WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump Wednesday appeared to rule out sending the thousands of ISIS foreign fighters currently being detained by U.S. allies in Syria to the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, saying that the ISIS detainees should be repatriated to their countries of origin.
“We’re going to tell them and we’ve already told them take these prisoners that we’ve captured because the United States is not going to put them in Guantanamo for the next 50 years and pay for it,” Trump told reporters on the White House lawn.
Trump’s statement represents a shift from comments he made previously after he signed an executive memorandum which raised the prospect of sending ISIS fighters there. “I am asking Congress to ensure that in the fight against ISIS and al Qaeda we continue to have all necessary power to detain terrorists wherever we chase them down, wherever we find them. And in many cases for them it will now be Guantanamo Bay,” Trump said at his State of the Union address in January.
Also Wednesday, Trump repeated a threat to “release” ISIS fighters back to their country of origin. “We’re holding thousands of ISIS fighters right now and Europe has to take them and if Europe doesn’t take them, I’ll have no choice but to release them into the countries from which they came which is Germany and France and other places,” Trump said.
Asked what his deadline was for Europeans to take back their citizens, Trump said the deadline “was moving along” and that the Europeans “know” what his deadline is, but declined to offer specifics.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces are currently holding more than 2,000 foreign ISIS fighters from over 50 countries in makeshift detention facilities in addition to some 8,000 Syrian and Iraqi prisoners. The U.S. has repatriated several of its own citizens but has had limited success in encouraging other countries to take back and prosecute their citizens.
State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus on Wednesday announced new rewards for information leading to the identification or location three ISIS leaders — Amir Muhammad Sa’id Abdal-Rahman al-Mawla, Sami Jasim Muhammad al-Jaburi and Mu’taz Numan ‘Abd Nayif Najm al-Jaburi.
“This announcement comes at an important time as the global coalition to defeat ISIS and our partners on the ground continue to target ISIS remnants,” she said.