BERLIN (Reuters) – A Berlin court has ruled that Germany’s foreign ministry should repatriate from Syria the German wife and three children of a suspected Islamic State fighter, in what a court spokesman said was the first such ruling against the government.
The man’s family sued the foreign ministry after German diplomats declined a request to help his wife return to Germany with her three children from a Kurdish-controlled area of northern Syria, the court spokesman said on Thursday.
Like other Western countries, Germany faces a dilemma of how to deal with citizens who went to the Middle East to join groups like Islamic State, which was driven out of its last territorial enclave in March by U.S.-backed forces.
The suspected fighter, whose fate is unknown, left Germany for Syria with his wife and two daughters, now aged 7 and 8, in 2014. His wife had a third child in Syria two years ago, the court spokesman said.
Germany’s government had wanted to repatriate only the children. But the Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria, where thousands of Islamic State fighters are being held, demanded that their mother also be sent back.
A German foreign ministry spokesman said the government was studying the ruling and may appeal at a higher court. A lawyer for the family did not respond to a request for comment.
German intelligence officials say more than 1,000 Germans went to fight in Syria and Iraq, where Islamic State once controlled swathes of territory in a self-declared caliphate.
About a third have returned to Germany, another third are believed to have died, and the rest are thought still to be in Iraq and Syria, these officials say.
Thousands of Islamic State members, including hundreds of foreigners and women and children, are being held by Kurdish-led authorities in northern Syria.
U.S. President Donald Trump has urged Britain, France and Germany to take back more of their nationals from among the detainees and put them on trial.
Germany has said it would take back fighters only if the suspects have consular access, adding that in principle, all of its citizens and those suspected of having fought for Islamic State have the right to return.
But in April, the government approved a draft bill allowing it to strip Germans with a second nationality who fight abroad for groups like Islamic State of their citizenship.
Reporting by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Gareth Jones