Canada has repatriated two women and two children from camps in Syria holding family members of suspected ISIS militants, and charged one with supporting terrorism, officials said Wednesday.
This followed years of pressure on Ottawa — which long refused for security reasons to repatriate as many as 50 Canadians believed to be held in the camps, according to Human Rights Watch — to bring them home.
Including the latest four, only seven have returned to Canada, AFP reported.
Oumaima Chouay, 27, was arrested upon her arrival in Montreal overnight, according to federal police, while Kimberly Polman, 50, was briefly detained when she landed Wednesday morning and released, her lawyer told AFP.
Chouay had been the subject of an investigation since 2014 by the Integrated National Security Enforcement Team, Canada’s counter-terrorism squad.
She faces four charges, including leaving Canada to join a terrorist group and participating in its activities.
“It is alleged that she participated in terrorist activities in the name” of ISIS, Royal Canadian Mounted Police Inspector David Beaudoin told a news conference.
Chouay was taken prisoner by the Syrian Democratic Forces in November 2017 and held at the Roj camp in Syria, he said.
Polman, who was said to be in poor health, spent three years in a detention camp after traveling in 2015 to Syria to marry an ISIS fighter, which she said later publicly that she regretted.
Authorities were expected to seek a peace bond or court order requiring her to remain on good behavior, said her lawyer Lawrence Greenspon.
Both of the repatriated children were born in Syria and belong to Chouay, authorities said.
In a statement, Canada’s foreign ministry thanked the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria as well as the United States for their help in the repatriations.
Western countries have faced a dilemma over how to handle their citizens detained in Syria since the end of military operations against ISIS there in 2019.
Thousands of extremists decided to join the group as fighters, often taking their wives and children to live in the so-called “caliphate” declared in territory conquered in Iraq and Syria.
In 2020, Ottawa repatriated a five-year-old orphaned girl from Syria, after her uncle took legal action against the Canadian government. Another child and her mother were also reportedly repatriated in 2021.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declined to comment on the recent individual cases.
But he told reporters that “traveling for the purpose of supporting terrorism is a crime in Canada and anyone who traveled for the purpose of supporting terrorism should face criminal charges.”