DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad said in remarks published Wednesday that members of the Islamic State group held in the country will stand trial in local courts specialized in terrorism cases.
Assad made his comments in an interview with Paris Match when asked about a deal with a Kurdish-led force that would eventually bring their areas under government control. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, who defeated IS in March with the help of the U.S.-led coalition, are holding more than 10,000 militants, mostly Syrians and Iraqis, including some 2,000 foreigners.
Abandoned by their U.S. allies, the Kurds turned to Assad and Russia for protection and over the past weeks Syrian and Russian forces have moved into areas once held by Kurds.
Syrian authorities are holding hundreds of IS members who were captured in battles between government forces and the extremists over the past years in different parts of the country. No public announcements have been made about any of them being put on trial, unlike in neighboring Iraq where thousands of IS members, many of them foreigners, have been sentenced to death.
Some human rights groups have expressed concern about government troops taking over IS detention centers currently run by the U.S.-allied Kurds.
Assad said: “Every terrorist in the areas controlled by the Syrian state will be subject to Syrian law and Syrian law is clear concerning terrorism. We have courts specialized in terrorism and they will be prosecuted.” He did not elaborate.
Most European countries are refusing to take back their citizens and a number of French IS prisoners received death sentences in trials in Iraq.
U.S. troops last month killed IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a commando operation in northwestern Syria.
Al-Baghdadi, the shadowy leader of IS who became arguably the world’s most wanted man, died after U.S. special operators cornered him during a raid in Syria’s Idlib province, Trump said. Trump thanked the Syrian government after the operation in which al-Baghdadi was killed.
When asked why Trump thanked the Syrian government, among others, after al-Baghdadi was killed, Assad said: “I always laugh when this question is raised, because the more important question which should be asked is: was al-Baghdadi really killed or not? And did this “fantastic play” staged by the Americans take place in reality?”
Asked again why Trump thanked him, Assad said: “It’s one of Trump’s cute jokes. It’s a joke.”