Germany's fear of ISIS is just beginning

ISIS remains a big question mark for Europe and especially Germany because Turkey's operation against the Kurds is turning ISIS into an acute problem for Europe.

Ayşegül Karakülhancı

According to information shared by the German government, 84 German citizens who are members of ISIS were recently arrested. A third of those arrested, 19 men and eight women, were categorized as dangerous.

During Turkey's military operation in Syria, a number of ISIS members escaped from camps controlled by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). ISIS remains a big question mark for Europe and especially Germany because Turkey's operation against the Kurds is turning ISIS into an acute problem for Europe. As required by a deal made between the U.S. and Turkey, President Erdoğan announced a ceasefire for 120 hours. He also said that if the conditions listed in the deal made with the U.S. are not met within 120 hours, Operation Peace Spring will resume.

A few days ago, the SDF also announced that their fight against ISIS was completely suspended. As long as Turkey's operation continues, the most common question in Germany is, "How long will the Kurds be able to control camps where ISIS members are staying?"

According to information obtained by Spiegel, during the military operation, at least four women and their children who had joined ISIS from Germany escaped from the detention center in Ayn Issa, along with many other militants.

While some in Germany think that German citizens who joined ISIS should be brought back and judged by German constitution in Germany, others oppose this idea. This division is reflected both in the public, according to polls, and in the statements by political parties.

According to research by the public opinion research institute Civey, 32 percent of participants are very decidedly in favor of "German citizens who joined ISIS must definitely be brought back and stand trial in Germany," while 37 percent were not in favor.

The survey results also show distribution by political party. While more than 40 percent of the Left Party, Green Party and Social Democratic Party voters say yes to the idea of a fair trial for ISIS members in Germany, the ratio goes down as parties become more conservative. It is the exact opposite for Christian Unity party (CDU/CSU) and Free Democrat (FDP) voters. More than 40 percent of conservative voters don't want German ISIS members to be brought back to the country. For voters of the extreme right-wing party Alternative for Germany (AfD), the ratio of those who do not want ISIS members to return reaches 75 percent.

Earlier in the year, U.S. President Donald Trump pressured Germany and other EU countries to take back more than 800 ISIS militants. Most EU countries rejected Trump on this. Germany said that it would take them back once it is clear whether they are real citizens or not. But this is no longer possible after Turkey's military operation. Social Democrat Party member Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said it's not as easy as "the U.S. dreams it is."

However, in July, a Berlin administrative court ruled that Germany should take back citizens who joined ISIS and in August, for the first time, four children from northern Syria came to Germany. The WhatsApp texts of a German ISIS member woman staying in one of the prison camps were published in the German press during the military action. She wrote that bombs keep falling, and she is trying to get close to the Turkish border so she can return to Germany. As the families of German women who joined ISIS hope for the safe return of their daughters and grandchildren, a nightmare scenario for German security is becoming a reality. That's because Turkey's military operation made it very difficult to control the camps in northern Syria where ISIS militants are staying; these camps were under the control of the Kurdish forces until now.

There is growing concern in Berlin regarding the possibility of ISIS members returning to Europe without being properly identified, and the refugee deal between the EU and Turkey no longer eases these concerns. Germany does not have an embassy in Syria because of the war. Only embassies in other countries can accept and look into the people who escaped ISIS. But in reality, no part of the government in Berlin is ready to take on the risks that come with returning ISIS member citizens. Especially if one of the returnees carries out an attack, it would be the end of Foreign Minister's career.

Germany does not have much time to lose. Demeaning the war in Syria and ISIS to justify a refugee matter, continuing to transfer funds to Turkey, and not backing out of selling arms to Turkey even in this situation all weaken Germany's hand. The biggest political incompetence on Germany's part was thinking Europe can get away with leaving all responsibility to the U.S. and the Kurds in the war with ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It was actually Germany who let the Kurds down before the U.S. Just so the refugee deal works and things go well with Erdoğan, Germany raided the cultural institutions of Kurds in the country, banned symbols in their protests, took people to court for using the colors of yellow, red, and green, and handed out fines. Many Kurds who used the YPG flag on social media were called in for questioning and fined. Now once again "terrorist" Kurds are turning into "heroic" Kurds due to the danger from ISIS. Had Germany not been politically hypocritical in this war, the possibility of ISIS members returning to the country would not be causing chaos today.