will be deported on November 14.”
Mr Catakli said proceedings were under way to deport 11 French citizens captured in Syria. He also said foreign fighters from Ireland, Germany and Denmark were being prepared for deportation.
Suleyman Soylu, Turkey’s interior minister, said last week that his country was holding around 1,200 foreign members of the Islamic State. Around 287 foreign Isil members have been captured by Turkey in Syria since the start of October.
Among them is Tooba Gondal, a 25-year-old from London who allegedly acted as an Isil “matchmaker” by convincing other British women to follow her to Syria.
Ms Gondal was born in France but moved to London as a child and had British residency. However, the UK government is reluctant to bring her back to the UK.
She was banned from re-entering the UK last November by a Home Office exclusion order, but her son Ibrahim, three, is entitled to citizenship because of his British father.
If Turkey does attempt to send Ms Gondal back to the UK it could provoke a legal and diplomatic crisis between Ankara and London.
Other British Isil suspects may have been taken into Turkish custody earlier if they were intercepted in Turkey while trying to travel to Syria to join the so-called caliphate.
Mr Soylu, the Turkish interior minister, told Britain and other European governments last week that Turkey was “not a hotel” for foreign jihadists and vowed to send them home.
“When there is a Daesh member, they cancel his or her citizenship, making the person stateless. Then, they take no responsibility,” Mr Soylu said. "That is not acceptable to us. It's also irresponsible.”